Pentecost 27A, 2005
A Liturgy is also available
GOD MISBEHAVING, OR A PEASANT ACTING HONOURABLY?
The story commonly named ‘The parable of the talents’
is one of those stories that has left its mark
on our language and culture in a big way.
I remember I have preached on it several times in my 40 year career.
Indeed, so much has it become part of our everyday vocabulary
that we tend to miss the ‘fang’ hidden in its tail.
And that’s a pity.
How can we connect with this story, this parable?
Some scholars suggest we can connect through the story’s ecclesiastical context.
And Matthew’s context is one of the great church debates of his, and our, day.
Should we stay as we are?
Or should we change - become more of an inclusive community
and let ‘the others’, the Gentiles, people who are different - in?
Supporting this view, William Loader says Matthew's church is probably remembering:
“the controversy over the expansion of the gospel into the Gentile world and the refusal of some Jews to accept that the doors should be flung open so recklessly... God is misbehaving again and they cannot believe it and refuse to support the adventure” (WLoader/Web site 2005).
And there is this comment about the so-called ‘sting’ in the tail of the story. Bill Loader says:
“The tragedy is that many people are afraid of losing or endangering God and so seek to protect God from adventures, to resist attempts at radical inclusion that might, they fear, compromise God's purity and holiness...
And again this challenging comment:
“We need to encourage people to stop putting God under the mattress. As we begin to trust allowing God to move through us, our lives change as individuals and our communities have a better chance of change” (WLoader/Web site 2005).
Today's story told by Matthew is an invitation for us - as church -
to look beyond what we have been in the past.
For we can no longer expect ‘church’ to be what it once was.
I invite you to ponder that for a moment.
Well, what I have shared with you so far is part of the first draft of my sermon.
As it was up until late on Wednesday night.
But I confess, by 4.40am on Thursday morning
some of my first draft sermon started to change...
thanks to some early morning reading of Barbara Reid’s book
Parable for preachers. Year A.
Reid suggests that such interpretations,
which have tended to influence my thinking over the years
and the thinking of many of my colleagues,
focuses on the traveller or the owner - and by analogy, God.
A quiet different interpretation of the story would be had
if our focus was on the third servant,
and from the perspective of a 1st century peasant person.
The most likely person to have been in the audience during its oral telling.
So, let me share some of my 4.40am reading and thinking...
Social commentators all around the place are constantly telling us
we live in an era of incredibly fast change.
What worked in building our faith communities, for example,
20 years ago,
10 years ago,
or even only last year,
are more than likely not going to work today.
The landscapes of this country and the world are in rapid transition.
Yet despite all this change, there is one part of our social conditioning
which seems not to have changed in any radical sense.
We still tend hear this parable through ‘capitalist’ ears
which views wealth as something that can be increased
by hard work
But in the social world of the parable, both in its original oral telling
and in its later written form by the storyteller we call Matthew,
it is thought there is only so much wealth.
And an increase to one person takes away from another.
Let me share with you some of what Barbara Reid offers:
“From this perspective, the man who expects his money to be increased is the wicked one, who is unfettered in his greed... The third servant, then, is not wicked (or incompetent), except in the eyes of those who are greedy acquisitors or those who are co-opted by them, as are the first two servants. The third (servant) is the one who acted honorably by blowing the whistle on the wickedness of the (owner)... The parable is a warning to the rich to stop exploiting the poor and is one that encourages poor people to take measures that expose such greed for the sin that it is” (Reid 2001:207-208).
Sometimes early morning reading can turn
what is thought to be a reasonably OK sermon, upside down!
Parables are stories which turn our world views upside down.
But is our world view, the landscapes of the big wide world
or the narrow confines of the church as institution?
Because which world we view can make all the difference
to how we live in the present
and claim the future.
Will the connection be through the world - church institution?
If so, is the future to be claimed by
preserving, holding on, staying the same?
Or is it claimed in freedom of action, acting boldly, changing?
Will the connection be through the world - global and social?
If so, is the future to be claimed through
a new interconnectedness of all life,
and the sustainability of resources?
Or is it global commercialism, international corporations and third-world debt?
I invite you to ponder some more.
Reid, B. E. 2001. Parables for Preachers. The Gospel of Matthew. Year A. MN: Collegeville. The Liturgical Press.