Scripture: Matthew 25:14-30
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I was perusing some material from one of my classes two weeks ago when I found a very interesting reflection on today’s passage. One of the Franciscan brothers associated with Richard Rohr brought up a Latin American liberation theological perspective on the servants and the landowner that really made me look at it differently. In a moment, I will share what that is. First, let’s look at it from the perspective most of us in our contemporary socioeconomic cultural perspective might approach it.
Jill Duffield, Presbyterian Outlook editor, grapples with what we would normally interpret it to mean: stewardship Sunday with talents equal to monetary gifts or, talents as God-given gifts . She and commentator Mark Douglas both note that we are tempted to think of how God has gifted us and it’s our duty to increase what we’ve been given in order to offer that much more back to God. “Well done, enter into the joy of your master.” Before we pat ourselves on the back if we identify with the first two, let me ask: what is the joy of the master?
Jill takes a step back and suggests maybe we ought to identify with the third slave, who hides the master’s money and then gives it back to him intact upon his return. She writes,
“So, what’s the word of grace and Good News for the one with nothing, from whom even what they have will be taken? What’s the word of grace and Good News for us?
Well, to be honest, that word whispers rather than shouts. Lean in close and wait. Brace yourself for something you may not want to hear because this is one of those conversations akin to the ones that begin with, ‘We need to talk.’
Jesus says to us, to those with ears to hear, “We need to talk.” We need to talk about discipleship, following Jesus, what’s required and what won’t be tolerated. Keep in mind, this parable lives between the ten wise and foolish bridesmaids and the judgment of the nations (you know, that least of these, sheep-and-goats scenario). The parable of the talents speaks to the time when time is up and we are held accountable for our lives – all that we’ve done and left undone. Clearly this, for us, is not going to be a comfortable conversation. BUT, the word of grace and the Good News is that Jesus is inviting us to have it now, while there is still time to make a correction, change our path, repent, go and sin no more.
If we approach this text as the worthless one with less than one talent, but one Jesus loves so much he doesn’t want us to be ignorant of how we are to live if we are to be faithful to the Triune God, then perhaps, just maybe, we can hear it as a word of grace and Good News.”
Now to change the lens just a bit. From a liberation perspective, this parable is about resistance to oppressive empires, which would have resonated better with the Israelites hearing this story from Jesus in their context. From this perspective, the land owner is someone from afar. Someone who is not of the land that he or she owns. Think indigenous people. Think of the Israelites before the Roman Empire, or going back even farther think of the Canaanites, and other indigenous people of the promised land before the Israelites. Think of the First Nations of this continent.
In the Biblical time of Jesus, it is the Hebrew people who are the subjugated ones, and the remote but all-pervasive, all-powerful absent Roman landowners who control the socioeconomic conditions of the entire land. Fall in with them as the Herodians did and you will find yourself entrapped within the local rulers’ power structure. “Well done, enter into the joy of your master.” Sounds a little different, doesn’t it?
But is continued subjugation and domination of your own people the kind of thing Jesus would teach? What kind of message is that? No, that is not the Kingdom message Jesus teachers here. Remember this is a parable – something illustrated so its hearers can learn from it. What is Jesus teaching?
When power is at stake, what happens to the real people? Only in so far as Romans extract tribute – paying their local constituents to keep up the business that ultimately supports them, not the locals, we find the principalities, powers, and rulers of this earth in power, oppressing and perpetuating a system of injustice. In effect, the oppressing empire sucks all the ability to live and thrive within the land and trickles all the land’s wealth away to eventually rest in their controlling hands. This is not love. So what is Jesus teaching?
In all levels of a subjugated society, the hero of the story is not the ones who sell out and cooperate with the Empire, as the Herodians did. In today’s parable, the two slaves who were given money and “used it wisely” to earn more were still within the power structure of Roman control. In that warped system of in justice, they were rewarded. But is the Pax Romana the Kingdom of Heaven? From the liberation perspective, the one who buried the talent is actually the hero for refusing to be party to the systemic brokenness (political and economic) of his time. That makes for a very different lesson, doesn’t it? Being cast out of the Empire – that is liberating and free!
Now, what is Jesus teaching?
With the addition of the liberation lens, I have come to appreciate the traditional way of interpreting is not what this passage is about, at all.
This is the third of four parables concerning Matthew’s view of the eschaton. If the parable is about eschatology and the second coming of Christ, one interpretation is that it “… speaks to the time when [our] time is up and we are held accountable for our lives – all that we’ve done and left undone…”
“Clearly this, for us, is not going to be a comfortable conversation. BUT, the word of grace and the Good News is that Jesus is inviting us to have it now, while there is still time to make a correction, change our path, repent, go and sin no more.”
Traditional implication, as Jill illustrates, is that there is a judgement and we better watch out. To me, that does not sound like the loving God I am coming to know; rather an infantile early human construct in an attempt to put an unknowable God into a little box capable of being understood by the human creature.
Let’s try another lens. What if we understood God to be the self-sacrificing one who became incarnate and lived among us? That our Creator would purposefully identify enough with us, the created, to become one of us speaks to me of incredible union-a unity of love, not a distant arbiter. What love! What freedom! To know Emmanuel, God-with-us, taking on the form of a man in all his limitations just to redeem us and bring us home, teach us how to live in a higher love, in touch with God’s spirit of love in all things, what a gift!
If this parable is to be considered a parable of eschatology – that is about end times – then what the passage is really about then is fear. Whom do we fear? God? What do we fear? That God will become for us a wrathful judge who reaps what he does not sow and views the created world harshly? For that is what the third slave, in his blindness, saw. He did not see that he was given 15 years’ worth of money in one gift. He did not see that those who saw God as a collaborator ended up collaborating successfully. He was turned inward upon himself with a mistaken understanding of God. He was stuck in an ethos and construct of fear. He lost a central conviction of knowing that he is God’s and God still loves and cares for him.
Perhaps Jesus is teaching us and warning us not to fear. And, perhaps, if we are deeply honest, we do, actually still fear that God might reject us in the end. I personally do not think that is possible now that God has seen us through his lens of Christ, through his being Christ, who was and is and shall forever also be one of us. The warning in this parable is not about investing, giving, returning. It is about losing sight of whose we are. Put off the old, Paul says. Be clothed with Christ. For in Him we live and move and have our being. For those who see the reality of God’s generosity and loving-kindness to us in the gift of Jesus Christ, so much more is gained; perhaps, even a life time. Or – perhaps even another lifetime to come.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
Question for Reflection
If we believe in the kingdom to come, we need not fear, in life or in death. How does that change the way we live?
Household Prayer: Morning
Good morning, Lord. I welcome the new day, for it is a gift from you. My petty fears are nothing in the face of your love; in the warmth of your wisdom my anxieties melt away. Make me more faithful than I could be on my own, and use me to reflect your light, for there are so many who need to know of your grace. Walk with me, and show me your way, for I would follow you. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Good evening, Lord. Thank you for bringing me through this day, its trials and its joys. You surprise me with wonder and overwhelm me with love. Keep me in your embrace tonight; inhabit my dreams. If you choose to grant me another day of life, awaken me as one who is eager to serve you well. Amen.