This week is our final week for our sermon series "Difficult Scripture". Our topic will be "Parables with Harsh Judgment".
Let's recap the topics we have looked at over the course of this series. We started on October 8 with "Money". On October 15 our topic was "Forgiveness". On October 22, Bob Kutter challenged the people of our churches to "Therefore, Go! With Hope Through Hospitality". "Death and Afterlife" was our topic on October 29. Two weeks ago the topic was "Love, Marriage, Divorce and Idolatry" and I attempted to tie those to the issues of LGBTQ within the life of our churches. This past Sunday I talked about "Noah and the Violence of God", asking "Who is responsible for violence, God or humanity?"
This Sunday we will read two parables that have some pretty harsh judgments. The texts are:
Matthew 21:33-46 - In the text just before this one Jesus' authority was challenged and he told the parable of two sons. This week, at the same spot, Jesus gives the parable of the vineyard. The elders and chief priests would have recognized the allusion to Isaiah 5:1-6. A man builds a vineyard and rents it out. When it is time to collect the produce due him, he sends several slaves who get beaten up, stoned and killed. He sends more who suffer the same fate. Finally, he sends his son who is promptly killed by the tenants. As in Mark’s version of the story, Jesus asks the listeners what the landowner will do. In Mark’s version, Jesus answers his own question, “He will send an army to kill the tenants and rent it to better people.” In Matthew's version, the answer is given by the elders and priests. Jesus then quotes Psalm 118:22-23 and when the elders and priests understand that he means them, they want to kill him. Does Matthew better understand that violence is human in origin than does Mark? Is the parable abut what God will do or what we do to ourselves? Is this a "Kingdom" parable or a "Worldly" parable?
Matthew 25:14-30 - Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew are Jesus’ final extended discourse (teaching) and the subject is “end of the age” (24:3). Jesus concludes the discourse with four parables beginning in 24:45: the Faithful or Unfaithful Slave, the Ten Bridesmaids, the Talents (our reading this week) and the Judgment of Nations (next week). First thing about this week’s reading – talents are not the things you do well, like singing or carpentry, but is a large sum of money equivalent to 15 years of wages for a common laborer. At $10/hour, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for 15 years it would equal about $312,000. The first slave gets $1,560,000, the second gets $624,000, and the third guy gets $312,000. Notice that the text says “as each had ability” (verse 15). The first two guys go to trade their money on the markets and double their money. (An aside: the money we are talking about here is chump change for the people who trade on the stock, bond, and commodities markets today.) The third guy simply buries the money until the return of the master. When the master returns the first two are praised and the third is chastised and thrown out into the darkness. You should also know one fact, in Jesus’ day to protect someone else’s money from loss was the proper thing to do. The first two could have easily lost the money. So, the question to ponder is this: Is this a parable about the “end of days” (24:3) or is it about “stewardship” (25:14) or about something else? We learn in verse 29 that the money was not simply entrusted to each servant to protect but was given to them to be their own to do as they please. If this parable is about something else, could that something be “grace” which God freely gives to all? Finally, the last verse, "As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Whose judgment is Jesus talking about? If the talents are "grace" and we do nothing with it, does God punish or is it something else? Tough question. Difficult scripture. Time to wrestle with it.
For the assigned Lectionary readings, which include the second Matthew reading, see my comments from 2014 at "Rural Minnesota Ministry".
Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor