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Sermon from 19 November – Rev’d Rita Ball

Article posted on 21 November 2017 Leave a Comment

19/11/2017   Matthew 25.14 – 30

What is your favourite parable? Perhaps the lost sheep or the good Samaritan or the farmer sowing the seed? Many parables are vivid stories with helpful teaching and happy endings where the “Christ character” is a rescuer, a saviour.

But the later parables are much darker, where the “Christ character” is one who provides a banquet, or a master who goes away.  Robert Farrer Capon an American theologian, calls these “parables of judgement” – that is “judgement” not only or even chiefly in a legal context, but judgement which is about bringing justice and about discernment and leadership; a reminder that the first rulers of the nation of Israel were Judges.

Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for the people he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord had compassion on them …. Judges 2.18

When Jesus tells this parable from today’s gospel he is just a few days away from his arrest and crucifixion; he knows that his remaining time with his disciples is very brief, he wants to prepare them for the events that are about to unfold.   Matthew’s gospel gives us only one more parable after this one, but that is for next Sunday!

As a picture restorer will look at an antique painting and remove the dirt and then go deep into the painting with x-ray techniques so we need to approach any parable to find its original message.
Today’s parable is not: an exhortation to work a forty plus hour week and be obsessed with business success; nor is it divine advice on investment policy.
It is not a gospel endorsement of the Protestant work ethic. Hopefully that gets rid of the accumulated dirt, now what about a deeper look.

The man going away on a journey is Jesus who entrusts his property – the good news of God the Father’s love and the coming kingdom – to his servants and then goes away, giving no return date. “After a long time” the master returns to discover what has happened in his absence.  Two of the servants have responded to the trust the master showed in them and are warmly commended for what they have done; the third servant has done nothing – well worse than nothing – for he has hidden the talent with which he was entrusted because he had no trust in his master.

Here surely is the substance of this parable – perhaps in the long time the master was away the first two servants had good fortune, an upturn in the markets, an increase in demand for their goods?  It might have all gone the other way, unforeseen circumstances can cause even the soundest of business ventures to go wrong, but even that would not have caused their master to scold them for they would still have been faithful servants whatever their actual results.

The third servant has not understood his master, he has not trusted the master to be a just and compassionate judge, rather he has judged his master and branded him “harsh”, he was afraid of his master and so he has acted, or failed to act, in an attitude of resentment and fear; what he was given has not in any way influenced his life and if everyone behaved as he did with the good news then all would have gone to waste.

As we approach the season of Advent, as we look for the coming of the kingdom,  to each one of us as individuals, to this benefice and parish, to the church and the world Jesus speaks in this parable – I trust you, trust me, work with me.
In the words of the prophet Isaiah: do not be afraid, for the Lord is coming with judgement to save us.

So for all of us the message from this parable is –
– firstly – do not be afraid – do something with the gift you have been given, especially if it feels too hot to handle!
– secondly – do not be afraid – Jesus is delighted with your successes and compassionate with your failures; remember even the first disciples made a mess of things on a regular basis.
– thirdly – do not be afraid – even when God seems far away for a long time he has never abandoned us.

Revd Rita Ball

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