Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost - Matthew 25:14-30
Jesus is the embodiment of the God who gives. A God who gives us good things always, at all times, in every way, yet we don’t see it. We look at other things around us thinking that that person over there has been blessed but not me. Or “O, if they would just turn their lives around, God would bless them.” Or “God doesn’t care about me. He has forgotten me. I am nothing. He takes, and takes, never giving to me.” Jesus coming to earth as an actual human being should hopefully change our minds. Having a physical person to look to as God’s presence with us. A presence that sees suffering, death on a cross, and yet life and salvation. Having your faith there, in a God who gives himself to you, is a God who gives good things to you.
I don’t know what your net-worth is, and I don’t care. I don’t know what kind of car you drive, what most of you do or did for a living, or how many bags of gold God has given you over your lifetime. What I do know is that our tendency is to interpret all things in the Scriptures in light of worth. We gage our worthiness, our Jesus-likeness on certain quantifiable attributes because many of us have spent our lives being told that is how we judge worthiness.
The trouble here becomes the direction of our lives out of that, whether conscious or subconscious. Holding onto what we have as our defining characteristics. It could be anything, but notice my use of words, what we have. It is ours, we think. Being infected by material idolatry, having things as our worth. Control. Ruling authority over our castles, our kingdoms, our estates. No matter the size, we echo in similar terms William Earnest Henley – I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul. Our very lives we believe to be ours.
Keep this in mind as you look at our lesson this morning. I start there because as human beings, as Americans, as sinners, our default is to read this text through the lens of the gold, or talents, or abilities. When we read these parables, we always start with the end instead of the beginning, because that is where we get the most upset. We don’t like the bad news, we want the good news, but our eyes look to the bad first in these Scriptures. We never think twice about the master of the estate here in Matthew 25, or even the two servants. We always see the third one. The “one-bag-man.” The one who received one bag of gold. One talent as the other translations say. Then bad things happen to him and we think it unfair. He didn’t lose it. It wasn’t stolen. Why the mean master? Why the harsh lordship? The punishment? Seeing the end of this man, we begin to hate his master.
The struggle is that we bypass the beginning for the end. We don’t see there at the start that there is a master, a lord, who gives. He is going on a long journey, calls his slaves to himself and gives to them his property, his possessions, his wealth. He leaves, and they are gifted with what he has to give.
I have the benefit, and the curse, of not growing up Lutheran. I say benefit and curse because it is my benefit to still have this formation in American Evangelicalism; a love for the Bible and an honest attraction to personal faith. It tends to push me in certain directions as I read and teach the Scriptures. It is a curse because I come together with my cradle Lutheran colleagues and I’ll bring some new incite I learned from Luther, something I just read and realized, and they will say, “Yeah? So?” While I’m like “Dude! Did you know we have this as Lutherans?” I’m still the baby looking at this new world. Enchanted. Enthralled by it.
Now take our parable. We want it to be about works right? About doing all sorts of stuff. Talents or gold handed over by God, we better get results. But the key is found in verse 15 and verse 29. First, it says - each according to his ability. And then - whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.
Starting with the master who gives. Giving out of his wealth to the slaves according to their abilities, we think abilities is the ability to do something with the possessions, but what if the ability is something else? What if the ability is not about good works? Not about managing God’s gifts, but the abilities are one’s of faith. Of knowing God. So let’s flip things around a little.
The first slave has little faith and is given more; more gold, more treasure. Because he needs it. He is amazed by the gift and can’t help but have it increase. Have it grow, maturing like an annuity.
The second, has some faith. Trusts God. Regularly takes time to hear the Gospel, but still needs something, anything of Christ to help jolt them back into a vision of the King coming for us.
The last, we’ll call him “One-bag-Bobo”, has the knowledge of God. He knows. He has a store house of the grace of the Lord and doesn’t need much more, and so he is only given that one bag to manage. Given a little extra.
Now, imagine for a second that “One Bag Bobo” represents not you or I, but the religious leaders of the day. Hiding the truth, the “giving-God” story. Maybe even speaking of a God who only takes from those who are not good. Assuming there is no giving-God. Getting rid of the evidence. Hiding it from the people and feigning ignorance. Losing the One who is merciful and full of lovingkindness. The God capturing for himself a people by the workings of grace through Word, through Sacrament, through the blood of a new covenant. The leaders hiding the gifts and treasure of the Gospel from those who need it, losing the Jesus of the Crucifixion and resurrection. This parable becoming a warning not to you for misusing possessions but a warning to me for not telling you of your Jesus. A warning to you to not know of him as a precious treasure who comes to you.
In Luke 7 we are told the story of Jesus going to dinner at the house of a Pharisee, named Simon. While he is reclining at the table, a woman we know only as “sinful” comes to the house, enters the room, weeping she uses her tears to wash his feet, dries them with her hair and pours perfume on them as an anointing.
Simon, a religious leader, sneers. He sees the woman as a sinner. Most likely a prostitute. Known in town. Known by Simon maybe. That makes things interesting. “Uh, Simon? How do you know this lady?”
Simon says in his heart – “If this man really were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this is who is touching him.”
Jesus then tells Simon a parable. “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”
Jesus then turns the focus of Simon to the woman. “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss of welcome, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with sweet perfume. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven her—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Daughter, your sins are forgiven you.”
Imagine “One-bag-Bobo” as Simon. Given the gift of love, he sees Jesus like that sweater your grandmother gave you for Christmas that is still in the box at the back of your closet. Taking what is truly given by God to us, this God-man Jesus, the Great Forgiver, and seeing it not worth more than something to be buried in the backyard, rather than shared, doubled, and offered back to the Father who deigns to offer a poor sinner like me something so good as Jesus. Loving little versus loving much.
Beloved, he gives unto you the most precious treasure – Himself. The Christ. The treasure of the forgiveness of sins, the embodiment of love, the one for whom we wait expectantly. For when we know that nothing compares to Christ Jesus and his goodness, then all other things pale in comparison. Then we have a God who gives, that we may give to others. Both ourselves, but also of what we have been given, Christ himself. Thanks be to God. Amen.