24th Sunday after Pentecost
I’m sometimes in awe of Jesus’ storytelling abilities. Today he does what he is so often does and that is to take this very simple story and turn it into a profound bit of teaching – for the people around him – and most certainly for us, too. Jesus tells the story of an incredibly wealthy master who – in a great act of trust – leaves three servants a vast amount of money. To one slave he leaves five talents, to another two talents and to a third a single talent. All told the master leaves the slaves – if my calculations are correct –eight talents which in Jesus’ time was a truly staggering amount of money. A single talent is believed to of been worth 10,000 day’s wages. So, one talent far more than a single laborer could earn in a lifetime. The master shows remarkable trust. He leaves no instructions to his three servants and he goes away. Eventually, he returns and the servant with five talents offers back to the master 10. The second servant has doubled his two and returns four talents. Now, the last slave who was given the smallest amount, a single talent, in fear and trembling, approaches the master and gives him his own back again. He doesn’t spend the money; he doesn’t lose it gambling at the casino or with expensive travel but he hasn’t grown the money, either. The servant has been paralyzed by his fear and instead of taking any risk that he might lose something he buries it, hides it in the ground, and now gives it back. The master, true often in Matthew’s gospel, punishes the one he considers to be unfaithful by separating the servant from himself. He takes away the little bit that the third servant has and gives it to the one who has the most, the servant who risks the most; the servant is separated from his one talent and from the master.
Now we may, as we often do with Matthew, leave this parable with a rather bad taste in our mouths. My dictation had parable spelled terrible; and so it is for the last servant. I said in the beginning that this simple story gives us a rather profound view of God’s intentions for us. We have been entrusted with a treasure of inestimable value: the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians reminds us what that we are tied forever to the promises of God by the treasure God has given us in Jesus Christ. Because Christ came among us, died for us, we are eternally connected to God. So, we have eternal life at the end but here, in this present life, during the living years, we are intended to be people of salvation not of wrath. You know I did some thinking about this word ‘wrath’ which has a connotation of fury and rage. What Paul meant by his use of this particular word? I think wrath means two things in the kingdom of God.
First, wrath means judgment. God has given us a great gift of freedom, new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because of what Christ has done, Christ is forever our representative and Advocate to God the father. Christ didn’t die in our place; we all still suffer in this life and we all still die. But in dying for us, with us, Christ has swept away the separation between God and He is forever our advocate, our blessing, and the pathway to God the father. So, I believe that my salvation, as Paul is describing it, means we understand that we are recipients of the Mercy, hope, and the goodness of God represented in a saving life, bought by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The wrath of God implies that we are separated by God’s judgment from God either in this life or in the life to come. Paul also means, by saying that we are not destined for wrath but for salvation; we are not to be people of wrath; citizens of earth engaged in acts of anger, vengeful futility, and separation from God in this life and separation from our fellow humans because of wrath. So, the treasure of God that we understand to be our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, our salvation, means that we are not to bury the saving life of God for us in the ground. We are not to hold onto it in the recesses of our own hearts and minds. The largess and grace of God that is our treasure in Jesus Christ is a goldmine of the spirit that we are intended to multiply and, to risk much – for some – everything for others – that we might share the loving good news of God in Christ with an often wrath–filled world.
And you know the world needs for us to be sharers of the good news now more than ever. How much anger do you sense out there these days? Certainly, when anybody is talking about the political realm their talk tends to be) either with an air of anger, defiance and defensiveness or 2) with joy and relief and there seems to be no way to bring the two together. Our decisions right now, for me, represent the wrath that Paul is talking about. We were not intended to be people of wrath; no, we were destined for salvation. And there is no way we can be people of salvation, people of God and the people of wrath at the same time. They are diametrically opposed. Our calling as people of salvation is to reach out for people who are veering towards wrath which separates them from God. Without love in our hearts and love n our spirits how can we expect to bear the fruit – let alone enjoy the fruit – of God‘s salvation in Christ in the here and now. or in the life to come.
The anger and rage that is eating away at this country is profound sin, I believe. It is wrath. It is not what we were made to be. Paul wrote this first letter to the Thessalonians because he couldn’t get back to them. His travels had taken him away from them. But he encourages them with affection and love, reminding them of who they are: people of salvation. And as people of salvation they are meant for the love, mercy, grace, and hopefulness of God in Christ. Paul will say over and over again, throughout his letters and his ministry, that being people of the saving treasure, if you will, of God’s grace in Christ they are meant to multiply and share the idea, the reality of the good news of God in Christ. We don’t have the option of burying God’s grace in the ground. We were not meant to fall back in fear when we come up against the wrath so often present in the world in so many different places. We are meant for more. We are meant to share the love of God in all of its many forms. We are destined for salvation and that is an idea that the world sorely needs right now.