13 November 2011
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 28A (RCL)
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Here’s something of an anonymous story. Two different people; two different parishes. The first, someone whose spouse had been ill at home, had a bedside commode to loan to some else who might need it. When the loan was over, the person wanted it back, rather than it being kept at the church for the next person who might need it, or given to charity. The second, a person who often feels like he hasn’t much to contribute, heard about a homeless vet with cancer, who wanted nothing more for his last days than a roof over his head and a television to watch. Some agency found a room, but not tv. This person heard about it, and had an extra in his kitchen with digital converter box all set to go. He gave the television, and has never asked for it back. He did ask about the veteran, and whether he died well. Two different attitudes toward life.
In the story from Joshua, we get a little chunk of Deuteronomistic theology. The people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin. We mess up, God punishes us. The redactors of the Deuteronomistic tradition used this as a motif to explain what went wrong to explain the fall of Jerusalem. Not particularly helpful theology. It casts God as a watchful, vengeful meany.
That’s the God the slave given the one talent experiences: I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow. That’s the God of the person who wanted the commode back. There’s only so much (fill in the blank: money, holiness, grace) to go around, so I’d better guard my bit.
The other two slaves experience an entirely different master. Here’s five talents more, here’s two talents more. Notice that these slaves trade with those talents, and then don’t even think to keep back some of the profit as a handling fee. The master gave me this incredible grace, what kind I do with it? The two slaves go out and trade with that grace, engage in the economy, make a big difference. And then give away a fortune. A talent was about 6000 denarii, or about 20 years worth of a laborer’s wages. A huge sum of money, almost unimaginable for a slave. So, the one slave received 100 years worth of wages, another 40 years, and one twenty. Now, who is to complain?
The one slave feared his master, saw the world in fearful terms, thought any time something bad happened, God must be punishing us, so he hid the money in the ground, hid his grace in the ground. What if we were to see God’s grace as superabundant, and give it away without thinking. Like the guy and his television. We are the 1% — we have more of God’s grace than we know what to do with.