35 Sun. after Pentecost, “Death and Talents” Matt. 25:14-30
In today’s gospel reading we hear the parable about the talents. It is an interesting accident of language that the English word “talent” refers to our abilities and giftings rather than a monetary unit. We are all given different amounts of talents, but what is important is not how much we are given, but how we use what we are given. Are we willing to share, to bless those around us, or do we bury them and keep them from being of much use to anyone including ourselves? The “talents” in today’s parable were actually monetary units of gold. One talent would be worth over $1 million in today’s dollars, so there was plenty to work with even for the “wicked and lazy” servant.
What we choose to do with our talents will largely be determined by how we view the Master – our God and Father. The two faithful and good servants, who both received identical praise saw that God was a generous rewarder, a good God who loved them and all of mankind, full of abundance and they worked to be like Him. This is very pleasing to God. On the human level of understanding, we like to be around people who see the good in us don’t we? We feel trapped, put in a box if our past mistakes are constantly used to define us. Somehow, we often tend to show up and act in a manner that others, especially those close to us, expect of us. When we project a negative image and expectation of others, we are actually cursing them and making it more difficult for them to be the God bearing person they were created to be. (James 3:10) “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?”
The saints are noted for blessing their visitors, for seeing and calling forth the “image of God” in all who came to see them. In focusing on the true person created in the image of God, and refusing to recognize our often-false distorted image, full of guilt and self-condemnation. They call us back to our true life in Christ. Back to who we are created to be. St. Seraphim of Sarov constantly referred to the hundreds of often suffering and tormented souls who came to him as “my godliness” or “my joy.” He was greeting Christ in each of them! Many of the saints would teach that it is a great virtue to hide and not reveal a brother’s sin. They may secretly pray and suffer for the sins of the world and those who they met, but they would not call forth judgement, but only Christ in those they encountered. God is very clear throughout the scriptures that we are not to judge; and in the same manner in which we judge it shall be measured back against us. Christ Himself said (John 12:47) “And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”
So we see that the two good and faithful” servants in today’s gospel saw God accurately and the saints of all the ages have also seen God as He is. God is love, full stop. There is nothing of evil that exists in God, or anything apart from complete unconditional love. Furthermore nothing exists apart from God. Therefore, evil and all of its attributes will be burnt away to nothingness, which is all they consist of, in the love of God at the last judgement. This is shown in the burning of Gehenna or hell and the many metaphors of burning fire throughout the bible. They are describing our awakening to true reality. To God and His love. As St. Paul says (Heb.9:27) “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgement.” and (1 Cor. 13:12) “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” We will awaken to the truth of the all-encompassing love of God and His absolute reality immediately upon death. God is the only true reality, and any reality we conceived apart from Christ will vanish in the smoke of fantasy. (1Cor. 3:11 – 15) “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each ones work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each ones work of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built upon it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” Seeing the intensity and fullness of this truth clearly for the first time, our self-delusions, our grand plans, our selfishness, meanness, and rebelliousness will be clearly exposed to us, to our horror and great loss. We will also be very grateful for all the repentance, faith, hope and love of God and neighbor we have managed. Let us ask God to open our eyes now to His true reality that we may repent while we are still here.
The two good and faithful stewards through their efforts, were well on their way to having a good welcome into the kingdom of heaven. What wonderful words, may we also be so blessed as to hear them upon our meeting with our Master “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you a ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” Note; He says, “faithful over a few things.” As wonderful as this planet and all of God’s unfathomable creation, all of nature and even the entire universe is; Jesus is saying here that we are only scratching the surface compared to what is to come, for all that He has prepared for us. St. Gregory the Great in the 6th century said, “Paltry are the goods of this world, however great they may seem, in comparison with the reward of eternal life.” What a great and blessed privilege to serve our dear God Who is changeless and beyond all comprehension and measure. His love for us is beyond all expression.
The wicked and lazy servent had a vision problem. He saw that his Master was a stern and hard taskmaster, one to be feared. In his mind, and probably to his friends he was slandering God by holding such a false and demeaning image of who God was. We need to check and make sure we aren’t also doing the same. As we grow to know His great love for us and for all of His creation, a great love and adoration takes root in our hearts. St. Anthony the Great said “I no longer fear God, but I love Him.”
The lazy and wicked servant was deluded in his view of his Master and was not willing to do the work to change his thinking, to seek truth. “You wicked and lazy servant” says his Master upon his return; seeing his gift lay stagnant and useless, buried in the ground unused and unappreciated. God’s universal law is of abundance and growth. Reaping and sowing includes a provision for increase as well. When we sow materially we will reap both materially and spiritually. When we sow generosity, we will reap material and spiritual gain, up to 100 fold we are told. When we sow kindness we will reap friendship. When we sow suspicion and criticism we will reap problems and loneliness, again with increase. God’s law is active, and you can’t nullify the effects by burying your talent in the ground and trying to stay invisible. By always “playing it safe.”
God’s love and grace fills all things, but if we shrink back and bury our talent(s), if we hide away the very giftings, the source of life and blessings given to each one of us according to our unique creation – we suffer and become bitter, and slowly life fades from us. God tells us (Duet.30:19,20) “…I set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live and love the Lord your God, obey His voice and cling to Him.” Our talents are given to us to bless those around us, our family and friends and all of mankind. They have great power to bless and be a conduit of God’s love and grace to all of the world. It is a great tragedy when we hide them and refuse to let ourselves come to life. It is a great loss, not just to ourselves, but more importantly to those who we are meant to bless. But our talents will not be allowed to stay buried forever.
While it may seem that the master has gone on a long trip and we need not worry about giving an account of our actions and attitudes towards the generous gifts He has given each of us; the ultimate lesson from today’s parable is that this day is coming, and an accounting will be taken. Nothing is more certain we say than death and taxes, and our death will most assuredly bring us directly before our Master and Creator. Our life will be completely exposed, but our opportunity to find forgiveness through repentance will be done. (2 Cor. 6:2) “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation.” The “Now” is the time we are alive on this journey on planet earth, now while the sun still shines upon us and we have complete freedom to turn to God in repentance and receive His forgiveness and mercy. None of us knows whether we will still be alive tomorrow and have this opportunity. One of the most devious lies of the evil one is to convince us to just live our lives as if we will never die. Our culture has now largely hidden death away from common view for most people. Most of us seldom encounter it directly, and when we do, we have a stable of professionals to lessen its hideous face. How pretty we look with our make up in our coffins, or better yet, let’s quickly cremate the body and just have a wonderful power point of lovely memories as we have a “celebration of life.”
But keeping our death before us, remembering it is coming sooner than we usually anticipate and “then the judgement” has been a time-honoured sobering influence to keep us close to, and ever seeking to know and unite with Him whom we will meet at the great judgement seat. Compare the modern funeral to the Orthodox funeral;
“O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who has trampled down death, overthrown the devil, and given life to Your world: As the same Lord, give rest to the soul of Your departed servant in a place of light, a flowery place, a place of repose where sickness and sorrow have fled away…For in truth all things are vanity, and life is but a shadow and a dream, for vanity everyone born on earth troubles himself, as Scripture says. When we have acquired the world, then do we take up our abode in the grave, where kings and beggars are together. Therefore, O Christ God, give rest unto Your servant as You are the lover of mankind.”
So let us pay attention to this parable. Depending upon how we have lived our lives, how we have honoured His gifts to us, His talents entrusted to us, we will meet Christ with great joy, or great regret, but we will most certainly meet Him, usually sooner than we expected. May we hear those joyous words given in today’s parable to the deserving steward. “Well done My good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your Lord!”
Glory to Jesus Christ!