Monday, November 17, 2014


1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

A father was answering his young son's questions about why he was not pitching in the Major Leagues.  Dad was a pitcher in his younger years, through college, and a brief professional stint; but his arm gave out, and he was no longer up to Major League standards.  As the kid persisted in wanting to know exactly why dad was no longer a pitcher, however, his dad finally told him there are many factors that play into big decisions in life.  "It's never just one thing."

Like discipleship and making a commitment to Christ and His Church, that commitment is never "just one thing"; never just one prayer, never just one plea.  There is always going to be something beyond the moment; but if we stop looking, stop praying, stop pleading, stop asking, we will not be able to move beyond any single moment because that is when we stop living. 

It is written in the Letter to the Hebrews; "Let us go on to perfection, leaving behind the basic teachings  ..." (6:1)  In other words, there is something more far beyond the "basics", and we are compelled in and by Christ to "grow up" and find out what that is.

Much like Israel's exodus from Egypt, in that moment of "redemption" had they stayed put as freed men and women and not moved forward with The Lord leading the way, they would have surely died right where they chose to stay.  They would not have known what is beyond that moment of redemption. 

The Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30) is yet another of Jesus' many parables that cannot be left "as is".  It is like the old cedar chests that get passed from generation to generation.  The entire thing has to be unpacked piece by piece in order to see what is really there.  There is likely a lot of family history and stories long forgotten or even perhaps never known.  The only way to get to those stories and find fuller meaning is to unpack the chest so as to discover something about who we are we otherwise would have not known.

On the surface Jesus telling His disciples - then and now - we are entrusted with only a portion of The Lord's wealth, "to each according to his ability" (vs 15).  This remarkable gift is given to His followers after Jesus ascends to Heaven following His Resurrection.  It is truly the "gift that keeps on giving".  It then falls to each disciple to use those "talents" left to their care not for personal fulfillment and not for smug self-righteousness, but to increase The Lord's portion.  As much as it is never "just one thing", it is also never just "about me".

So in the parable we see the first two who faithfully used what had been entrusted to them to give The Lord back a greater share than what had been initially issued.  It is the third disciple who did nothing.  He put the "talent" away, he tried as an excuse, for safe keeping.  He didn't lose it.  He didn't spend it on himself.  He simply did not use it for his Master's sake, for what it was intended.

Speaking of the Day of the Lord when Messiah returns and settles all accounts, those who use what is entrusted to them will be rewarded for their - yes - "works".  These are not empty works, however; they are deeds of mercy and acts of justice in service to others.  They put to work that which had been entrusted to their care, "each according to his ability", and returned to The Lord double what had been given.  The third disciple simply did not do anything. 

Again, he did not steal The Lord's "talent" for himself, and he didn't lose it.  He did not do anything with it.  He wasn't "bad" as we might define "bad", but he wasn't "good", either.  He was "neither hot nor cold" (Revelation 3:15).  For his complacency, then, what little he had been given was taken from him and given to the one who had showed up with ten talents from the five he had been given.  Then the Master rendered judgment to the third: "As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (vs 30).  The third one had been "vomited" from The Lord's mouth (Rev 3:16).

There are two undeniable components to this parable, even though we often try to deny them.  First, when we decide to commit our lives to The Lord we will be given, "to each according to his or her ability", what we will need to endure the journey that is discipleship and increase The Lord's portion.  It should not be overlooked that the language does not stipulate one's willingness.  Our willingness - or lack thereof - is not an allowable factor; not if we expect or hope to see the Kingdom.

The second component we must not overlook is what is "beyond".  Especially during funerals, we have fond ideas of what Heaven must be like for our loved ones.  That a place will be "prepared" for us, as Jesus teaches (John 14:2, 3), still does not quite tell us exactly what is being "prepared" - or why. 

We infer from vs 2 that it is perhaps a "mansion" (NKJV), a "dwelling place" (NRSV) that is being prepared for us, but then what?  Few of us can sit idle for more than a few minutes now; can we even imagine just "sitting" in this heavenly dwelling place for all eternity??  There must surely be something even beyond the "dwelling place" prepared for the faithful, and Jesus seems to allude to this the parable.

Note the reward offered to the first two.  "You have been trustworthy in a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things ..." (Mt 25:21, 23).  Contrast those rewards with what the third one was confronted with.  These first two would not have charge over the third one because the third one will not even be allowed into the same realm as the first two.  "Cast into outer darkness" ... where there is no Light, no Christ, no Kingdom, no "lower heaven".  The third will not even have a "lower" place in the heavenly realm just because he "feared" the Master.  He will have no place at all.

What are we "preparing" for?  Heaven?  That's too vague.  Of course we cannot know details, and I think there is a reason for that.  Much like knowing precisely when The Lord will return, that kind of information in human hands would likely be more dangerous than fulfilling.  Besides, the entire point of faith itself is our willingness to trust The Lord fully enough to serve Him in spite of personal risk or inconvenience.  It is not as if The Lord will tell us exactly how the banquet table will be set or exactly what is being served so we can decide whether or not "work" in this life will be worth the trouble! 

No, what we are told is that those who "work" will "enter into the JOY of your Master".  That, dear friends, should be enough.  Considering what "joy" really means to us, then, we would do well for ourselves to consider the possibility of "joy" not only to come - but the fullness of "joy" we can have in this life as we "work" together to build up the Church, to bring people into the JOY of the Body of Christ, working not with anxiety that we might not get "enough" done but working in joyful anticipation of what is ahead of us - in the here-and-now!

The Church has gotten into a nasty habit of downplaying the importance of "works" of mercy and deeds of justice in a life filled with faithfulness - the "fruits of the Spirit" - and there has not been nearly enough said about those who ignore their God-given "talents".  And though it is a fond notion that The Lord is so merciful that He will overlook sin since we claim to have been "saved", the Parable of the Talents does not affirm this.  These "slaves" had been "redeemed" - "purchased", as it were.  They knew the Master; they sufficiently "feared" Him.  But the one did not trust Him enough to take the Master at His Word.

Threatening people with eternal condemnation is also counter-productive and short-sighted.  Such a doctrine does not take into account what is being offered to us in this lifetime.  It isn't material wealth we are being promised, but there are "riches" beyond what the human mind can comprehend!  It is the fullness of life beyond anything we can create for ourselves, but it also a life we will never know if all we do with The Lord's goodness is to "bury" it and continue doing our own thing as if nothing has been asked of us.  Our excuses will not fly in the Day of the Lord.

Today is a brand new day.  As it is written, "This is the Day The Lord has made; let us REJOICE and be glad in it!"  Let us embrace fully all we have been entrusted with so we may know fully the JOY that is always before us - in this life and in the life to come.  Amen.  

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