Pentecost 23/Proper 28A
"Isn't She Lovely," by Pastor Fred Kinsey
“So it is with the soul: the soul is all love, and love rules in the soul, mighty and powerful, working and resting, doing and not doing, and all which is in the soul and comes to the soul is according to Love's will,” wrote St. Beatrice, Mystic. “For it is Love's power that has seized the soul and led it, sheltered and protected it, given it prudence and wisdom, and the sweetness and the strength which belong to love. Like the fish, swimming in the vast sea and resting in its deeps, and like the bird, boldly mounting high in the sky, so the soul feels its spirit, freely moving through the vastness and the depth and the unutterable richness, of Love.”
—Beatrice of Nazareth, (Belgium), 13th Century
This past Friday, Kim and I went to the historic Stevie Wonder concert, one of only 12 nights where he performs the entire 1976 masterpiece, Songs in the Key of Life. It was big and wonderful, but strikingly intimate and moving. If you’ve ever seen Stevie live, like when he performed for free in Grant Park a few years ago, you know he has an unassuming and sweet sense of humor, often spoofing himself, even joking about his blindness.
On Friday, he stopped the concert multiple times, to take to the microphone, often employing that sense of humor, but also to introduce his daughter, one of six backup singers, just before he sang, “Isn’t she lovely” which he wrote for her just after she was born. And other times he got in our face, challenging the audience, as he did on the issue of gun control. But most passionately, he appealed to everyone, doing it through the sold-out crowd at the United Center, but I mean, appealed to everyone, everywhere, to love one another. ‘I love you,’ said Stevie. ‘I love each and every one of you,’ he said, more than once throughout the evening, urging us to do the same. ‘Love is the strongest thing there is,’ Stevie Wonder told us. ‘If we love everyone, not just our own community, but everyone equally, we can conquer violence and live in a better world.’
The parable about the talents today, is often seen as an end-time story of God judging us. But I contend, it’s really about God’s gift of love and grace! What the parable of the talents is meant to do is, open up our minds, to who our God really is! The parable of the talents asks us, to think outside the box!
Last week we discussed the parable of the bridesmaids; this week is the parable of the talents; and next week is the prophecy, of the goats and the sheep. All three are from chapter 25 of Matthew, one after the other, on these last three Sundays of the church year, before Advent begins on November 30th. There is a sense of a final word in this chapter, a wrapping up of major themes, which is not coincidental in our lectionary, for in the very next chapter, chapter 26, the Passion of Jesus begins, the beginning of the end for Jesus, if you will.
So, taking the three servants, in this parable of the talents, in reverse order, it is the third servant who Jesus’ audience would most likely have identified with, the servant who receives, just one talent. And some of us, no doubt, will identify with him, as well. In Jesus’ time, it was a very common practice, that if you had a little extra, a nice gift from family perhaps, that you literally buried it in the ground, somewhere secret, just as this servant does. The poor did not totally trust bankers, and keeping money under your mattress would be to risk having it stolen by robbers. So hiding it, by burying it, was a smart and safe way to keep money for a rainy day. Remember Jesus’ parable about a man finding buried treasure in a field? Perhaps, a little reminder, to be more creative, in your burying!
We too today, might be skeptical about investing money in the stock market, for example. What if it crashes again, as it did in 2007? Some say the market is only growing today through various new bubbles, and no one knows when they might un-expectantly burst. But, on the other hand, it’s pointless to invest in a savings account at .01% interest where you can’t even keep up with the rate of inflation! Where do you hide your money?!
So when this servant comes before the rich master, he digs up his cleverly buried talent he had received, unharmed, never stolen, and responsibly, is prepared to return it! But, we are as afraid for him, as he is trembling before the master! There is a tension, knowing how the servant with five talents, and the servant with two talents, had multiplied theirs, and are then commended for it. And sure enough the poor working-class servant is berated by the master-owner. And notice that the master doesn’t dispute the poor man’s characterization of him, that he is a harsh man who makes profits without working an honest day’s work – who, in today’s world, gathers from junk bonds and toxic mortgages – from places he didn’t sow seeds, but just made-up out of thin air, or created at the expense of others, from those who did work for their money. Is this the God we know and recognize? Is this the God Matthew has shown us in the Gospel good news of Jesus? I don’t think so!
This “man,” this harsh master, is more like a Roman lord, or 1%-er, who helps the rich get richer, and takes advantage of, punishes even, the working-class poor – as he says in verse 29, “for to all those who have, more will be given,” the perfect image of our present day, “the rich get richer, and the poor poorer.”
What kind of a God do we worship? Would we bow down to a God who berates us, or threatens to punish us? Is that what this parable about the talents is all about? A little hint: next week when we hear the very next story in Matthew chapter 25, the story of the sheep and the goats, a very different image of Master, and much more in line with the God of the gospels we know, emerges. Any judgment at the last day, according to Jesus, will be measured against the action of loving our neighbor in need.
We worship a God who is boundlessly generous, and who loves us unconditionally, who can and will multiply our talents, whatever size they are. One talent, in the biblical Neareast, was equal to more than 16 years of wages. So, 5 talents is more than a lifetime of earnings.
The take away for us, is that because we know in Jesus that God is abundantly generous, we have nothing to fear, but our souls are opened up, to love and live in confidence that God will not punish us for trying, that God continues to forgive and support us, so that we too can love and give as generously as God, and that we may fearlessly risk offering our talents in the world. Unlike the masters’ in this world who rule us, God will give everyone an equal chance to use their talents – for with God there is no discrimination against the poor, or the rich, against people of color, sexuality or gender.
On Thursday I had the pleasure of hearing another wise person speak. Not a famous musician, but the actual grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, who spoke at the Arts in Sacred Places launch-party for their new match.com website. He talked about his grandfather’s legacy: that it wasn’t just about non-violent resistance, but that fundamentally, Gandhi’s hope was for everyone to find spiritual transformation, in the knowledge that the talent’s we have, are really just on loan from God, for us to use to make the world a better place.
That’s a wholly gospel-like proposition, a mystical saying about the Love of God living in our souls, that even Beatrice of Nazareth would resonate to, and a song Stevie Wonder, could put to music!
We share and use our gifts and talents freely and without fear, not because we cower before our God, but because our God is full of love and forgiveness, has given us a Song in the Key of Life, we can all use, trusting that God will multiply our talents, and upholds our life forever.