Sermon: "Enter into the Joy of Your Master"
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Judges 4.1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11; Matthew 25.14-30
Last Sunday we focused on the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (five wise and five foolish). As noted, the parable addresses the necessity of being prepared for Christ’s coming. The oil and lamps are representative of our commitment to loving God and others, to letting our light shine before others through acts of love that others might see the glory of God. As mentioned, the wise bridesmaids could not share their oil, for each person must procure his or her own oil from God. I cannot let my light shine as a substitute for your light. Each person is responsible for being prepared.
Today’s gospel lesson focuses on the parable of the talents. Unlike so many of the other parables which begin with “The kingdom of heaven is like …”, this parable begins with “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them” (Matthew 25.14; NRSV). The master gives one slave five talents, another slave two talents, and a third slave one talent. The first two slaves exercise their abilities and double what they were given. The third slave buries his talent. A talent is a huge sum of money – the equivalent of 15 years of wages!
The account tells us “After a long time” the master returned and settled accounts with them. The slave given five talents presents the master with ten talents; the slave given two talents presents the master with four talents. The master responds by telling each of them, “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” (Matthew 25.23; NRSV). When the slave who had been given one talent came before the master, he said, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours” (Matthew 25.24-25; NRSV). The master was upset! He called him a “wicked and lazy slave,” quoted the slaves own words to him (“you knew…that I reap where I do not sow, and gather where I did not scatter”), and told him the least he could have done was to have invested the money with the bankers so that he might have received interest. The master then ordered the talent be taken from him and given to the slave with ten talents. Then the master said, “For to all those who have more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” The master then ordered the worthless slave be thrown into outer darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25.28-30; NRSV).
How are we to understand this parable? What is Jesus trying to tell us?
The parable has been interpreted variously. Some see it as related to stewardship and it is often used on stewardship Sunday – Give to God what God has given you! Some see it as justification for capitalism – See, God intends for us to invest wisely and to double our money. Others interpret the parable in terms of our use and understanding of “talent,” i.e., the abilities, we have been given. This somewhat stretches things, for our current use of “talent” derives from the parable, so how could this have been what Jesus had in mind?
While there may be some merit to these interpretations[LO1] , Jesus appears to have been emphasizing faithfulness – we are called to confront our fears and be faithful in our use of what God has given us. We are called to exercise proper stewardship over the gifts God has given us – gifts entrusted to us for the benefit of God’s kingdom! And yes, that extends to a consideration of the proper use of our money, our time, our talents, our intellect, our relationships, our possessions, and even to the environment.
But I think there is a deeper message contained in this parable, a message which becomes clearer if we consider the context. Matthew 25 contains three parables: The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, the Parable of the Talents, and the Parable of the Judgment of the Nations. Each of these parables addresses the end times. The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids emphasizes our need to be prepared. And how do we live in a state of preparedness? By living in light and love. The parable of the talents may also be understood in terms of love – God has entrusted us with love, now what are we going to do with it? The Parable of the Judgment of the Nations focuses on how we have loved others, especially the least of these. Matthew 25’s parables are a reflection on the importance of love in light of the end times.
Concerning the Parable of the Talents, let’s consider the talents as measures of love. The first slave received five measures of love. The slave set about imitating the master – he fostered, the growth and expression of that love until it doubled. Likewise, the second slave who was given two talents imitated the master and doubled his expression of love. When the master returned, i.e., when Christ returns, and the slaves settled accounts, the first and second slaves were commended: “Well done, good and trustworthy slave[s]; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25.21; NRSV). The joy of the master is the eschatological feast, the heavenly feast, a foretaste of which we receive when we partake of the Eucharist.
But the slave who received one talent, one measure of love, knew the master was a harsh man, reaping where he did not sow, and gathering where he did not scatter seed. In his fear, he buried what love he had. When called to account, he returned it to the master. The third slave failed to imitate the master and went so far as to make it the master’s fault. The master took the talent from the third slave and gave it to the slave which had ten talents. To those who have love, those who live a life of love, more love will be given. The master commanded that the wicked and lazy slave, the slave who had lived in fear, be thrown into the outer darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Let’s face it – a world without love is a world of fear, of darkness, and the gnashing of teeth.
I do not believe God judgmentally visits these things upon us – they are simply the natural consequences of living apart from love. At the last judgment when the accounting takes place, I believe we will experience, will come into contact with, the immensity of God’s love. If we have lived a life of love and service to God and others, it will be a joyous occasion and we will hear “Well done, thou good and trustworthy servant; enter into the joy of your master.”
If we have chosen to love self above all else, above God and our neighbor, experiencing the immensity of God’s love will induce fear. Hell is our own reward; hell is having separated ourselves from the love of God.
When we recognize this, we can better understand why Jesus began this parable by saying, “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them.” Jesus did not say “The kingdom of heaven is like,” for this parable is a reflection on our willingness to live in love in imitation of the master. I believe this interpretation is confirmed by what we read in 1 John 4.16a-19:
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.
The love we have is a treasure the master has entrusted to us. When we come closer to understanding the nature of God’s love, we begin to realize that Jesus’ use of the term “talent” is no exaggeration.
May we be prepared! With the power of the Spirit, may we live in love in imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and at that last day when our master returns, may we hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the master!”