Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Lazy Servant

We’re in the middle of three Sundays that for Matthew’s gospel tie-up Jesus’ earthly teaching.

And what readings they are: last week we had the foolish virgins being shut out of the wedding party, this week the laszy steward is rewarded with a life of misery and next week we have tha parable of the sheep and the goats with the commendation to outer darkness of those who have failed to recognize Jesus in the poor and hungry around them.

Just the sort of readings to get us into the ‘Christmas Spirit’!


Matthew is writing about 50 years after Christ first told this parable, and he’s wrting for a community that expected Christ’s return to be imminent. The message from last week was to ‘be prepared’ – it was very much a CFA style message; you wont know when or where, so be prepared and alert.

There is a big difference between being aware of dangers, watching for signs in a prepared/practiced way and just living in fear of what might happen.

There is something of that in today’s parable:
The person who refused to let the money work identifies his fears. The owner reaps where he has not sown and gathers harvest that was not originally his.
A pretty good description of hard business practice in any age. A fear of being abandoned seems to motivate burying the talents.
Matthew's community might think of the controversy over the expansion of the gospel into the Gentile world and the refusal of some Jews to accept that the doors should be flung open so recklessly.
God is misbehaving again and they cannot believe it and refuse to support the mission to non-jews. In typically Matthean style the text promises only damnation for such lack of trust.

If the modern use of talents has any relation to the text, it is at the level of allowing God's life do its adventures with us and putting our talents (our natural abilities) at God's disposal. The talents of the parable are really about God's life and power, not about our natural abilities. But the appropriate response is to allow God's investing hand to employ our abilities.


The tragedy is that many people are afraid of losing or endangering God and so seek to protect God from adventures, to resist attempts at radical inclusion that might, they fear, compromise God's purity and holiness.

Protecting God is a way in which we can hide the fact that we do not trust God. Matthew wants his hearers to share God's adventure of inclusiveness. God is bigger than our little religious boxes that we like to put God into.

I like the modern paraphrase of the reading that we heard this morning - It is a fascinating thing to have God compared to the entrepreneurial multimillionaire. "God's mercy never ends" is a way of saying grace has capital, love is rich.

We need to encourage people to stop putting God under the mattress. As we begin to trust God to move through us, our lives change as individuals and our communities have a better chance of change.


The trouble with this third guy is that he doesn’t recognise a gift when it is handed to him on a plate. And because he can’t recognise the gift, or the generosity of the gift-giver, he lives his life in fear that this is some sort of test.

This is the sort of person who sees God as the harsh examiner in the sky, watching us for mistakes and eager to find a reason to condemn us. And so, fearful of slipping up, such a person never risks engaging with the fullness of actually living.

They are terribly worried that if they open themselves up to others and love and laugh and share, they might somehow expose themselves to some kind of temptation and make a mistake, and so they don’t take the risk. They live life by the miserly handful, so afraid of ever getting a black mark against their name that they never take the risks required to get a tick either.

And, as in nest weeks gospel reading, they will arrive at the judgment and hand back a life unlived.

They accuse God of being harsh and ungenerous. They treat God’s gracious gifts as some kind of poisoned chalice and refuse to even take a sip.



God recognises that we are all different. Some of us had a good start in life and others were born into a living hell.

Some of us have known nothing but love, and others have been hurt, damaged and trampled on every time they have opened themselves up to anyone.

God knows that having been dealt differing hands in life, we will not all be capable of generating the same amount of love and compassion and self-sacrificing generosity.

But the boss in Jesus’s story did not condemn the second worker for only generating a profit of two talents when his mate had generated five. They were equally rewarded from making the best they could from where they started out.

The only one condemned was the one who refused to have a go, and who in so doing accused God of playing deceitful games.



And let’s for a moment get beyond just thinking about this in individual terms. We, gathered here, are the recipients of an extraordinary gift in one another. This congregation and the life and prayer it shares together is a gift for which many people would understandably hunger. So the question Matthew’s gospel would put to us, is what are you doing with that gift?

Are we focusing our energies on trying to preserve what we have intact, content to just make sure that at the end of our time there is still a church here, preserved in the same pristine condition we received it in? Still doing things the way we did 20, 30 or 50 years ago. Putting things back to how they were to sustain our comfortable memories, limiting God and putting him back in the box we like in him.

Or are we prepared to live out our faith openly and generously, to give it away in love and mercy?

Can we turn our prayers into a shared life of reckless acceptance, radical hospitality, and extravagant generosity to those outside our doors?

When we pray “send us out in the power of your spirit to live and work to your praise and glory” are we making a commitment to living in the generous and joyous spirit of this celebration out there in our everyday lives.

Can we say to our friends who have joined us today that this is there church too?



Matthew is challenging us to make sure it is not just words. We’ve got to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.



There are real risks involved in taking that challenge. If we accept it we will make some mistakes, we may lose some treasured things along the way, we may get hurt from time to time, and perhaps even crucified.


But as the first two employees discovered and proved, if we shake off the shackles of timidity and invest all we have fully in life, we will not only be commended as good and faithful servants, but we will find our life multiplying over and over, and ourselves welcomed warmly into the joyous celebratory life of our extravagantly generous God.

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