In the parable of the bridesmaids (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus gives a chilling picture of the kin-dom which is more “what not to do” than it is “how to be a Christian”.
Proper 28A | Matthew 25:24-30
If I entrusted you with a key to our home while we go away on vacation, what do I expect of you? I expect you will leave it the way you found it! You will be in my space, but will not abuse my space. And when I return, all my possessions will still be there.
And what I expect is that you’re not going to screw things up. You won’t realphabatize my CDs and books or eat all the food from the freezer. And none of my stuff will show up on ebay.
I entrust you to maintain my home as I left it.
If I entrust you with my children for the evening, well…that gets more interesting. There’s a long list of don’ts: like don’t let them stay up too late or get into things they shouldn’t. And there’s a long list of do’s: respect them and keep them alive.
But truly, entrusting you with my children amounts to “don’t screw up.”
Entrusting you with my money, my health, my well-being; is that any different? In substance and emotion, sure. But in every way, I give you my trust and in everything the expectation is mostly just don’t screw it up.
The master in our parable entrusts his slaves with big portions of his wealth before skipping town to worry about something else.
Don’t let the word “talent” fool you: this parable’s about money. Lots of money. Different sources suggest different amounts. One talent could be anywhere between months of wages to a lifetime’s. So whether this is counted in thousands or millions, these slaves are handed cash and told to take care of it.
It also says that they are given the differing amounts based on their ability. It doesn’t define ability or how it’s measured. But we do know that the master is the one lending his cash out, so he’s the one deciding who is the most talented steward.
But I tend to think the master may be an unreliable narrator.
I often think we’d understand Jesus’s parables better if we were Jewish.
The central action of this story is responsive to the action taking place outside of the story. But what happens after the master leaves and before he gets back is nearly as important.
Jewish hearers of the time would know some things we don’t. They’d know that taking interest was forbidden by God. And they’d also be aware that money is made by taking it from someone else. So making money off of the poor was tantamount to extortion.
It seems to me that Jewish hearers of this parable would be quite horrified in the telling. When the first two slaves are rewarded for breaking the Law and stealing from their neighbors. And the one who keeps the Law is punished.
Perhaps we should hear that, too.
When I step into the pulpit or a living room, I’m entrusted with your attention. And entrusted with the gospel. And entrusted with tradition.
It sometimes feels like a barbell on my shoulders. Or else a dove. To tell the truth, I don’t know which is heavier.
Of all the things we take from scripture, I hope we take a minute, just a fraction of our time to pause on this fact: that so many of these parables are about slaves. Jesus teaches his followers with stories of people with no freedom, no power, and no money.
The whole set up for this story is that these slaves are entrusted with someone else’s money. And then, in the end, they are celebrated.
Their reward? More responsibility for someone else’s money.
They don’t get the money. They have no talents.
It means they’re all talentless. And they remain untalented.
Scholars believe the evangelist we call Matthew was writing to a Jewish community. So if he wrote to us and we were good Jews, we’d hear this as another reminder that all this is God’s.
We don’t really own anything.
Perhaps none of us needs the talents for ourselves–since all are God’s.
We just get to play with them for a little while.
Then, in the end, we’ll be untalented, too.
This parable calls back to chapter 13 and the parable of the sower. There, he casts the seeds all over the place and some of them turn out. To be honest, it isn’t a parable that makes God look very good.
But in the telling, it also doesn’t make Jesus look very good either. Not nearly as generous as we’d like.
There, like we hear in these parables, Jesus divides us. The good from the bad, the harvest from the weeds, the sheep from the goats.
But that relies on a dispassionate judge unwilling to put his thumb on the scale. An image of a Jesus who doesn’t care to show mercy. Not once or 77 times.
If it’s predetermined, then it doesn’t matter.
No different than condemning each other for our DNA or melanin. Our upbringing, creed, ability; all the ways we’re unique, beautiful, even talent become the predictive sort. In. Or out. Like our fate is in or out of his hands.
But what good is a judge with no discretion?
How can we forgive 77 times like God if there is no forgiveness?
Frederick Dale Bruner believes one talent is a lifetime’s wages. One talent.
Imagine you’re that slave. The master hands you one talent and is then out the door.
It isn’t just money, is it? This is your whole life in your hands. What do you do?
Aren’t you thinking, somewhere in the back of your mind
“Don’t screw this up!”
For weeks, all these parables have felt so odd.
I’m starting to think that this gospel of Matthew reads like a semester-long class. The instructor sets the groundwork in the first half and then invites us to implement what we’ve learned in the second half.
The Sermon on the Mount comes out in this Passion play. Turn the other cheek? Sorting and fruit growing? Now we’re here! The rubber is pealing against the road. Everything swimming, the Cliffs Notes, the executive summary in hand, we need to cram for the exam. What is it that Jesus wants to know?
Love. It’s love, isn’t it? And the rest but noise?
So what if we’re supposed to be reading these parables like this:
I know God is Love, we love our neighbors and look out for them as much as we look out for ourselves, stand up to injustice, etc. SO, given all that, how does this compare to God’s kin-dom vision?
I’m thinking of it like a puzzle or a word-search. Find “love” in here. Look for “joy” and “hope”. Where is “Shalom” and peace with justice?
What does our understanding of God’s vision do to this parable?
Does it make it plainly seen? Or is the kin-dom instead revealed in the unseen?
Is the central thesis so plain? Can we find the point only in the first half–born by our longing to please God?
Or is it in the end? In the punishing visage of a tyrannical deity?
Perhaps the thesis is more hidden and only visible to those who’ve seen more of it before.
Then we’d be able to see beyond this anti-kin-dom to the real thing so we can apply what we already know.
That sorting isn’t about our nature or our action but our willingness to love.
That love is generous and sacrificial and free.
Can we see past this example of stewardship of resources to one more generous and just? A window shade drawn to the warm sun from this chilly room. This window, to see out, may also provide our escape.
The abiding challenge of our faith is that we insist on practicing it alone. Despite the apostles sent in pairs, we make like bridesmaids with our lamps and reject the easiest notion that we can gather our light together.
Once again, the master divides his estate between individuals. And the vile master keeps them divided like the southern slaveowner playing favorites. He gives the one enough power to hate the other.
Easily divided, easily conquered. That isn’t the kin-dom.
We are children of the kin-dom! Our currency is love!
The kin-dom is for all of us: the talented and the talentless. And we don’t buy it or fund it with talent; we find it with love. Building, creating, bringing it together.