The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams- November 19, 2018 – Proper 28, Year A: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
You know how sometimes stories that are told in an effort to help us not be afraid, actually have the effect of making us more afraid? Or at least they make us more confused than we were before we heard the story? Well, I think that this parable might be an example of that phenomenon. I hear it and I struggle with its message. I wonder how is this at all in sinc with what I believe to be at the heart of the gospel? And dang it, what about that poor guy who gets thrown into the outer darkness?
Which makes it two in a row from the gospel of Matthew (not that I’m counting.) But remember that last week we heard the parable about the bridesmaids and their lamps and some had oil and some didn’t? Well as you know if you were here last week, that whole thing left me with mixed feelings. And here we are again!
Here’s what we’ve got: Two of the people in this story did very, very well. They took all that they had been given – one had been given five talents (which translates to approximately 2.5 million dollars in case you’re wondering), and the other was given two talents (1 million dollars) – and with all of those talents, they each made more, much more. These two guys “traded” all they had, each invested wisely, and doubled what they had been given.
But the third guy, in an effort to not lose anything, hung on to the one talent he’d been given (half a million dollars to save you the math) and he did nothing with it, other than to protect it. Which to his credit (or not) he actually saw as doing something. He didn’t want to suffer the consequences of having traded or invested and lost. And so when the master came back, this third guy hadn’t doubled or earned anything, but neither had he lost anything. He still had that one talent. And the first guy had ten. And the second guy had four.
And the master praised the guys who doubled what they had been given. “Well done, good and trustworthy slaves;” the master told them, “You have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ But the poor guy who started the story and ended the story with one talent was thrown into the outer darkness. And now maybe I’m still a little disappointed that the bridesmaids from a few verses back didn’t share their oil with each other, but again, I’m left thinking, “Matthew, what are you doing?”
But here’s the thing. First of all, this isn’t really a parable about money. Or, better, it’s not only about money. It’s a parable about all of us having been given gifts from the giver whom, for the sake of reminding us our context, we’ll call, “God.”
This isn’t really a parable about what we’ve “earned” or can “earn” but I don’t think parables ever are. Just notice that both the guys who doubled their talents– notice that all they did was “trade” or “invest” in something beyond themselves. They didn’t necessarily work harder than the guy who had been given one talent. In fact the guy who protected his one talent might have been working very, very hard to do just that. I see him walking out to that pile of dirt everyday just to be sure the talent went untouched! And that in itself is work. It’s just not productive, or creative or life giving work. And really, one of the important truths about what the two “good and trustworthy” guys did was that as they invested, they let go of control of the outcome. They had NO idea how this story was going to end.
And so I think there’s something at work here that has absolutely nothing to do with any of them. And that’s part of the point of the parable too. This isn’t about how money works in the world where there is risk and some do well and some don’t. You know that this isn’t a story about how money works in the world when EVERYONE who invests doubles their investment. Right? This is a story about how gifts work in the grand scheme that is God’s. And that grand scheme has been set up by the one who gives the gifts. When you read this parable about ten times (if you’re me and it takes you that many times) you see that the only real risk here is not investing the gifts at all. In fact holding them tightly or burying them might actually be like living in outer darkness. You alienate yourself when you do that. You shut yourself off and end up spending your time and energy visiting the things you’ve buried.
Investing your gifts, on the other hand, sharing, trading your gifts (read: ‘yourself’) in something of meaning and potential is part of what it means to be alive. And the key here is that you can’t lose. EVERYONE who invested, traded which is sort of how it goes – you need my gifts, I need yours – EVERYONE who traded doubled what they invested. So hear this parable as a message of how when gifts are traded, invested, shared, in the scheme that is God’s, there is a guaranteed return. The gifts multiply. For everyone.
In her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, Brene Brown (who happens to be an Episcopalian and I like that) explains that the title ‘Daring Greatly’ comes from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt called “Citizenship in a Republic”, a speech he delivered in France in April of 1910. Now I could have simply quoted the speech, but Brown’s book is a good one and her writing speaks to this challenge and so I want you to know it’s out there. From Theodore Roosevelt, Brown quotes:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
Because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
Who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”
At the heart of this parable there is a challenge and the challenge is simply to enter the arena with all that you have been given. And to enter the arena with open hands – offering, investing, trading, sharing. We never know the outcome, but we always know the outcome. As hard as I made it to get to this point (life hazard of mine) the grace in this parable is truly astounding. If your gifts of which each of us has so many, are invested, offered, traded, you can’t lose – in fact you, we are guaranteed to receive back 100% on top of what we gave.
Now it won’t feel like that every day, but this isn’t a parable about every day. In fact the parable actually says that the master came back after “a long time.” This is a parable about our whole lives, and probably even longer! So don’t count by the minute, or the day or the week or the month. This doesn’t work like the world – even in terms of scheduling. This is a parable about something bigger to which we all contribute, something which we all build, and expand, and share simply by our participating in it, by our “daring greatly.” This is a parable about the kingdom of God. And it works differently than a lot of what we experience. The good news is that this does work differently than a lot of what we experience!
So what are you doing with the gifts that you’ve been given whatever they happen to be? We all have them, lots of them! And some of them are buried. And you know who you are and what they are – because odds are good, those buried gifts eat at you. They long for the light because that’s where they’re meant to live. So, if they’re buried, dig’m up! Outer darkness is not the hope nor the desire of God for you, or anyone, or any part of anyone. “You are all children of light and children of the day,” Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “We are not of the night or of darkness.”
And if you don’t know what your gifts are, talk to people who can help you discern them. We are some of those people and often others can see your talents better than you can. And if you feel like you’ve run out, because sometimes it feels that way, you haven’t; we can see them. And so part of what we can do is name what we see, name what it is that we experience in each other.
We’ve all been given talents that together total in the gazillions; there is in the words of the master “an abundance” to be enjoyed. So have no fear! Or if you have it, keep going. Don’t let it stop you. Give with all that you have; give all that you have. And ultimately, allow yourself to trust. To trust that the one who created all of this is still intimately, lovingly, creatively involved with the grand scheme. And so you and everyone who offers themselves can prepare to receive more than you could possible ask for or even imagine.