The gospel reading today from Matthew is one of the familiar parables about the Reign of the Divine and especially the final judgment. The master goes off on a long journey and entrusts three servants with a substantial amount of money according to their ability to invest the funds wisely and productively: one gets five, another two and the final servant only one. The first two trade with the funds and double the amount. The third buries the money and then returns the original amount. The first two are rewarded while the third is punished by being shut out of the household of the master.
The master then says those words that have puzzled Christians for ages and whic have been misinterpreted for ages.
29 “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 30 Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 25
This is even more puzzling when we read in the first reading from First Corinthians.
Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"?
So which is it? Do those who have a lot, prosper? Or do those who have little? It helps me to remember that Paul was writing to a church he had founded in Corinth and that this church was experiencing all sorts of problems, the kind of problems that any new organization would encounter. He was basically calling them back to their origins. God called them through the ministry of Paul. According to Paul God quite intentionally called people whose life circumstances were not such that would project a successful start up. They weren't the brightest, the most energetic, the richest, the holiest. In short they were ordinary people like you and me...and somehow they came together at the earliest formation of this new religion. Paul's conclusion is simple: This is God's work, not mine and not yours. The church prospers because God is with this community and enlivens it with the Spirit of God.
And yet we read in the gospel that those who have much will get even more and those who have nothing--presumably the same people Paul was describing--would lose even the little they had and be excluded from the reign of God. This parable has traditionally been interpreted as teaching a lesson about our responsibility to use our "talents" for the good of the community, the "common good." Our talents--the English word actually comes from this biblical usage--are not just for our personal use but are to be invested and the returns given to God from whom the talents came in the first place.
Another understanding of this parable requires us to set aside this meaning of talent. A "talent" was a measure of weight that came to be used as a measure of wealth in a sense as a measure of gold. If this "gold" is not understood as "talent," how can it be understood? It seems very likely that Jesus was referring not to some set of abilities or capacities but to a fundamental reality of the Reign of God, the subject of all of his teaching. The gold or wealth in this case would be faith, the relationship of life and love between the Divine and a human. Since the Divine offer of this love and life is unlimited and is offered full and entire to every human, different levels of faith could only reflect different degrees of response and acceptance by each human. To be rich in faith means that one responds deeply and consistently to the Divine proffer of love. Those who do this will thus become richer, deepening their faith and thus "having more faith." Those who fail to respond or whose response is faint will gradually lose whatever faith they had. This faith is a relationship rather than some thing or quality.
Each of us is called to deepen this relationship in two ways. First we enter into that relationship more deeply through prayer and meditation. Second we deepen that relationship with the Divine by deepening our relationships with our neighbors, especially those who precisely are the nobodies, the forgotten ones.
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Location:Charissa Run,Rochester,United States