Getting what we expect

SERMON 

Sunday 15 November 2020 

St Andrew’s Parish of Indooroopilly 

Matthew 25:14-30 

Getting what we expect ©Suzanne Grimmett 

I have recently tried out something called an “Escape Room” with a few friends.  It is a game where you have to solve a puzzle in a room set up with lots of clues,  but no easy answers. It has recognisable characters and plot, but you have to  remain in the room to investigate the space to find out what it all means. I think  there are some parallels between an escape room and a parable, if we can  imagine a parable as not a story to be analysed but a room to enter. There, as we take our place and spend time in it, the space unfolds its secrets and  wisdom. But first of all, you need to look around and notice the surroundings  and the clues. 

If we don’t pay close attention, this parable can seem at first like what it is  saying is work hard, be wise with your money and you will be rewarded with a  prosperous life. Greed is good, because it earns you the praise and approval of  others, including those who are also insiders to the tricks of making money and  success work for you. The poor remain poor, whether in personal wealth or  influence or achievement, because they have not been clever enough to make good use of the resources they have. 

But of course, this is a superficial scan of the room. If we think that this is an  allegory where God is the master of the slaves, then we have a very capitalist  God indeed, and one who is harsh and unforgiving. This parable really makes clear, I think, the danger of an allegorical reading and that we need to develop  the eyes to see when something actually quite different is going on.  

One thing you might notice in this parable’s room is the amount of the talent.  One talent is an exorbitant amount of money- more than anyone could earn in  twenty years on an average wage. The servant who received 5 talents is handling millions. Those listening to Jesus would have straight away been aware of the ridiculous nature of these amounts. Such figures are meant to say a lot  about the trust placed in the servants, and also about the general extravagance  of the amounts the characters have to invest.  

The next thing to notice is the difference between the slaves and their use of all  this wealth. The first two slaves are merely a backdrop in the story to the third,  but the reason they are able to give back more than they received seems to be about their perception of the master. While they invest with confidence, and  enter into the joy of the master, the third slave is defined by his own fear and  expectation of harsh judgement; 

Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and  gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid…. 

I wonder if any of us can remember a time when we made a good decision from  a place of fear? I know I can’t, although I can think of when I got things badly  wrong with fear as the ruling emotion. Neither can I think of a decision based in  courage that didn’t end well. When we inhabit the room of this parable long  enough, we begin to see where it all went wrong for the third slave. Fear can  paralyze us, and the negativity of our expectations of others can rob us of our  capacity to act in freedom and love. It can also be said that we live by the kind  of God or gods we imagine and serve. If your heart is big enough to imagine the  grace you could receive, then it is grace that will be showered upon you. If your  god is vengeful and punitive, then your portion in life will be ever limited by the  pervasive shadow of your own enfeebled expectations. Such is the predicament  of the third slave who could think of nothing more imaginative than to bury his  talent in the ground.  

All of these signs in this parable point towards a revealing truth about the  universe that may be the opposite of the way things seem. On the surface, it  appears that when you give things away, you lose. When you spend money, you  have less. If you allow others to have more, there will be less for you, and then  one day there will be a reckoning. This is the kind of universe that the third slave understood and perpetuated in his fearful anxiety. But it is actually the opposite  of the eternal spiritual truth that what you give away increases and comes back  to you in abundance.  

The huge extravagance of the talents is one clue to the nature of the God  hidden in this story. There is no way these funds can run out. Jesus is telling this  story at a time when he knows he will soon be given over to death, and he is  preparing the disciples to be without him. The very nature of God is self offering, self-giving, and soon the Spirit will be poured out amongst them. God’s  self-offering is precious and extravagant beyond price, and is freely given. But  unlike other gifts, the gift of Spirit is something that cannot be held but can only  be given away. And here is where we discover a power at work in the universe  which is the opposite to the way things appear on the surface. As we freely  receive and cooperate with the Spirit by giving away what we have been given,  we begin to know that joy multiplies. The more we give away, the more we  receive. It is rather like a token that only works if you spend it; a ‘use it or lose it proposition’. 1The slave who buries his talent in the ground does the very thing  that is not permitted in this deep spiritual law of the universe-he tries to possess  Spirit.2 He thinks he can hold it, without giving anything away. But Spirit can  only live in freedom, and the joy of being given away in the service of love. To  be buried in the ground is to snuff out the life and spurn the gift, and so Spirit  flows away from those who would seek to possess it, finding those who already  have discovered the joy of self-giving and the abundance of the God who delights in multiplying goodness shared. More then will be given to those who  have already received. When we are paralysed by fear the spiritual law of the  universe will mean that what we grasp in our clutching hands will invariably be  lost to us because Spirit must always be moving and growing.  

Things are not always as they seem. There are physical laws to the universe, but  there are also deeper spiritual laws which, when we cooperate with them, will  enable us to grow and flourish, both individually, and as a community. If the law  of the talents is true, and the life of the Spirit grows as we give it away, then we have nothing to fear. Jesus tells us again and again to not be afraid. We do not  need to cling on to our possessions, our pride, our personal achievements, our  need to be right, nor even our need for others to be wrong. God is abounding in  grace and love to us, so we can take the radical risk of forgiving and loving one  another. It can feel like an enormous leap, but it is one which lands us laughing  in the middle of God’s own joyful self-giving. As we have been given, so we can  give away- love and mercy multiplying and poured out as a river of hope for a  humanity united in one joyful Spirit.  

+Amen

1 John Shea, On Earth as it is in Heaven, (Liturgical Press, Minnesota: 2004) 

2 Ibid

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