Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – 11.19.17

What are we doing with the time of our lives?  Both our second reading and gospel this week ask that question.  Paul is responding to the Christians in Thessalonica who are anxious for predictions about the end time, telling them rather than worry about that, they should be concerned with the way they are living now.  Paul’s message is that if we live as children of the light, we have nothing to worry about.   We are people of the day, he tells us, so we live protected by faith and love, with the hope of salvation.  We an encourage one another with the certainty of salvation through our faith in Christ.

In our gospel story, we are presented with the same question of what we do with the time of our lives, but also why we do what we do and what it has to do with God.  Jesus sets up a situation which at first sounds pretty fantastic, but it turns out that the people listening could actually imagine the circumstances that he describes.  There were very wealthy businesspeople who had many slaves.  Some slaves would be in charge of running the house, working at whatever business he owned.  Some would receive specialized training and would be able to carry on the supervision of the master’s work.  They are the chosen ones, because they have a particular talent for the business.

When the master traveled, they often left their most trusted slaves in charge of everything.  In this case, the master gives a good portion of his treasure to those trusted slaves so they could continue his work.  One talent was equal to average wages for fifteen years, so the amounts of money are comparable to someone hitting the lottery jackpot today.   The slave who received the smallest amount, one talent, was entrusted with what would be about a million dollars in today’s currency.

What he did with the money would not have been considered all that unusual either.  There were no local banks for ordinary people where one could open a savings account, or purchase a CD.  People often found a secure, secret hiding place, often underground, and buried their treasure to protect it.  The difference between that slave and the other two was that he did not like his master, he did not care about his business or his endeavors, so he had no motivation to do something to increase the treasure that had been entrusted to him.

If we think about it, the master himself could have buried that money to keep it safe until his return.  Instead he entrusted it to people who he thought would use it wisely.  In the case of the third slave, it was as if he had given him seeds to plant but the slave put them in a box to keep them safe.  They would never bear fruit that way.  The master wanted the business to keep going, and those who used what was entrusted to them wisely not only increased the master’s fortune, they became more like him as they worked.  They carried on the master’s mission.

When the first two slaves reported in to the master when he returned, they handed over the money and informed him that they had doubled it for him.  Imagine their surprise when the master doesn’t say, “great, now I have a much bigger fortune!”  Instead, he compliments each of them on having been trustworthy, assures them that they will have even more responsibility, and invites them to enter into his joy – in other words, come and join the welcome home celebration.

In contrast, the third slave, who buried the money, came forward and told the master exactly what he thought of him.  He could have explained that he wanted to safeguard the treasure, but instead he told the master that he was demanding, that he basically goes for everything he can get.  He clearly was not interested in the master’s business endeavors and was returning to him exactly what he had been given for safekeeping, no more, no less.

We hear and respond to the harsh reaction of the master, that the servant is thrown out, “into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  That sentence is probably the part of this story that everyone remembers, and we occasionally employ it as a useful phrase.  But in truth, the slave created this situation himself.  His punishment is a logical conclusion of a process he himself set in motion.  He chose to exclude himself from the master’s endeavors, so it became impossible for him to share in the master’s reward and celebration.

As winter approaches and our world seems to be surrounded by cold and darkness, as we hear an endless stream of bad news about tragedies, floods, fires and earthquakes, it would be easy to become like the early Christians, who thought that Jesus had been gone for too long.  Some believe he is coming back, others doubt or even deny the possibility.  Paul went through that with all of his communities, and every time the people began to question if they could keep on going, whenever they asked for a time schedule of Jesus’ anticipated return, Paul reminded them that no one knows when the end time will come.  He told his people not to get too worried, but not to allow themselves to get too comfortable either.

Often, we find that some of the wiser and more patient members of Christian communities through the ages have understood that God doesn’t give us timetables, rather God gives us possibilities.  They would argue that the point of the parable of the talents is not how much work the slaves did, the amount of profit they made or the risks they took.  It is that the two slaves learned to love the work that the master did.  They watched him, and learned how to do it, and then when they were entrusted with it they replicated his work.  It must have been a wonderful surprise when he did not focus on the profit made, but rather praised them for the work they did and invited them to share in the celebration.

God wants us to experience life lived according to God’s intentions.  If we imitate his way, even though he is not physically on earth with us, then we get caught up in that way of living.  By the time Christ returns, we will be increasing the gifts we have been given and we will share in the joy that results.  We should have pity for those who refuse to get involved.  Those who are not willing to take on the mission, who do not respond with gratitude for the opportunities and blessing they receive, see everything with suspicion.  Instead of acting on the trust that is given to them, they bury their talents and suffocate their own potential.  They are in the darkness and gnashing their teeth long before it is time to give God an account.

We are children of the light.  We cannot know what will happen tomorrow, no one knows.  Yet, we can keep on keeping on.  We can walk in the way of the light, sharing and multiplying our blessings and having the time of our lives.  Amen.

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