Acknowledging what God has entrusted to us

Pentecost 22

Matthew 24:14-31

Marian Free

(Last week I was on holiday – apologies to those who looked and found nothing new. MF)

In the name of God whose abundant love is more than we can measure or imagine.
Amen.

The recent visit of Kim Kardashian intrigued me. Until her visit to Australia I was only vaguely aware of this reality star who had had a very extravagant and public wedding, so the fact that her visit made it to the front page of the newspaper fascinated me. It represents a growing trend. In the past few years it has become possible to become famous (and rich) just by gaining enough attention to oneself. Kim has become her own brand and now earns in the vicinity of $72 million a year because she is so
good at selling herself. Of course she works very hard at what she does and her
success is only possible because people do take notice of her and of what she
does.

In many areas of life today self-promotion works as well, if not better, than
sheer talent. We live in a world that encourages us to believe that we can
achieve anything we set our minds to (regardless of our background or ability).
So pervasive has this attitude that something like 30 percent of American
teenagers told a recent survey that their life goal was to be famous. While
having goals and striving to achieve them is commendable the sad truth is that
there is not enough room for all of us to be at the top. For one person to earn
huge amounts of money a great many have to earn less. for a person to receive
massive media attention, there have to be hundred of people willing to purchase
or watch the media. Not everyone’s circumstance is such that their hard work
will earn them the recognition that they deserve or seek. We can’t all be rich
and/or famous.

Today’s parable seems to suggest that we have an obligation to strive to get the most
value out of the gifts we have been given – to be like the Kim Kardashians of
this world. In fact the parable HAS been used in the past to defend ruthless
profiteering – often at the expense of others – on the basis that the slaves
who doubled their talents were commended and the one who buried his was not
only censured, but punished. In more recent times, interpretations have
confused the monetary value (a greek “talent”) with our English word
“talent” which means gift or ability. Congregations have been urged
to make the best use of their gifts and abilities and the enormity of the trust
overlooked.

There is not time or space to go into all the intricate details and levels of meaning
or to elaborate on the history of the parable’s development. Suffice to say
that like many of our Gospel readings, this too has undergone some development
and interpretation at the hands of Matthew and to note that there are at least
three extant versions – that of Matthew, that of Luke and that of the later
document the Gospel of the Nazarenes. Behind all of these lies Jesus’ original
parable. Similar stories can be found in Jewish literature, and there is at
least one fairy tale that strongly resembles the parable. All imply – on one
level – that growth on a loan or gift is expected.

In Matthew’s account three slaves are given – according to their ability –
portions of their master’s property – ten talents, five talents and one talent.
Even in our terms, these are large sums of money. A talent was the largest
denomination of the Roman coinage. Its physical weight was significant and it
was worth something like 15 year’s wages. That means that even the slave who
was given one talent was entrusted with a very large sum of money.

All the attention in this story is focused on the third slave. Our interest is piqued
when he behaves differently from his fellow slaves. they trade with their money
whereas he buries his. When the master returns, we are alert and waiting – what
will be the master’s response to the third slave? At first this man has our
sympathy – his actions were a reaction to the greed and cruelty of his master.
However, if we have paid attention, we notice too that the slave is defiant and
sullen as well as afraid. Is it possible that his actions were designed to
ensure that the master did not profit, but only got back what he had given?

There is reason to believe that Matthew is writing to a community that has become
lax and complacent. They no longer share the enthusiasm of the first converts
and neither are they living in such a way that they draw others into the
community of faith. Matthew arranges and edits his material in such a way as to
challenge and re-enthuse the community of faith for whom he writes. Jesus
called the nation of Israel to repentance. Matthew records Jesus’ teaching on judgement, but he applies it to the church. In Matthew’s view it is the church that needs to look to itself, to understand the magnitude of the gift that they have on
trust and to put it to good use. The third slave represents all those believers
who have taken the gift for granted or worse have failed to recognise its value
and to build on it.

Read in this light the parable becomes a modern parable for the church. Until the
last fifty years or so we have taken for granted our place in the world. We
have blithely believed that that place was assured and so have done little to
encourage others to join us or to spread the gospel to those for whom it has
become stale or to those who have never heard it. We have accepted the talent
with which God endowed us and have expected life to continue much the same –
that is that we would live in a world that was nominally Christian and that
people would continue to attend church on a more or less regular basis. The
consequence of our complacency and our timidity has been the decline in
congregation numbers and the increasing marginalisation not only of our
practice but of our faith.

In Matthew’s version of the parable the inaction of the third slave results in the
confiscation of the one talent and his being cast out of God’s presence. The
one talent is given to the slave who know has twenty one.

God’s gifts to us are beyond measure, God’s love for us is beyond our imagination. If
we grasp their significance our lives will shine with God’s presence, our love
and enthusiasm will spill over such that they affect the lives of others. Even
one talent will be more than enough. We can’t afford to prevaricate now is the
time to embrace all that God has entrusted to us and to play our role in the
expansion of the kingdom.

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: