22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, November 16, 2014
Zephaniah 1.7, 12-18; Psalm 90.1-12; 1 Thess. 5.1-11; Matt. 25.14-30
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace to you and peace from the One who invites us to participate in the joy of the master, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
When I was a child my parents used to read me the book, “The Little Red Hen.” It is a book about a hen who has a little house and a small plot of land. The hen works really hard to till the soil, plant seeds, harvest wheat, make flour from the wheat, and bake delicious loaves of bread. All along the story line she invites her three friends (who happen to be a lazy dog, a sleep cat, and a noisy yellow duck) to help her. Each time they refuse, doing nothing but laying around and making excuses.
When their noses get a whiff of the fresh baked bread they all come running to the little red hen’s house and beg her for a piece. She reminds them how when she invited them to participate in the joy of the making of the bread they refused. The books ends with the three friends watching her eat the bread longingly from outside her window and the hen saying, “I’m going to eat it all by myself.”
I really loved the book mostly because I loved any book my parents would take the time to read to me, but even as a small child I recognized that I didn’t quite know how I felt about the ending. One the one hand, I felt the three friends didn’t deserve to have a piece of bread because of their laziness and refusal to help, and on the other, I felt sorry for them because I thought, geez, the hen has a whole loaf to herself and her three hungry friends are outside her window.
In a way, I have the same internal struggle with the parable from our Gospel reading today. It is obvious to me why the third slave is not invited to share in the joy of the master, yet a part of me still feels sorry for him. This story makes me wonder about grace, the nature of God, what the treasure (or talent) is, and what we are being called to in and through this story.
First, we need to have a better understanding of what is going on in the parable. There are essentially four characters in the story: a master, and three slaves. The master is going away for an unknown period of time and gives his property to the slaves in the form of “talents.”
In this story a talent refers to money, and not just a little money, but a lot of money. In Jesus’ day, one talent was the equivalent of 15 years of work. So for the first slave to receive 5 talents, would be worth more than a lifetime of money. Even the third slave received an incredible sum of money. Just one talent might be like the equivalent of receiving one million dollars today.
So what we can know about the master is that the master is very wealthy and also very generous. What is also interesting is that he gives to the slaves according to their ability, not giving them more than they can handle and not less.
From this we can gather that the master knows the slaves well and cares for them by giving them what they are able to manage. The master goes away and the slaves respond to their gift and responsibility differently. Two of them work and trade to increase what was given, and one goes and buries the money.
The master eventually comes back and finds that two of the slaves used the gift he gave well. They multiplied what they were given and the master says, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
So what went wrong with the third slave? He doesn’t have a different master than the other two and up to this point the third slave was not treated any differently. How is it that he believes and accuses his master of being harsh and greedy? Has there been anything in the story so far to make him believe that the master is anything but generous and inviting?
No, there really hasn’t. The slave simply buried the talent and I wonder if he even thought the master would return. Upon learning about what the slave did, the master calls him lazy, worthless as a worker, and even wicked…He also calls him out on the slave’s accusation of him.
“You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then (if you really believed this) you would have invested my money and acted different, not simply buried the money in the ground.”
From the master’s response we can understand that the third slave is making an excuse for doing nothing with what he had been given. He was not afraid of the master like he said, because if he really was he would have acted differently. The master gave him the opportunity and invitation at the beginning of the story to share in his wealth and joy and the slave refused and then tried to pin the blame on the master himself. As a result he is judged wicked and lazy and thrown into the outer darkness.
Every time the outer darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth comes up in the Gospel of Matthew (which is the only Gospel in which is appears), I wonder how it relates to the grace of God.
You see there is a concept Dietrich Bonheoffer called, “cheap grace,” which he would say is not even grace at all. Cheap grace is doing nothing and yet expecting something. It is burying a gift that has been given. Cheap grace is what would have been had the master not had the third slave suffer the consequences of his apathy and indifference to the gift.
It is in the nature of God to not dish out cheap grace. God has come in the flesh in Jesus Christ, suffered death, and rose from the grave for your sake and for mine, and the last thing we are to do is to take this incredible gift of grace for granted. God cares about what we do with this treasure, this talent, this gift of grace, and how we live our lives.
If we can think more broadly regarding the talent, we would come to understand that it is really not about money. What God gives to each one of us is Christ himself and the good news of the forgiveness of sins, essentially the Gospel message. This is the real talent, or treasure, and you and I are to not bury this gift or be indifferent towards it, but to risk believing in the gift and to invest it by sharing it with other people, therefore multiplying it’s effect on the world.
Theologian, John Buchanan writes:
The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is not to risk anything, not to care deeply and profoundly enough about anything to invest deeply…Sloth means not caring, not loving, not rejoicing, not living up to the full potential of our humanity, playing it safe, investing nothing…digging a hole and burying the money [gift of God] in the ground….Jesus’ warning is that the outcome of playing it safe—not caring, not loving passionately, not investing yourself, not risking anything—is something akin to death, like being banished to the outer darkness (Feasting on the Word, pp. 310-312).
Not that not receiving a warm piece of bread with melted butter like the 3 friends in The Little Red Hen story is anything like being banished to the outer darkness, but we can see how our own apathy and choices sometimes land us in what feels like the outer darkness. We must remember that the story Jesus tells today is only one piece of the larger story of God. Jesus too goes to the outer darkness, the cross, but it is to risk and give his life for you and for me.
I know all of us in here have taken all kinds of risks and plenty of those risks have not been good or healthy. Jesus is talking about something completely different than being reckless. Take risks with the good stuff of God.
Try forgiving someone…
Try believing in God’s love for you even if you are not sure, try reading in worship even though it scares you to death…
Try actually sharing your faith story with someone…
Faithfully give of your gifts and money to church and organizations that work for peace and caring for those most vulnerable…
Open the Bible and read it daily and see what the Spirit works in you…
Pray if you’ve never prayed before…
Invite a person or two to come with you to worship (scary right!…they just might say yes)…
For those of you at YCC risk the reputation you had before arriving on campus by living out the change that happens to you after you are released.
These are the good risks of life and they give us the joy of God.
Each Sunday in November we hear story after story of Jesus speaking of his inevitable return and what we are to be doing in the mean time with our lives here and now. God has given you your life, has put people around you, and has given you grace upon grace and the message of the good news of Christ. Do not bury it, but enter into the joy of God by wildly sharing the gift.