May I speak in the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Amen.
It is that time of year
When our eyes begin to be drawn
To the holiday season.
For most of the world,
It’s a time of cheer –
A time of rejoicing,
As we prepare for the coming of the Christ child,
We celebrate his long-expected nativity
With good food, family, and friends,
Warmly gathered around the hearth
In a picture-perfect scene.
And then we come to church.
Church, which we might expect to support our cozy festivities,
But which for Advent
Has appointed readings that are ……
Because Advent is the season
In which we prepare not only for the First Coming of Jesus
As a baby in Bethlehem,
But also the time when we prepare for Christ our King
To return to be our Judge,
The lectionary writers,
In their infinite wisdom,
Pack November and December
With stories like this one,
Stories of a cruel master
Who returns to demand an accounting
Of those who serve him.
It’s a rough season for preachers,
So have a little pity, ok?
We’d like to dive right in to holiday cheer just as much as anyone else!
But we can’t just push away those Scriptures we dislike.
Those Scriptures that are inconvenient or messy.
As much as I would like to, this morning.
I have never liked this parable.
It just seems so …… un-Jesus.
I mean really.
The same man who last week told the rich young ruler
To sell all he has and give it to the poor
Is now saying “To all those who have,
More will be given,
But from those who have nothing,
Even what they have will be taken away”?
So I was tempted to ignore the Gospel this morning.
I was further tempted
To accept an interpretation I saw in one of my commentaries
Claiming that this parable,
Sandwiched between two parables that explicitly describe
The kingdom of heaven,
Doesn’t actually refer to that kingdom.
That it refers to the world as it is,
Not as it should be.
That the story of the bridesmaids waiting with their lamps,
Trimmed and burning,
And the story of the sheep and the goats,
Those describe the kingdom,
And this is a contrast Jesus offers,
Showing the world at its cruelest
And least forgiving.
As much as I would love to accept that interpretation,
I find it wanting.
Jesus begins this parable
Right on the heels of the one before it
As a continuation of it.
He tells it in Luke’s gospel too!
Right between meeting with Zaccheus
And triumphantly entering Jerusalem as its king,
Jesus makes sure they hear this story.
So clearly it’s important,
Clearly it matters.
But what is Jesus trying to get at?
This is one of the final things he says,
In both Matthew and Luke’s gospels,
Right before he enters Jerusalem
And begins his final week on earth.
It matters to Jesus.
But what is he trying to tell us?
As I struggled and wrestled with this passage this week,
I reached out to a friend of mine,
Emmy is a Lutheran pastor in Minneapolis,
And the founder of Queer Grace,
An organization that seeks to build an encyclopedia
Of information and support
For LGBTQ Christians and their families.
She loves this parable.
I asked her how,
How could she possibly love this parable,
That casts God in the role of a harsh master,
Whose servant was so petrified of his wrath,
That he hid his talent away,
Rather than risk its loss?
She pointed out
That Jesus, again,
For we have seen this tactic before,
Is using comically hyperbolic sums of money
To make his point.
If you remember, back in September,
We learned that 10,000 talents was 15 years’ wages
For King Solomon,
For a slave,
Something like seven billion dollars.
If we do the math,
Then each talent would be worth about $700,000.
These are enormous sums of money
With which the master is entrusting his slaves.
What could be worth so much?
Could these talents represent something other than money?
After all, the bridesmaids with their lamps
And the sheep and the goats aren’t literal,
Why should we expect the money to be?
As Emmy and I talked, we realized that the only thing
We could think of
With such immense value, almost to be priceless
What if, in this story,
The master who judges so harshly
Is not jealous for money,
But protecting children
That he has given into his servants’ care?
In the United States,
The news is full of stories
Of not just women,
But of girls,
And shoved aside
By men in power who sought to abuse
These precious beings of incalculable worth
Who trusted these men,
At least enough to be alone with them.
And people knew about it!
People knew about this betrayal of trust.
Roy Moore was banned from a mall in Alabama,
Because we he was well known
For trying to pick up girls there.
Harvey Weinstein was an open secret in Hollywood.
Even now – rapper R. Kelly is still the subject of jokes
For his pursuit and abuse of teen girls
Rather than under investigation,
Because no one cares enough about his victims
Black women and girls
To bring him to account.
As Emmy and I talked,
She wondered if the reason this parable
So often gets ignored
Is that we are afraid of being called to account
For these precious ones
With whom we have been entrusted.
That we are afraid of all that we have tried to bury
Being dug up
And brought into the light.
That we are afraid
That we who have not been worthy of God’s trust
Will have everything stripped away from us.
Because it’s not just these abusers
Who fear that what has been done in the dark
Will be brought to the light.
We all are afraid.
We all are afraid of the consequences
Of having to take seriously
Our care of the vulnerable.
What if it wasn’t just the abusers who were called to account?
Not just the fairy tale monsters,
That their evil is just as unfathomable to us,
As that seven billion dollars we discussed earlier.
What if it were the whole system that fostered and enabled such abuse?
What if all the police officers who failed to take rape victims’ statements seriously
Were held to account?
What if all the politicians who prioritized other projects
And compromised their values
To be willing to work with these ogres
Because they were in the same party as them
Because they had money
Because they were useful in a way that God’s precious children were not useful
Were held to account?
What if everyone who took part in the residential schools
That wrested children from their families
And punished them for behaving according to their own culture,
Were held to account?
What if the Church were held to account
For the way that we have used and abused the Scriptures
To serve as a millstone around the neck
Of God’s precious beloved children,
Who never got to grow up and be like my friend Emmy
Because the bullying they faced for being
Or otherwise nonconforming
And yes, at church,
Was so fierce that they felt they had no choice but to kill themselves?
What if we were held to account
For our complicity
And our silence
For our helping to bury this very bad news away
Instead of at the very minimum protecting God’s precious beloved ones
At least with the bankers,
At least as much as we do our money?
Maybe we ought to wonder.
Maybe we ought to tremble.
As we head into the season of Advent,
And prepare to welcome the Christ child,
We must not forget that every child
Is as precious in God’s eyes as that Christ child.
And we must not forget that God himself knows
What it is like to be a vulnerable child,
At the mercy of the hands entrusted to care for him.
And so when he returns to be our Judge,
We cannot forget that to those who have mercy,
Who have understanding,
For God’s beloveds,
More will be given.
And to those who have none,
Not even one thought for anyone not useful to themselves
Even what they have will be taken away.