23 Pentecost—Proper 28-A
November 16, 2014
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
As you know I’m a movie guy so I hate to come into a movie late—even a little bit–and what I refuse to do is to enter during the middle, because I’m going to misunderstand what’s going on.
Same thing applies in our attempt to understand Jesus as he tells the parable of the talents today: we have to enter the story at the beginning, centuries before in the Old Testament which provides the context for what Jesus is saying and doing.
So in 1 Kings 8, when Solomon dedicates the first Temple, the cloud of God’s glory fills the temple. 400 years later the prophet Ezekiel living in exile in Babylon with the rest of the Jewish people has a vision of this same glory of God leaving the Temple, leaving Jerusalem.
Then in the last book of the Old Testament, the Prophet Malachi proclaims: “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.”
Centuries after this prophecy, during the time of Jesus the people are still waiting for God’s glory to return.
Jesus knows all this—and he knows that his role is to embody God’s return to usher in the Reign of God, Creator and King, to set the world right—driving out evil, violence, sickness and death, through non-violent love.
So on what we call Palm Sunday Jesus acts out the Prophet Zechariah’s vision of the Messiah-King returning to Jerusalem on a donkey (Zechariah 9: 9-12). Jesus enters the Temple and sweeps it clean of those who have turned a house of prayer for all people into a den of robbers.
Then shortly before his arrest, Jesus tells the parable of the Talents.
When this parable gets disconnected from this context of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom, it becomes a bit of conventional wisdom for parents to hold over their kids who are struggling to learn something new. For me, I can hear my mother telling me to keep practicing the trumpet because Jesus told us not to bury our talents. “And yes, you have to play for your grandmother at Christmas!”
That’s not a bad lesson for anyone—to practice our gifts and talents for the benefit of others. Jesus would approve.
But that’s not the message Jesus is teaching the week of his death.
This parable is a parable of Judgment, just like the one last week. You remember the wise bridesmaids bring enough oil to keep their lights shining and thus are welcomed into the feast, but the foolish bridesmaids can’t keep their lights going so they are excluded from the Messianic banquet.
In today’s parable two slaves use the Master’s money in obedience to the Master’s wishes—they let their light shine. But one slave, out of fear, disobeys the intention of the Master and buries his money in the dark.
Did I say “buries HIS money”—that’s a mistake—he buries the master’s money—he takes the money his master gives him and instead of taking the risk to grow it, he drops it in a hole.
The central character of this story is the Master, not the slaves. The Master has the money, the expectation, the blessing and the Master pronounces the judgment.
And that’s our problem: we don’t do “masters” very well. The American story is that we threw off the masters who oppressed us. New Hampshire’s motto is “live free or die”! Massachusetts motto is a bunch of Latin that says: “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”
So it’s easy to read this as a parable about making good investments on Wall Street. Who needs a master to tell this story?
If we don’t believe in the master—if we don’t really believe we have a master—if we don’t believe we are creatures who owe our very existence in every moment to the Creator, then we are free indeed.
This is the project begun in the Enlightenment—“man is the measure of all things”, so we are free to invent our own story–Which of course leads us to the folly of world wars and the myths about a 1000 Reich or a Worker’s Paradise or a Capitalistic Utopia.
Jesus tells stories about the Master because he is the Master’s son who comes to save creation by freeing us from our false stories so we can live the true story and be the creatures of peace we are created to be.
Jesus says: “I am the light of the world.”
John’s gospel says: 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
We say in the creed that Jesus is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God.”
Yet Jesus also said 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may—what, put you on TV for all to admire?—no, so that others may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
From Genesis on, the Bible proclaims that human beings are created to reflect God’s glory into the world. We are all like the moon who have no light of our own but are created to reflect the rays of the sun into the cold, dark world.
Two of the slaves do this. One of them does not. And then we see that there are consequences for their actions.
The two who remember whose money it is and are willing to risk obedience to the master are given more money to use for the healing of the world—maybe for building habitat homes or becoming friends with the hungry, visiting the sick–and are invited into the joy of the Master.
Paul in the second reading today describes disciples of Jesus this same way: “But you Beloved, are not in darkness…; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.”
The one who imagines he doesn’t have to take the risk to reflect the glory of the Master is thrown into outer darkness.
I know many of us have been raised on a judgment-free religion in which actions don’t have consequences, but if we refuse to reflect God’s light we should not be surprised to find ourselves in the dark.
So we must remember we don’t have any light of our own. It’s not up to us to be the light, to proclaim our effort and success.
Our job is to reflect the light of the One who through sheer grace shines his light into our darkened hearts and minds and communities.
After Jesus dies for us and is resurrected in the body for us, we know the heart and mind of our Master is to shine on us.
Now we know both how the movie begins and how it ends—and what our small, but vital, role in it is.