Saturday, November 12, 2011

What are you going to do with your treasure? (Nov 13, 2011)

Homily:  Yr A P33, Nov 13 2011, St. Albans
Readings:  Judges 4:1-7, Ps 123; 1 Thess 5:1-11; Mt 25:14-30

What are you going to do with your treasure?

What would you do if someone handed you $5 million?  In the parable that we just heard, that’s the amount that’s entrusted to the first slave, when we translate it into our currency.  That’s a lot of money.  Interestingly enough, this same parable is found in the gospel of Luke with much smaller amounts of money, but in Matthew’s version he’s cranked it up.  The amounts involved have increased dramatically.  Matthew wants to make sure we get the point.  But what point?

What would you do if someone walked up to you and cut you a cheque for $5 million dollars, and said I’m going away for a while, look after this for me while I’m gone?

It’s a fortune.  It’s a sum that’s extremely valuable.  It’s enough to buy a mansion, a fancy car, and still have a guaranteed pension and spending money left over.  That much money is not only valuable but it’s also extremely powerful.  You’d have the power to hire people, to buy a company, to start a business.

What would you do with it?

I suppose it might depend on what you thought the master intended when he entrusted the money to you.  At the time when Jesus told this parable, there was a rabbinic tradition that commended burial as a way of safeguarding money.  There were no banks backed by government issued deposit insurance in those days.  So burying those gold coins in the ground made a lot of sense, especially if you were entrusted with safeguarding someone else’s fortune.

The third slave decided to bury the $1 million that he had been given.  Apparently that was the wrong decision.  He ends up in the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It seems that the master entrusted the money to the three slaves not for the purpose of safeguarding, but rather for the purpose of doing business.  But what sort of business are we talking about?
I don’t think this parable has anything to do with money.  And I don’t think that it has anything to do with talents, our gifts and aptitudes, even though it has often been interpreted that way.

In order to understand this parable, we need to figure out what it is that the $5 million dollars represents.  What have you and I been entrusted with that is valuable and powerful beyond all expectation?

Matthew gives us a clue in the text.  And that clue is the word which we translated as entrusted.  The master entrusted his property to the slaves.  In Greek the word is “paradoken”, meaning literally “handed over”.  But in the Jewish context of the first century, paradoken was a technical term for the handing over of the “tradition”, that is the Law and the Prophets, the Jewish religious tradition from one generation to the next.

For Matthew, that huge treasure of $5 million dollars can mean only one thing:  the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus.  This is our treasure, this is the gospel of extreme value that has been entrusted to us.  It’s this gospel which is so powerful, so powerful that Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that the gospel is power of God for salvation.

This is the treasure that has been handed over to us.  We have been entrusted with the gospel of God’s grace, recorded in our scriptures and tradition, lived out in our community in relationship with God and with God’s Spirit in our midst.  God has chosen us and loves us and adopts us as his children.  This is the gift that we’ve been entrusted with.

So what should we do with it?

Should we keep it safe, protect it, hide it in a hole in the ground?

Or, should we go out and be entrepreneurs and double our money?

Some of you are still young and single, and go on dates from time to time, and so I want you to imagine yourselves in this scenario.  Imagine that you’re dating this man or woman, and things are going well, and you kind of like this person and want things to go somewhere.

Then one evening when you’re out having dinner in this romantic spot, it finally happens.  You’re date tells you that he or she loves you and that he or she will always love you.

How are you to respond?  Well suppose you respond as follows:  suppose you said to your date,

“That’s awesome.  Could you please put that in writing?”  And you whip out a pen and paper and make your date write down what he or she just said.  Then you write down your response, saying that you also love him or her, and then you drag your bewildered date off to the notary public office, have the declarations notarized and stamped, then rush to the bank and put them in the deposit box for safekeeping.  Finally, you turn to your date, and say, “this has been a wonderful evening, goodbye,” and you turn and return home on your own. 

Sharing the story with your roommate later that evening, your roommate waits until you’ve finished speaking, and then says, “I think you missed the point”.

If we receive the treasure of the gospel, the treasure of God’s grace, God’s love for us, and we bury it for safekeeping, we’ve missed the point.

But so often isn’t that what we do?

We are children of the Enlightenment, and as part of that heritage, we have over the last three hundred years turned our faith largely into a matter of intellectual assent.  It’s what we believe, the same way as we believe that 2 + 2 = 4.  And in so doing, we have, like the third slave, buried our treasure and missed the point.  Good news is not to be recorded, it’s not supposed to be turned into dogma, it is to be proclaimed.  Grace, God’s love for us, is not to be duly noted, it is to be received and in turn poured out to those around us.

Let me tell you another story, a true story this time, of two Jewish communities which existed in the second half of the first century AD.  The first is the community of Matthew, likely located in Antioch, the community out of which the Gospel of Matthew which we read this morning was written and proclaimed.  The second community is the community of the Didache, also a community of Jewish Christians.  Both of these communities received the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  But the community of the Didache took what they received, took what had been handed over to them and built walls around it.  They drew up boundaries of identity.  They were fearful of outsiders who might change or dilute the tradition.  They wanted to preserve the Jewish traditions, the dietary laws, circumcision and so on.

Matthew’s community, on the other hand, took what had been entrusted with them and they shared it with the non-Jewish world.  They removed the requirement for circumcision, changed the dietary laws, moved the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday.  All of these were risky things to do in a Jewish community back in the first century.  They were persecuted for it, kicked out of the synagogue.  But Matthew’s community was a community of good and faithful servants.  Theirs was a living tradition.  They had received the grace of God and they were so excited by it that they wanted to pour out that grace to the gentile world around them, and so they took risks and lived lives of faith and they doubled, and tripled and quadrupled their money.  The result of these two different approaches?  The community of the Didache has disappeared, and its text the Didache is read on an occasional basis by a handful of academics and students of history and theology.  And Matthew’s community?  It’s going strong. We are the descendants of Matthew’s community, and their text, the Gospel of Matthew was read by billions of people around the world just this morning. 

We have been entrusted with the most valuable and most powerful treasure in all the universe, the gospel of Jesus Christ which proclaims God’s love for us.

What are we going to do with it?

Are we going to give it our intellectual assent and then store it in a safe place somewhere?

Are we going to hide it in the ground out of fear that we may lose it, or build walls around it to protect it and keep it safe?

Or will we be good and faithful servants?  Will we take this treasure that we’ve been given and get to work, proclaiming the good news, taking risks, manifesting God’s grace to those we meet, grabbing hold of our treasure with an entrepreneurial spirit and doing business with it?

Will we take our treasure in our hands and use it, share it, invest it, and be creative with it?  How will we release the power of the gospel to do its work in our community, in our neighbourhood, in our city?  Will we double our money?  Triple it?  Quadruple it?

Do you know what a treasure you have been entrusted with?  And what are you going to do with it, good and faithful servant?


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