2nd Sunday before Advent
November 15th, 2020
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 & Matthew 25:14-30
‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ is (I think) an appropriate title for this week’s sermon as it reflects one of the threads in Jesus’ parable about the kingdom of heaven. It is also, incidentally, a title of one of Abba’s greatest hits. The song is about a couple facing divorce and accepting the inevitability of their break-up. ‘We just have to face it, this time we’re through, breaking up is never easy.’ This is not an easy parable nor is it made any more comforting by the times we find ourselves living in, but I am going to try!
As I was preparing for this week, I saw more cries for help than usual from clergy on various social media platforms who are also preaching on Matthew 25 today. Like many of Jesus’ parables, it can be read on several different levels and it needs careful attention. We are becoming much more aware of the disparity between people, rich and poor, north and south, east and west, educated and less educated in our own country and around the world. Some could read this parable as the kingdom of God being unfair. It is a kingdom that gives more to those who already have more, less to those who are already disadvantaged. God is likened to the rich man who rewards his slaves based on performance, rewarding only those who make him richer and punishes those who don’t. In the light of Black Lives Matter, it is particularly problematic to view God as a slave owner. However, God does not work like that, he is a loving Father, he is not mean, and he is certainly not unfair.
We could also read this parable as a call to do more with what God has given us. It doesn’t matter how much we have been given, just do more with it and be smart about it. Again, if we don’t use it, we will be punished. The tension here is that, given the current situation with Covid, many people cannot volunteer or contribute their gifts for the service of others as they would in more normal times. Should they be made to feel guilty? Punished for what is beyond their control? These questions can lead to feelings of anxiety, despondency, sadness and depression.
It is important to set the wider context before we go any further. Both Paul writing to the Thessalonians and Matthew speak to the return of the Lord. God is coming back some day. The gospel writers, Paul and the disciples thought Jesus was coming back soon, at any moment. Yet here we are two thousand years later, still watching and waiting. Like the Thessalonians, we do not know the day or the time. Paul and Matthew are concerned with what people do in the meantime. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to put on the breastplate of faith and love, a helmet for the hope of salvation. Paul wants them to encourage and build each other up. Jesus is coming back, and it matters what was done in his absence. This is true for us to, how are we doing in the meantime? Are we being foolish or wise, investing, hiding or squandering?
In Jesus’ parable, the man (master) is going away for an undetermined amount of time. He calls his servants and gives them each a talent of silver, ‘to each according to this ability‘. Notice though that he does not give them any instructions about what to do with the talents. This is where knowing me, knowing you comes in. The man knew his servants, he had worked out what each would do with the talents given.
Through the actions of the first two servants, those who invested the talents, we can see that they knew their master. Even without explicit instructions, they knew what was expected of them, what would please their master. It is doubtful that these two slaves understood the motivation of their master but possibly suspected that this was some kind of test. The third slave knows his master too, he doesn’t like him, fears him and assumes that the master doesn’t think much of him either. The master does not seem to trust this slave as much as the others.
We don’t know why; Jesus does not provide an explanation of their relationship. Instead of trying to please or get to know his master, the slave gives up and buries the talent. When the master returns to his home, the third slave knows that trouble is coming so tells his master what he thinks of him. This slave had decided a long time ago that nothing would please his master so gave up trying. The slave focused on the negative and let fear take over. Many people can relate to the third slave, that nothing they do is ever good enough, so why try? This is applied to God too. I’ve heard things like, ‘God has never bothered with me, so why should I bother him?’ or ‘if God is so good, then why did x, y, or z happen?’ These questions often come from a place of deep hurt and carry some honesty, but they also indicate a lack of knowledge of God.
When it comes to talents, by this I mean our gifts and skills; they have come from God. They are given to be used, we are stewards of them, not the owners. The owner is God, and he expects us to use his gifts wisely. Gifts, like the silver talents of the slaves, increase with use. To use them wisely and to the glory of God, we need to know the giver, the true owner of these gifts. God has a genuine and vested interest is what we do in his name.
If we seek to know God and his will for our lives, we do not need to worry about the outer darkness. We are all going to have to account for what we have done with what has been given to us. It does not matter how much; this is not a competition. If you feel that God was stingy or somehow passed you by when handing out your gifts, seek him, ask him! God know you, knows your capacity, He also loves and understands you. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to: ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.’
The third slave focused on the negative, what he did not have, did not get and blames the master for that. The master replies by pointing out that the slave did not try, did not seek out what he (the master) wanted. Many people who tend to blame God for their misfortunes, do not seek after him in the first place. Assumptions about who God is and what He is like are often wrong and based on circumstance and feelings rather than knowledge and relationship.
For Abba, Knowing Me, Knowing You was a serious song about the breakdown of relationship left to human devices and frailties. For the third slave, this could be his song, the breaking up is never easy and he had to go. For the other slaves and for us, who know Jesus, Knowing Me, Knowing You is a positive experience, it is an ongoing and ultimately loving relationship with the Father who loves us more than we can ask or imagine, who gives good gifts for the benefit of all. Don’t waste what God has given you, seek the Lord while he may be found, we need to build each other up for the day of the Lord in coming.