Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Sermon at Parish Mass, The Second Sunday before Advent 2017

Zephaniah 1.7,12-18
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25.14-30

Today’s Gospel reading is the second of the three last parables of Jesus. With them he closes his teaching ministry, that began in Galilee and has brought him all the way to Jerusalem in what will turn out to be Holy Week, culminating in his death and resurrection. After his resurrection Jesus will ascend into heaven, leaving his disciples with the farewell task to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.
These three last parables of Jesus then are preparing the disciple for this new time which is about to begin, the time of Jesus’ visible absence, and how they are to live in it.
The first of these stories was the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids that we heard last week, which warned the disciples to stay awake and alert to what God was doing in Jesus. Today’s parable, the story of the talents, is about what servants are to do while their master is away. It is about how to live in this time in which we are to remain alert and awake.
Three slaves, then, are entrusted with their master’s property, each according to his ability. A considerable amount is given to them on trust: a talent is a measure of weight, around 35 kilograms, of either silver or gold. So these slaves are entrusted with at least tens of thousands of pounds, possibly millions.
It is not, however, the amount of money, but what they do with it, that matters. Two go off and trade. That’s risky business of course. Financial watchdogs warn consumers that investments can go down as well as up. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. They double their money, are entrusted with even more, and are invited into the joy of their master.
The third slave does what Jesus’ audience actually might have expected him to do: he buries the money to keep it safe. He was afraid of the master, but he was also trying to treat the gift he has received as his own possession, something that, if it was used, would be used up. All he can see is his own loss. The tragedy for him is that, in trying to turn a gift into a possession, he does indeed lose everything. He stays trapped in his own fear.
The slaves’ different experiences of their master reflect their own assumptions and actions. Those who receive a gift as a gift, and know it cannot be held on to, respond with open and generous hearts. The gain that they make is not for themselves, but for their master; therefore they can enter into his joy. The one who began in his own fear and loss remains there, experiencing only his own ungenerosity.
Behind this is a theme common to many of the parables: the two different imaginations or mindsets in which we can live. There is the imagination bounded by death and loss, which seeks to hold on to the little it has got, and ends up trapped in the darkness of its own fear. Then there is the imagination of God in whom there is no death, and whose generosity we can therefore trust absolutely. We learn that we do not need to hold on to anything, because we are held by One who will not let us go. The imagination of God in whom there is no death opens to us the joy of our master.
The message of the parables is that it is possible to pass from one imagination to the other, from death to life, from possession to gift, from holding on to being held, from fear to joy. And the name of the journey from one to the other is repentance.
The disciples have been given great treasures on trust. Salvation in Christ, and a place in God’s Kingdom. The apostles moreover have received the gift of authority to build the Church, and on the night of Maundy Thursday will be given the Eucharist and the Priesthood to feed and sanctify the Church to the end of time.
All of these are gifts to be used for their master, for Jesus, for his gain and growth. None of them can be used without risk. Those who seek to save their life will lose it. Opposition and persecution await those who are faithful to Christ. Yet they will enter into the joy of their master.
One Apostle, Judas, will indeed try to turn the gifts of Christ into his own possession, and in so doing will lose everything. Closed in upon himself, caught in his own fear and darkness, he cannot see the joy that awaits faithful disciples.
The gifts of Christ are given to the Church to be used until the end of time, for his glory, not as our possession. If we try to secure what we have got, we will lose it, for we can only receive the gifts of God with generous and open hearts. Gift and possession are mutually exclusive.
A Church that is open and generous, turned out towards the world, carrying on with the tasks that Jesus gave us, is a joyful Church. But a Church that is turned in on itself, fearful about its own internal concerns, is like the slave who was too afraid to trade with his master’s property, and so lost everything.
We have all received the gift of being called to be disciples of Jesus. Grace, salvation, a place in his Kingdom, are promised us. But these are given to us so that they can be given to others too. And within the Church we have all received different gifts, to be used for others, to build up the whole. If we receive these with faith in the One who gives great gifts, and will not fail us, this will be a joyful task.
In this in between time, however long it lasts, we are to carry on doing the work that Jesus has given us to do, which is simple: worship and prayer, the proclamation of the Gospel, loving our enemies, serving Christ in others. In all this we are to be forgetful of ourselves, and not reckon risk, for those who learn to be totally dependent on the generosity of God know that in the end there is nothing to risk at all.

The first of the three final parables of Jesus taught us to be awake and alert for what God is doing in Jesus. The second teaches us to carry on doing the work that he gave us to do in this time of waiting, with open and generous hearts. The final story in this triptych of parables is about the value and ultimate meaning of this present time. That is the story of the sheep and the goats, and we will hear that next week.

No comments: