By Rev. Heather J. Blais, Rector
Last Sunday we reflected on our shared Christian hope. Our confidence and trust that the entirety of the human family and creation will be reunited with God and all whom we have loved and lost. We believe that at the Incarnation, the Eternal Source of Love poured themselves into Jesus of Nazareth, who modeled for us what it means to walk the Way of Love in his life, death, and resurrection. We also believe that Christ will come again, in some manner that is beyond our comprehension, and will bring about the completion of God’s purpose for creation. The vast expanse of space between these two events is a strange time that we might think of as ‘in the meantime’.
The early Church, and possibly even Jesus himself, believed that Christ’s coming again would be imminent. As in, during their lifetime. Can you imagine the disciples' shock if they were to learn, here we are, still hard at it, in 2023?
In some ways, we have it easier than they did. While it’s possible Christ may come again this week, it’s just as possible it will be in another 200 or 2,000 or 200,000 years. We have our whole lives to explore what it means to wait faithfully. We also have the benefit of being able to observe the many ways the Church has discerned, explored, and embodied waiting faithfully over the centuries. In particular, we can look to the saints that we celebrate in our church calendar, as outlined in Lesser Feasts and Fasts and A Great Cloud of Witnesses. These folks figured out how to live ‘in the meantime’. In doing so, they inspired future generations on how they, too, can wait faithfully.
Of course, we also have Jesus’ teachings. Waiting faithfully is an important focus within chapters 24-25 of Matthew’s gospel. Here Jesus offers his disciples an eschatological discourse, or rather, teachings on Christ’s coming again and the completion of God's purpose for the world. Today’s parable of the talents is from this section, and it is meant to guide Jesus’ followers on how we are to live faithfully ‘in the meantime’.**
The parable begins with an employer who is about to depart on a long journey. In anticipation of his absence, he entrusts three servants to care for his wealth, each according to their ability. One servant is entrusted with five talents, a second with two talents, and a third with one talent. Their task is to wisely choose which risky investments will generate the most amount of wealth for their employer.*
Commentator Carla Works brings home just how much money we are talking about. She writes:
“Although the first receives five times as much as the last, each receives a
significant sum of money. A talent is equal to about 6,000 denarii. Since
one denarius is a common laborer’s daily wage, a talent would be roughly
equivalent to 20 years wages for the average worker. Five talents, the
largest amount entrusted to any of the servants, is comparable to one
hundred years worth of labor, an astronomical amount of money.”*
The first servant immediately traded their five talents and made five more. The second servant did the same, turning their two talents into four. Their employer was overjoyed to learn about the return on their investments. What wise and faithful servants!
Meanwhile, the third servant took a different path. Like the other two servants, he would have been accustomed to taking financial risks to increase his employer’s wealth. Yet this time around, the servant was keenly aware that if he lost money in a bad investment, he would be ruined.* The third servant knew his employer was a harsh man, and that he could not afford to get on his bad side.* So instead, he plays it safe and buries the talent in the ground to avoid it being stolen, which was a common practice at the time.*
Upon the employer’s return, he is furious with the third servant’s unfaithfulness. The employee failed to carry out the task he was charged with; he couldn’t even be bothered to invest the money in the bank, which would have at least yielded a small profit. In the end, the third servant is thrown out, the very thing he feared most.
So, what exactly is Jesus trying to tell us about waiting faithfully ‘in the meantime’? Commentator Works reminds us:
“[The employer’s] willingness to earn money at the expense of others challenges any allegorical interpretation of the parable that would directly correlate him with Jesus, who never acts in a manner to seek personal gain.”
In other words, this parable is not an allegory. When we muck up, which everyone does, God, the Eternal Source of Love will not actually throw us ‘into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Mt 25:30). That is another psychological thriller we can remove from our ‘continue to watch’ section on Netflix.
Generally speaking, when we make big mistakes, we feel bad enough, and are harder on ourselves than anyone else possibly could be. We are tempted to ruminate on our mistakes; weeping and gnashing our teeth with worry, anxiety, and regret. Which so often leads us to remove and distance ourselves — whether that be emotionally, spiritually, mentally, or physically — from family, community, and most especially, God. Having created a form of personal hell, we may find ourselves bereft of hope.
All this is to say, parables like the one we have read today have often been used by church leaders to tell us ‘do the right thing, or else’, bringing forth fears of a fiery hell and a vengeful God. However deeply those ideas may be ingrained in us, I would encourage us to set them down and return them to the compost heap. Instead, let us use God’s Love as our measuring stick when we try to make sense of the holy scriptures. As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry likes to say, “If it’s not about Love, it’s not about God.”
What if instead this story is teaching us about the ramifications of selfishness? That when we put our own security above and before all else, we will in turn, create our own misery. Waiting faithfully ‘in the meantime’ is using our wisdom and skills to help bring about God’s dream for this world. Jesus is urging his followers to use what precious time we have to help bring about that dream.
My friends, life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So be quick to love, and make haste to be kind, and rest assured that God is infinitely more concerned with the promise of our future than the mistakes of our past.
There is a reason that is the blessing you will hear most Sundays at James and Andrew. The time we have is precious. And we have such a privileged opportunity to help communicate the unfathomable and unconditional Love of our Creator God, as embodied in Christ, and as made known in the Holy Spirit. We have seen a glimpse of a better world, the dream of God, and we are privileged to play a small part in sharing that dream with God’s world.
What a gift, to know of such a vision. To be nourished and inspired by it. To in turn share the Good News of God’s Love in the ways we tend to and care for those we encounter in our daily lives and in our mission and outreach ministries. God is so very good. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
So, dear ones, what does it look like for us to wait faithfully ‘in the meantime’? Jesus continues to answer this question further on in Matthew 25. He reminds his followers that waiting faithfully is seeing Christ, the incarnation of the Eternal Source of Love, in each and every person we encounter.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison, and you visited me” (Mt 25: 35-36)
Soon we will begin a new church calendar year as we enter Advent, a season dedicated to waiting faithfully. Advent can feel very much at odds with the secular aspects of the holiday season, and at the same time, it can also encourage us to be more intentional about embodying what it means to wait faithfully. In anticipation of that holy tension, as we live into ‘in the meantime’, I would invite each of us to do some reflecting:
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