November 15, 2020, State Troopers and Buried Treasure, Matthew 25:14-30 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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As we draw near to the season of Advent, you might have noticed that our readings have begun to focus on things like judgment and what we call the Day of the Lord, when Jesus will return as King, and the dead will be raised to new life, and all things and people will be seen in the light of God’s holiness and perfection. For most of us, I think, judgment is kind of a scary thing to think about. Reading about judgment, or even thinking about judgment, it seems to me, is a lot like seeing a state trooper in your rear view mirror. As soon as you see it, you feel pretty sure that you must be in some kind of trouble, that you must be doing something wrong, even if you have no idea what it is. But right here in our reading today Paul makes it clear that we don’t have to look forward to the coming of Jesus with terror or shame or anxiety, because we are people who belong to the day. And the parable Jesus gives us is not for the purpose of terrifying or condemning us, but for teaching us how to live in preparation for that great and glorious day.
Jesus said, “For it is just like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.” Jesus is talking about himself, about going away for a time and leaving us, and while he is away, entrusting us with his own property, each of us according to our own ability. A talent was a form of money, and it was a huge sum – one talent was equal to what a working man would expect to earn in half a lifetime. Just so, as his disciples, everything in our lives, the people we care about, our homes and our work, our talents and abilities, the things we collect and the pets we adopt and the ministries we do here at church, and our own bodies and minds: these are our Lord’s property, of great value, entrusted into our care. We aren’t owners of our lives, we are stewards of them, and that is the first lesson of this story. As we live in hope, waiting eagerly for the coming of the Bridegroom who loves us with the most unspeakably great love, we live as stewards of all the riches he has entrusted to us. That’s the work of discipleship.
The first two servants went right out, Jesus says, and put the Master’s silver to work at once. The first servant ended up with ten talents of silver and the second ended up with only four, but they both received the same commendation and blessing of the Master, “Well done! Good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Master!” But the third didn’t, and the reason he didn’t was that he was too afraid to do anything. He considered the power and wealth of the Master and he was terrified of failing him, or displeasing him, and his fear paralyzed him, so that he just dug a hole in the ground and hid the silver away out of sight, dreading the day the Master would come back and demand it of him. What the wicked and lazy servant lacked wasn’t silver – it was trust, that relationship of trust that we call faith. Schweitzer describes the third servant’s attitude as representing “a religion concerned only with not doing anything wrong.” The strong message of this parable is the contrast between faith that bears fruit, and fear, that renders a servant, or a disciple, unprofitable, useless for the kingdom.
If you remember the story of Jairus, who came to Jesus for help because his daughter was very ill: when Jairus and his wife stood in their little girl’s room between Jesus and the lifeless body of their daughter, Jesus told them, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.” And when the disciples were out in the boat in the middle of the stormy sea, and they ran down to wake him up and tell him they were all about to die and didn’t he even care, Jesus rebuked them, saying, “Don’t be afraid! Where’s your faith?” It is faith or fear that guides how we live our lives. It is faith or fear that determines what kind of stewards we will be of the riches that God has entrusted to us. And if we live in fear, our stewardship – and by stewardship I’m not talking about writing out our check to the church; I’m talking about stewardship with a capital S, our care for everything that God has entrusted to us – if we are guided by fear, if our only concern is to not do anything wrong, our stewardship will always be unprofitable; we won’t gain anything at all.
The parable of the talents illustrates just exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said that the person who is all about saving his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for the sake of the kingdom will gain his life. If we live by faith, putting our trust in God and his goodness, we can go ahead and do what we believe is right and leave our own security and our success in his hands. Disciples can take risks. But if we live by fear, we get so caught up in our self, in our rights and our reputation and our dignity and our safety, that we lose everything that is really important and valuable. Have you ever known a person who was so fearful and unable to trust, so consumed with themselves, that they end up losing even those things and people that they love the most? Jesus tells this story in the strongest possible way, because this matter of how we live out our time of waiting is a matter of life and death to us.
It is certainly true that Jesus’ words in this story are very harsh: “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.” says the angry Master. “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And Jesus means it to be harsh, because he doesn’t want any of us to live in the kind of fear and un-faith that keeps us from really living. The fruit of fear is death. But the fruit of faith is love and joy and life itself. We cannot live the abundant life Jesus came to give us if we live in fear – not the healthy fear that is awe and respect, but the terror and distrust that disables us and paralyzes us.
John wrote: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment…there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment” – because in the end, you know, the poor wicked servant in the story lost everything because he was so afraid of losing everything; he failed because he was so terrified of failing and facing the wrath of the Master.
The parable of the bridesmaids taught us that this world is passing away and we need to be looking forward always to the great and glorious day of our Lord’s return. But the parable of the talents warns us that it matters very much how we live while we are waiting. It matters, because if we are not faithful in the small things of this world, how can we be trusted with the great things of the kingdom of heaven? And it matters most of all, because the way we live now reveals how we serve the Master – do we serve him in faith, or in fear?
We are servants of our Master, Jesus Christ, and when we have lived our life, when we have handed over everything that was entrusted to our care, when we have come to the end of all our waiting, our faith and our hope is that we will hear those blessed words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”