Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30 Oremus Bible Browser

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

We will have a look at the parable of the talents this morning, but first just a comment or two on the reading from Judges. It’s quite - sometimes we just need a little - a window, to get us into the reading and quite often with the Old Testament readings when they’re full of unfamiliar names of people and places it actually is quite easy to switch off from them - when the readings start you hear all these unfamiliar words and quite often with unfamiliar words they just become a switch-off - ‘OK this does not pertain to me because I’m unfamiliar with the language’. If you get an opportunity, have another read through it, in the light of masculine and feminine energies. This is one reading where it’s a wonderful entry point to look at the Bible afresh. It’s one of the texts that in the past probably didn’t get a lot of airplay - doesn’t quite fit into the patriarchal framework - but it really does have a lot to say and just hearing it again this morning I wondered whether there’s something in there about the male energy, the masculine energy, which is fear-based and the feminine energy which is love-based. It’s a stunning reading, because Debra, she was one of the judges, she was the leader of the people, she heard the word of God, she then summons Barak - ‘This is what God has said - that here we’ve got the opportunity to overthrow these forces’. And he takes just a step back and says ‘Well I’ll do it if you’ll come with me.’ And what she says is ‘Well, yes that’s fine I will, but that won’t be the road to you glory.’ Because really what he’s saying - he just didn’t have enough trust in the word of God to follow through himself. It’s a really interesting reading - think of it with those energies. That doesn’t mean we then think of it as men and women, but rather within ourselves, what are those energies? What is it that causes that and what do we need to grasp in order to go forward with the word of God? And certainly it’s got a backdrop to the Garden of Eden story - you can actually hear that coming through again. And it does serve - bit of a long bow - but it’s a good reading to have in the background as we then move into the gospel reading today.

The gospel reading is one of those that is quite familiar - many of us would have heard it a few times by now - and it’s one of the parables. And the idea of the parables is they make it easy for us to understand - ha, ha! The tricky thing is that over two thousand years all sorts of people have put their spin on the parables and so by the time we get them today it’s quite difficult to hear them afresh, to actually be able to go back to, what was the simplicity that was held within this story? This is not a parable about the master’s return and yet somehow the Church has developed a theology and a Christology that places great weight on the master’s return - the coming again of Christ. This is rather a parable about continuing the master’s own work: ‘I go away, having given to you so that you may continue the work.’

The parable is really quite short and it probably helps if we look at it in three parts. There’s God’s word, there’s then the activity in relation to that and then there is the accounting of it. So we have the action of God, the response of God’s people and then an accounting, as to, ’OK well how did that all happen?’ It’s very similar to the story of life - the act of creation, the unfolding of creation by those created, and then the outcomes that that produces. So already we can see that the parable parallels life, and if it parallels life it parallels us – our life outwardly and our life inwardly. The tricky thing with this one is if we focus on a theology of the master and most of us who went through went through school up until about twenty or thirty years ago and those that did Sunday schools or whatever, will already have crossed out master and we’ve got Jesus there, we’ve got the Christ in there. As soon as we do that, we already, with the overload we have, we’ll start to think about the return of Christ. That makes nonsense of the bit in the middle: if it starts with Christ and ends in Christ what we invariably do is we devalue ourselves, because we’ve got this wonderful mechanism within us that says, ‘I am not as good as Christ because Christ was the Son of God’. Therefore the start of the story - what he gave and then went away - and the end of the story - his coming back - they’re the important bits; I’ve devalued the bit in the middle. Once we’ve got a theology of Christ that is that way, the middle also becomes distorted - we start seeing a competition going on in between who can be better than the other. Remember the activity of the parable is carried out by three quite different servants, so we’ve got the opportunity to say, ‘Would I be one of those servants that got the five talents or would I have been one of those that got the two talents. I certainly wouldn’t be the one that got the one talent because I’m better than...’ You know what I mean? We can get all caught up in that stuff. If we can ditch that theology of the master, if we can stay with the simplicity of the four men in the parable, then we’ve got an opportunity to concentrate on the word of God and the response to that word.

So let’s have a look at the word of God. What actually gets this parable going? It is the giving of the talents. It’s a fortunate and an unfortunate word because we already will start translating ‘talent’ into talents that we have - our gifts. The right - and its a good link to make - but just come back to the initial parable. The talent was about 75.6 pounds of gold. We are not talking about something small that was given; this is not a token gesture on behalf of the master. The master gives everything, an enormous amount of money. One reference that I read suggested that a talent was the equivalent of what a poor person would earn in fifteen years - we’re talking huge stuff. Everything that the master had is given to these servants. Suddenly this is not a parable about frugality, simple living, it’s not a parable about being careful. It speaks of something else, it speaks of the master saying, ‘Everything that I have, I give to you’, and the interesting thing is it is given in trust. The trust of the master is what really comes out. There are no detailed instructions; there are no commandments that go with it, there are no hints as to what you might do. It is given and given totally and without any conditions. The other interesting thing is why didn’t he just divide it into three and give them each a third? It’s another interesting reflection on life - of course we’re not given the same. That is not what makes life fair. We are all given a different starting point, but the interesting thing is we all have the same capacity to respond. This is clearly a parable about money and about business, and about being in the world and about making things happen. It has nothing to do with worship, with prayer, with gazing at navels. This is a parable about transacting our life in the world.

So let’s look at - when we move from the word of God, the activity of God’s people to the evaluation at the end, which is what the bulk of the reading focuses on, what are the lessons we can draw from it? Well the first one is that waiting for the Lord’s return is not an option, passively avoiding trouble is not an option, saving what was given, holding onto it, is not an option. What the parable encourages us toward is to engage fully with all that we have been given, take risks; act from confidence rather than from fear. The master has an expectation that the servants would act, would behave and would transact in the same way that the master does. Isn’t that interesting - made in the image of God - why wouldn’t here be an expectation that we would engage the world in a God-like way, in a Christ-like way. That’s the expectation, that is the trust, that is the hope. And as we glimpse that perhaps we can then see that for things to change for the world to change we don’t wait for Christ’s return: for things to change then first I must change. Change from my self-ishness, into my Christ-likeness. Go out into the world with all that has been given and continue the work of the Creator, with the same trust that was entrusted to me, knowing that there is a capacity in each and every one, no matter how much or what was given, a capacity for each and every one, to multiply that which was given. To continue God’s work, the work of Creation.

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris