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Lectionary 33A  Proper 28A      
November 19, 2023    
Grace Lutheran Church        
Lakeland, FL               

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
Psalm 90
I Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Well, I said it the last three times that this parable has come up in the lectionary. And I’ll say it again now. This is preposterous, simply preposterous. And I scarcely know where to begin.

So, once again a few comments about the context. Jesus is speaking to his disciples, not to the crowds. He is speaking to them as he is making his last trip into Jerusalem where he knows what awaits him. And he is trying to prepare them for the challenges that are ahead. And the writer of the Gospel of Matthew includes these parables, some of which have not been part of our Sunday readings. The Gospel of Matthew was written many years after the life and death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It was written after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the year 70 AD. It was written to believers who were anxiously waiting for Jesus’ second coming and worrying that maybe this all was a fool’s tale.

And in these words today and last Sunday and next Sunday for that matter, Jesus is telling them about what it is like to wait.

OK, that’s the context. Now, a reminder about the kaleidescope we need to use to read and learn from the parables. We’ve spoken before about how a parable is not a tidy little allegory where every person and item has another meaning or identity. A parable is often understood as a “riddle” of sorts, one that we toss around in our minds to see what we may learn from it, what teachings it may offer, and what difference it makes to our life today as it made a difference to lives of the hearers then.

One night this week, I kid you not, I had a restless sleep, likely in the early morning hours. And in that restless sleep I had slivers of a dream. A dream in which I was debating with someone else, arguing actually. “No, the master is NOT Jesus.” “Yes, he is.” “No, he is not.” And like any good lawyer or debater, I could argue both sides of the question.

So, this is what I think and why. The master is not to be understood as a Jesus figure. And, in my humble opinion, to do so leads to some very lousy theology and understandings of Jesus. First, Jesus, is not a wealthy man, not an acquirer of fortunes of millions of dollars. And, Jesus does not head off, leaving people alone to try and figure out what to do. And most certainly does not put pass-fail tests before us. And is not a “harsh man who reaps where he does not sow” that is, taking advantage of undeserved advantages. And as for “throwing them into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth,” This doesn’t sound much like one whose, “Steadfast love endures forever” now does it. 

OK, so where does this leave us?

Let’s start with a “talent.” A “talent” here does not mean skill or ability. A talent is a unit of money – a very large unit of money. A talent was equivalent to about 15 year’s wages. The US Census Bureau reports that the average annual household income of late is nearly $75,000. A talent today would be over a million dollars and 5 talents would be over five million dollars!  And two talents would be about $2.5 million. And 1 talent would be $1,125,000. This was one very wealthy master! And one very confident master to entrust nearly $10 million to his servants. Preposterous.

And then taking these sums from the master – millions of dollars – and then immediately going off to parlay this so as to double the money. What a windfall! Nearly beyond our imagination, isn’t it. 

And then there is the third servant. The one who got one. One who was fearful and uncertain and he did what was perfectly acceptable in those times. Kind of like tucking money under the mattress. But it wasn’t enough even though it was the usual course of doing things then.

So, here we are. Three people entrusted with tremendous – preposterous—amounts of money while their master was away for a time. Two took millions of dollars and doubled it and were lauded for their actions. One was fearful and kept his million safe returning it secure upon the master’s return. And he was scorned by the master.

So, what is happening here? What are we to learn from this? What is the good news?

Jesus is talking about the end of time; he is talking about waiting for the end of time; talking about thngs that are eschataological – to use a proper theological term. And this parable follows right on the heals of last week’s about the 10 bridesmaids, five of whom left because they were self-reliant, doubting the care and compassion of those with whom they were waiting. Five who were foolish for their leaving. And, in the telling of that parable, Jesus was telling his disciples to stay together, help meet each other’s needs, don’t give up.

And today, we are called to compare the first two servants with the third. What was different? Was it in the amounts entrusted to them? Well, yes, that was a difference, but it was a difference without a distinction. What was distinct is that the first two set out eager and equipped and courageous.They took a risk – a pretty big risk. They knew it was a big risk – it went against all that were the social norms of the times. The third, presumably the weaker of the three, looked at what had been given him and was fearful of the master’s judgement at his return. And this third, safeguarded what had been given. And in this he lost much.

So, what does this parable say to us today – to us individually and to us collectively as the community of faith at Grace Lutheran Church? Like the parable of the bridesmaids last week, this parable provides understanding about how it is that we wait – wait for Jesus to return again, wait for the in-breaking of the kingdom of God in our midst, wait for that time to come when death and pain and crying will be no more. How is it that we wait? Last week’s parable showed us that we wait together – we don’t leave to go off and to try to solve our problem ourselves. We rely upon each other. We stay close because there is enough to go around.

So what does this one help us see? Think about these three servants and their relationship with their master. Can you imagine the look on their faces as they met with the master before his journey? Can you imagine their shock at what was being entrusted to them? Can you imagine what went through their minds as this was occurring? We get a little insight into this from the parable itself – the first two went out at once in their eagerness to work with what had been given them. The third considered the master and saw him as a greedy man and a harsh judge and this slave acted accordingly.

Waiting. We’ve done a fair amount of waiting in these past few years, haven’t we? We waited for a vaccine. We waited to take off our masks. We’ve waited for inflation to come down. We’ve waited for relief from gas prices. We waited and postponed vacations and holidays, times together with family and friends. And, to be honest, we waited with varying degrees of patience over the past several years.

And now we are waiting again – waiting again for the return of Jesus. That blessed time when he returns to redeem all of creation unto himself. That time when death shall be no more, that time when pain and mourning and crying shall be no more. Oh we long for that time.

How do we wait? Are we like the third servant – fearful and apprehensive, clutching what we have afraid that it may be lost? Or are we like the first two servants – amazed at the shocking sum that has been entrusted to us, eager to use it to further the master’s business, and then joyous upon his return to give over to him twice what he had given us. Humbled to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Yes, we wait gratefully using that which has been given. We wait, alive in the Spirit.