Summary: We’ve reached a familiar story in the book of Matthew – the parable of the talents.
It’s a parable I’ve known since my youth - one I am quite familiar with – and having been in this parish almost 21 years now, it’s one that I am reaching for the 7th time even since I’ve been here, which is why it is all the more astounding that I’ve never preached on this one before.
Indeed, when I finally got around to focusing on my sermon just after midnight last night I thought, “I’ll just recycle and old one”, but there was no old one, and that astounded me until I looked a little more closely, and I could see why I have been avoiding dealing with this parable all these many years. It is a distasteful parable!
Martin Luther feared that there was a dark side to God, and while I think Luther was wrong, I reckon he got a lot of his negative images of God from sole of the depictions of the Almighty that turn up in Jesus’ parables.
I think Jesus used to deliberately go around upsetting people with bizarre depictions of God and He’d sorta throw them out there like theological hand-grenades that would just go off all of a sudden and turn everything upside-down.
St Paul threw one of those hand-grenades in today’s Epistle reading actually, saying that the day of the Lord’s coming is like a thief coming in the night! That’s a very disturbing image!
I don’t know if you’ve ever had that experience – and I guess I’m addressing married men here in particular – where you’ve been woken up with a whisper from your wife, “Honey … I think I hear someone in the house downstairs!” You listen for a while and reply, “I think it’s the Lord actually, Honey. Go back to sleep!”
No. That’s not what you say because that’s not an image we’re really read to work with!
At any rate, the depiction of the Master in the parable of the talents in the Gospel reading seems worse that the thief in many ways!
The story begins promisingly enough. A master is going away and he’s leaving his wealth in the hands of his trusted servants, and perhaps there are shades of the Parable of the Prodigal Son here, with dear old dad dividing his inheritance between his ungrateful offspring. The son shouldn’t really be asking his father for his inheritance but dad loves him and will give it to him anyway, and even when he squanders everything he’s been given, dad is still going to love him and want him back, etc., etc. BUT this is NOT the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is it? Not at all!
That much is made abundantly clear right away when the master does something that no self-respecting father would ever dream of doing – he divides his property radically unequally between his servants, and without explanation.
And of course the other, even more significant, difference is that he (the master) hasn’t simply divided his property amongst his servants as his gift to them. He’s put them in charge of his property so that they can manage it for him, but only for a while, for he is coming back and when he comes back he is going to reclaim his property as his own and he wants to see that his property has been responsibly handled!