Scripture for this Sunday:
Zephaniah 1.7,12-18; Psalm 90.1-8,12; 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11; Matthew 25.14-30
One of the mysteries of our scripture seems to be that there are times when it is possible to interpret it in more than one way – and each may be right! Today’s parable of the talents is a particularly challenging example.
Is the parable to warn us that we can’t imagine the investment potential of God’s kingdom? That plays upon the value of the talanta, which was a large denomination of currency – something like 15 years’ wages for a normal worker.
Is it about our intrinsic desire to take any failure and wallow in defeatism, blaming God for our own bad choices? That plays upon the servant who knows the nature of the master and decides caution is the way of least risk.
Should we stick with the long history of taking this parable of the talents to encourage the church’s fruitful stewardship of whatever gifts God has given? Certainly it seems quite consistent with Jesus’ teaching to be workers building God’s kingdom, trying to bring it nearer, being ready.
Or is the parable to make us question what our values are, and how much abuse we would be willing to take for principle?
This last point exposes the challenges of faithfulness in a world dominated by power and wealth. The rich man has achieved his wealth at the expense of others, by “reaping where [he] did not sow.” The third servant refused to participate in the system of oppression, and for this refusal he was abandoned and condemned to a place of suffering.
But who else refused to go along with the system, for which he was condemned and cast into outer darkness? Jesus told this parable shortly before his arrest and crucifixion, and then, as our creed tells us, he descended … well, we know how that goes.
Of course, while the parable ends with casting into outer darkness, no hole in the ground, no tomb, and no outer darkness with gnashing teeth could restrain Jesus. He is the Messiah, raised, and his raising turns investment priorities upside down – something anticipated by the prophets, including Zephaniah. The apostle Paul reframes the prophet’s grim warning of dire consequences into encouragement to Christians to remember who we are, to be alert to our calling and to work diligently for God’s kingdom – building up, which has to involve proper use of God’s gifts – or talents.
Our real challenge is to discern how to invest them – not according to the values of the world, which will drag us into trouble, but according to Christ’s values. And sometimes, we may just have to bury something – of high value.
And then we might need to remember that Christ was buried, too. But not for long!