RCL Year A Proper 28 Alternate Readings
Zephaniah 1:7 and 12-18; Psalm 90:1-8 and 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Saint Matthew 25:14-30
For a number of Sundays, the Gospels have been parables from the concluding chapters of Saint Matthew, and they have had for their themes our need to use what God has given us wisely, for God’s purposes, and for God’s glory. The Gospels have been about what we do with what God has given us and how we decide what to do with what God has given us.
The usual word for this subject is stewardship, and whatever we know about stewardship, we know that it concerns money. But stewardship concerns more than money. Stewardship concerns time and talent, as well as treasure. The talents, in this parable, concern more than just money: the talents refer to all that the slaves are, or can be, or can do. What they do with the talents given them tells us just about everything we need to know about them, just as a quick look in your checkbook tells us just about everything we need to know about you.
You know what the slaves do: the slaves given five and two talents double them, producing a total of ten talents and four talents. A 100% return on an investment is more than good. It’s outstanding. I don’t know a banker or a company that can match it except in the very long run. The third slave, however, doesn’t even try, and he’s the one who is punished. This slave does not lose his talent in the marketplace. He simply does nothing with it. Even if he had ventured it and lost it, it would have been better than to do nothing with it at all. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
And here’s where the parable touches our spiritual lives both as individuals and corporately as a parish. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. That’s close to the divine economy, the way that God seeks us, the way, like a spiritual law, that God involves himself with us, the way that God gives us his grace, his mercy, and his forgiveness.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Nothing given, nothing received. No one forgiven, no forgiveness for us. Isn’t that what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”? No mercy extended, no mercy for us. It’s really quite simple: the talents we’ve been given, we must lay at the service of God. It’s true now, as it always has been true, that those who give, receive. And those who refuse to give or to forgive or to encourage or to support, well, they have received their reward. They are reasonable comparisons with the slave who buries his talent. When that slave unearths his talent, he has it, but he has nothing in addition to it.
And what about us? Have we been given five talents? Or two? Or one? There is no doubt that we have not buried the talent we’ve been given. We’re certainly not rolling over to face the wall. We’re not expecting someone else–the endowment, the diocese, or the clergy–to perform our ministry for us. We have a balance of worship and service, prayer and ministry, praise and outreach, for which we can all be grateful.
But I notice in the parable that the slave who buries his one talent does not share in the profits of the slaves who double theirs. In fact, the talent he buried is given to the slave who made five talents. This parable causes us to see that each one of us, like each of the slaves, is accountable individually, and each one of us must give and forgive in order to receive and to be forgiven. When it comes to the spiritual side of life, the spiritual side of stewardship, of forgiving, encouraging, and supporting, we can take it as a matter of fact, that whatever holds us back, whatever fear stalls us, is an illusion. We tie our own hands behind our backs. Christ’s birth and resurrection, his gracious rule as King of kings and Lord of lords, assure that we can lose out only when we make no effort, only when we underfunction, when we try to let someone do our part for us, and only when we bury our talent. God’s economy, God’s way of doing things, has been established in such a way that we have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.