Here’s the bottom line:
Jesus says that if someone should happen to give you large sums of his
money, the right thing to do is to make a lot of risky investments and hope
that your huge risks will result in huge rewards. He is also saying that the wrong thing to do is to play it safe and keep the money in your basement where market fluctuations won’t harm the value of the principle and will insure that the investment is safe. This is because
Jesus likes the idea of a global financial meltdown and his “faithful disciples” on Wall Street were just trying to live the Gospel values as fully as they could. This is our lesson for
today, so let us do likewise. Amen.
OK, so maybe I’m being a bit hasty. Perhaps there’s something else
going on here. Last week we heard a parable about lamp oil that had nothing to do with oil. The week before it a parable about a wedding garment that had nothing to do with fashion. We’ve considered a parable about vineyards that had nothing to do with
winemaking and before that we reflected on day laborers’ rate of pay that had nothing to do with employment policy. So….maybe today’s parable about investments and money has nothing to do with investments and money. Just sayin’…
This reading provokes some interesting questions, but the primary question is, “Who is Jesus?” I don’t mean who is Jesus in the parable, because obviously Jesus is the master who takes a vacation. I mean, who is Jesus to you personally? Who is the Jesus of your understanding? How we answer that question determines how we live in relationship with him and with his God.
The third servant in our parable saw the master as harsh, somewhat greedy and
demanding, and therefore the servant acted out of fear. If the principle is lost, the servant thinks, my master’s anger will be unleashed on me. To avoid the master’s rage, the money is hidden away, and ironically, it’s that very decision that brings the servant’s worst fears to pass. We don’t really know much about this master, but we know the servant’s perceptions. Maybe the servant was mistaken in having this negative view of the master.
First of all, how harsh, greedy, or demanding could he be if he entrusted so much money to three lowly servants? It’s only an accident of the English language that ‘talent’ has its own meaning separate from the actual, biblical one. This parable is not talking about gifts or abilities; it’s talking about money, and a lot of it. One talent is worth fifteen years’ wages
for a laborer. In modern terms, we’re talking roughly four hundred and fifty thousand dollars per talent, or roughly 3.6 million dollars. What kind of harsh, greedy, demanding person entrusts that kind of money to three unskilled houseworkers?
Second, the other servants didn’t seem to share the opinion of the third servant. They don’t act out of fear, but out of hope and expectation. They were given a chance to show their competence, and they were glad to have the opportunity. Yes, there were risks
involved, but they apparently thought that if everything went awry, their master would certainly understand. So, they did their homework, did some research online perhaps, and decided how to be as responsible as possible in making their investments. The master of their understanding was different from the master of the third servant’s understanding, even though it was the same master.
Third, we have the words of the master to guide us: “Well done, good and
trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in
charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Trustworthy. The master is not joyful because of their success and he never mentions the fortune he’s just made.
He is overcome with joy because of their trustworthiness. They acted in good faith, and it’s that good faith that’s rewarded. The third slave wasn’t punished because he didn’t
make any money; he was punished because he didn’t act in good faith. He didn’t act in bad faith, either. He acted in no faith. And that’s important, because this parable is talking about the kingdom of heaven, not as it is on earth in some distant future, but as it is on earth right now.
Who, then, is the Jesus of your understanding? Is he someone that you’re
afraid of, someone that you need to hide yourself from, someone that’s going to
judge you for your every little fault or failure? Is he the company that
you don’t see very often, so when you do you put on your best clothes and be on
your best behavior, and engage in idle chitchat, avoiding everything of
substance because it might crack the veneer of acceptability you’ve
affected? If that’s the Jesus of your understanding, then no wonder
you’ve been afraid to invest of yourself, your real self, in the cause of the
Reign of God.
The harsh, greedy, demanding Jesus that some people perceive is not the Jesus
of my understanding. The Jesus of my understanding sees that I’m capable
of a lot more than I give myself credit for, and has given me the tools I need
to work in and for the Reign of God. He’s also helped me see that I contain a treasure within myself, the living Word of God, that he wants me to share, along with a decent amount of his boundless love that he wants me to invest. And the kingdom of heaven is not like Wall Street, where a risky investment, or even a relatively safe one for
that matter, might lose most or all its value. The kingdom of heaven, the kingdom that is here on earth right now, waiting for its completion with the return of our King, never loses value. If you put something into it, something will always be there for someone to partake of, to share. The only way to lose is to not participate at all.
The treasure is not ours at all, it turns out, it’s God’s. Jesus has entrusted it to us to manage and invest until his return. We’re not going to be judged by how big a church we purchased or how many poinsettias were on the altar at Christmas time, or how much money we have in the bank. It’s not our success he wants; it’s our faithfulness. Every Mass we say, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” and until that day arrives, we must simply trust that the future is already in God’s hands. Let us risk and move in ways that are new and maybe uncertain, sinning boldly (as Luther might have said), opening up our lives and our talents for the sake of others. Let us practice justice and mercy when the world calls for retribution and violence, and let us do all this with no fear of failure. Because when Christ does return—whether that happens in a global event, or in a very private event at our death–we will experience the full truth that the
kingdom of heaven is not Wall Street, and God’s love is not limited in the least. It is, in fact, the origin of everything that is. Amen.