by Rev. Carla Christopher
I mentioned to a dear friend that I was writing on the famous parable of ‘The Talents’ and her response was “Ah, yeah. That one has long been the bane of my existence.” “Why?” I asked. “Because I am so bad at follow through. I have lots of talents and I feel like none of them are fully developed or utilized. It’s a struggle”.
There is a lot about this passage that is a struggle. As we continue our journey through the challenging cluster of Matthew’s grace and judgement parables, we once again are presented with those who don’t cross the finish line in time being tossed out into a void with weeping and gnashing of teeth. It would be inauthentic and insensitive not to wrestle with this part of the text. As the generous giver of livelihood and purpose who comes, departs, then returns again for a final reckoning, we can reasonably assume we are meant to link the “master” with Jesus in Matthew’s parable. How do we reconcile the generous Jesus of love and compassion we know with a slave owning capitalist who would deny housing and even life to a frightened servant? It just doesn’t make sense.
I would invite us to direct our attention to earlier in the passage where the servant describes just why he buries his large sum of money in the dirt. He accuses the master of reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he did not scatter; completely denying that God is the source of all that grows. It is this remark that angers the master and inspires him to punish the servant and place the servant outside the circle of care and protection. If we are identifying the master with Jesus, clearly the problem here is that the servant doesn’t know Jesus. Despite trust given, love shown, and invitation extended, this person has made a deliberate decision not to recognize Jesus as he is, not to see or embrace the love that is offered. Just as we saw wedding guests refuse an invitation and Bridesmaids frolic without regard or care for the well-being of the coming husband, this parable gives us another example of people Jesus makes every attempt to reach only to be refused.
I thought again of my friend, who is wracked with guilt and shame for not using her talents successfully enough, for not turning her money in more money. The great irony is that in this passage, Jesus is rejecting the mindset of endless production, success as a mark of virtue, or so-called “prosperity gospel”. Jesus is saying, “know me”. The servants who trust in God’s care, who take risks feeling safe in the love of their master, are rewarded. That’s what really matters. Knowing that no matter how far away Jesus seems, he is always coming back for us. Trusting that we are never alone. Remembering that we are family with God. It is only after repeatedly turning our backs on that radical hospitality and acceptance that God allows us to make that choice.
There are a lot of us (on both sides of the aisle) finally unclenching muscles that were tight all week because of the trauma of the election. The most marginalized among us are still struggling with anxiety over what may yet come and fear for their safety. Absolutely real symptoms of PTSD (and frankly, CURRENT trauma because we are still living in an active pandemic, economic depression, and justice revolution) are rife in the population; disrupted sleep, short tempers, memory loss, uncontrollable emotions. Many, if not most, of us are struggling with diminished capacity. We just don't have the energy or mental sharpness to churn out our best work. And we are beating ourselves up for it.
I invite you to see what you can accomplish this week if you place your trust in God to return to you and to never leave you, and if you set goals that aren't based on feeding the endlessly ravenous beast of production. The to-do list will always be there, but we serve a God who wants more for us. Be gentle with yourselves, beloveds. Give yourselves a few days to recover and practice self-care. Lean into the nurturing God that prizes nothing more than you trusting in them to do the work THROUGH you. Bathe in God's Word, God's voice as expressed in the signs and symbols of nature, music that helps you feel God's presence, and times of prayer and meditation. Keep giving yourself that holy and faithful gift until you feel safe setting down your fear and letting God work with confidence. One day at a time beloved, one day at a time.
This is the Revised Common Lectionary sermonizing archive.