Sunday, 16 November 2014

The question is...

Sunday Gospel - Matthew 25:14-30 

Jesus spoke this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of Heaven is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out.

‘The man who had received the five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more. The man who had received two made two more in the same way. But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

‘Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents came forward bringing five more. “Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made.”

‘His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”

‘Next the man with the two talents came forward. “Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”

‘Last came forward the man who had the one talent. “Sir,” said he “I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and lazy servant! So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered? Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest. So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.”’

Yet another year when I find myself weeping at the apocalyptic threat that brings Matthew's gospel towards its end.

Can I blame Matthew with his folk feeling abandoned and expelled by those who do not listen, do not want to listen? Can I blame Jesus, who has taken the Good News to the people who should be watching with their lamps lit, only to find the doors bolted and the rooms in darkness? Can I blame the priests and pharisees who dream of a time when their 'chosen-ness' will really mean something? Can I blame the crowd who are delighted to weave their own abandoned wailing and grinding of teeth into a creation of doom-laden prophecy for those who are not like them?

Trouble is, it all feels like the worse kind of 'Christian'. The Christian who, feeling very self satisfied with their own place in the Kingdom, feels that they have been given the right to parcel out grace as they see fit. The one who, like the Sons of Thunder, are picturing themselves sitting there on God's right hand. Or the Christian who has given up on the whole thing. Who, through fear and loss has, not only lost the will to believe, but lost all hope. The one who sits holding their unworthiness and unbelief so tightly in both hands that grace drips off their fingers along with their tears.

It's the worse kind of God, who winds his people up like so many tin soldiers, then rejects those who lose their balance and fall when he wasn't even there to pick them up again.

It's the worse kind of God who teaches that faith leads to prosperity and a 'holier than thou' attitude.

It's the worse kind of God who relishes fear and punishment after telling us, 365 times, 'do not be afraid'.

So, how do I read this? How do I come to some reconciliation with this scripture that goes against everything I believe about God and grace?

The only way, for me, to imagine a missing piece of punctuation. To believe that, as a great teacher and student of human nature, Jesus knows the value of rhetorical questioning.

'This is what the kingdom of Heaven is like?'

Really? This is the God that you believe in? This is how you want God to treat you; to judge you; to punish you?

Well aren't you going to be surprised.


1 comment:

Thom M. Shuman said...

Thanks for this. I continue to be amazed at how surprising God is! Thom