Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
History and church tradition tells us that Matthew, the writer of today’s gospel, was a tax collector. It’s hard not to wonder if he didn’t receive some kind of kickback or bonus from the 1st-century equivalent of the dental industry. Matthew’s phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” appears six times in the gospel, usually combined with someone being thrown into the outer darkness.
When this phrase occurs, it seems to overshadow everything else. We no longer hear the phrase “enter into the joy of your Master”. We forget Paul’s comfort to the Thessalonians, “God has destined us not for wrath, but for obtaining salvation…” With the story of the wedding feast, the bridesmaids and the talents, everyone immediately asks, like the disciples on the night of the Last Supper, “Is it me? Lord, is it me?”
Am I the one without the robe? Would I be a foolish bridesmaid, out of oil and out of luck? Am I the servant who buried the talent in fear? Will I be gnashing my teeth and wailing in the outer darkness?
For gospel, for good news, Matthew can certainly inspire fear in our hearts. This is hardly a time in world history when we need additional fear. Think for a moment about the servant with the one talent. A talent was equivalent to the wages of a day laborer for 15 years. That servant held in his hand all that he could hope to earn for the majority of his wage earning years. For a person in our time, working for $5.75 an hour, forty hours a week, fifty weeks a year for fifteen years, the equivalent sum would be $172, 500.
So the man received this huge amount of money and buried it. Out of fear of his master, maybe out of fear of losing the money- he couldn’t even bring himself to make a minimum savings plan and get a little interest. He did what he thought was the very safest thing and he was able to return to his master exactly what he was given.
But that wasn’t what the Master wanted. The two servants who were able to double their money entered into the joy of their master, but the other servant has his talent taken and then he is sent away.
The frustration of the master is not that this servant did not double the money, like the others, nor is it about not receiving even minimum interest. The master is angry because the servant did not risk anything. The servant was entrusted with a great sum of money, with a great responsibility and he sat on it.
For us, right now, this parable is not about money or about our gifts. It’s about fear. What are we afraid of? Because we too, like the servant, have been given a great responsibility. We have been given the task of bringing the gospel to the world, bearing Christ’s light to all people. We have heard the message of hope that comes to the world through Jesus- that our sins are forgiven and we are freed from the fear of death.
But still that fear lingers. And then it multiplies. In that fear, as Martin Luther would say, exists the old Satanic foe. But Luther also said this, “If grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe in Christ more boldly still. For he is victorious over sin, death and the world.”
God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Do we have any fictitious sinners here today? So then, we have all, at one time or another, taken our talent and buried it. We didn’t make the phone call we intended to, the donation we should have, the prayer we were asked for. We forget, we are afraid and sometimes we just do the opposite.
But God doesn’t. God has done exactly what was promised. We have been saved through no work of our own. As Paul says, “We are the children of light and children of the day…God has destined us… for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live with him.”
So the love of God compels us to take our talents, whatever we have, and carry them into the world. The talents are multiplied through what we do in our daily lives, when we first remember, always, that we are true sinners and our God offers true grace. The work of the Holy Spirit moves through us- making our work holy as we do the things that we have been gifted to do.
And if what if we do sin? Then we will be forgiven. As quickly as you are able to think “Is it me, Lord?” when you hear about weeping and gnashing of teeth, you should just as quickly remember, “Nothing can separate me from the love of God.”
The parable of the talents reminds all of us that we have been entrusted with great gifts, the gifts of grace, forgiveness and truth. And there is a needy world around us, longing for all of those things. God’s work happens through our hands. How will that work of justice, healing and power get done? Through sinners. Like me. Like you.
So do not be afraid. Enter into the joy of your Master. Use your talents- all of them. In so doing, you will mess up, you will be a sinner, and so sin boldly. But believe more boldly still in Christ, in the power of the cross and in the truth that you are a child of God. And the children of God, sinners though they be, always have a place in Son. S-O-N. So says Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Martin Luther… even Zephaniah.
But most importantly, so says Jesus.