A SERMON ON MATTHEW 25:14-30 - LOVE OURSELVES, LOVE GOD, LOVE ONE ANOTHER - FR. TONY MOON, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
November 15, 2020
24th Sunday after Pentecost
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus tells a teaching tale of a master who is going away, summons his three servants—slaves, as they are called in this version—and entrusts them with large amounts of his money. The sums are awarded based on his assessments of the servant’s abilities. And, the sums are significant— converting to today’s US dollars, the amounts range from around $600,000 at the least, to several million dollars at the most. Upon the master’s return, he calls on the servants for an accounting of the money left them.
So, just what is Jesus teaching here? This teaching tale is generally thought to be Jesus preparing his disciples for that period of time when Jesus, through his death, will not be with them until his resurrection. Jesus is instructing these disciples to endure difficult times and to live in anticipation of their master’s return. Like all the parables in this section of Matthew’s Gospel, it exemplifies the certainty of the Lord’s coming and how the disciples are to live in the meantime.
On the surface, this is a simple story. But, the story is not without complications, as we will explore. The first and second servants somehow double their master’s money, but the master runs into some trouble with that third servant—let’s call him “Al.” This is where we run into trouble, as well. Al was assessed to have limited skills, and was therefore given little to work with—well, little at least in comparison with the other two servants. I say that the master runs into trouble with Al because, according to the text, the master expects that Al will return little, but apparently was not expecting that no return would be forthcoming. “…you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest,” the master scolds. A quick footnote here is that banks were new on the scene, and not entirely trusted, while burying your wealth in the ground was at least common practice.
Obviously, dealing with Al is where the master runs into trouble—but, I also mentioned that this is where WE run into trouble, too. I believe that we run into trouble when we read this Gospel lesson, framing it within our commonly-held modern-day view of the world’s economy. This world economy may have something to do with money, but it is not strictly a financial economy—it can also be a behavioral economy. The world economy of our culture has a lot to do with how we interact with one another. This economy says, “me first”; “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”; “only when you give something, will you get something.” It is a transactional economy. Reading the Gospel through this lens, it points us in a specific direction that says Jesus / God, has expectations for us. And make no mistake, the stakes are high! If we do not multiply what we are entrusted with, we may find ourselves painfully put out of God’s Kingdom—with nothing.
Through this lens, this Gospel lesson is often mis-categorized as a prosperity gospel—that God expects and demands that we do well, that we improve our lot in life. God rewards those who prosper with more than they will ever need. Coming from this prosperity perspective, we also see that God punishes the timid, the meek, and the risk-averse. This is one way we can run into trouble with this Gospel lesson.
If we hold onto this interpretation—that the master represents God, the financial gifts given to steward for a time symbolize our God-given talents and abilities, we run into a problem with trying to square that vengeful god with a God known to be a loving Creator; a Supreme Being who sent a Redeemer to save the world; and gracious Sanctifier to bless and guide us daily along our path. Rather than a loving God, this hostile god strips away his gift, gives it to a higher performing servant, and throws Al out into bitterness. Is this really how we expect God to respond to our fears, our weaknesses and limitations?
If we back away from our ordinary world view, if we back away from looking through the lens of the world’s economy of transactions and compromise, and hold a different perspective, see life and story through the lens of the Kingdom of God, we can quickly conclude that the Kingdom of God does not at all look like or operate like the Kingdom of the World.
The Kingdom of God relies on a different kind of transaction, a transaction of love—not required to play, but freely given. Now, for many of us, we might have to take some time to re-think this… because many of us as children were taught that “if only you’re good, then you can get into heaven!” This seems to be a common transaction. “If only you’re good, then God will love you,” is another. If only you’re good, then you will win God’s favor.” Fact is: God already loves us in unimaginable ways. God is not a trickster and does not test us. Rather than punish us, God sent Jesus to love us back in to right relationship with God. Even when we betray God’s love today, just as when Jesus was betrayed in his life here on earth, we are forgiven and loved. We don’t have to earn God’s love. God gives it freely. Our love of God can never be out of fear any more than our love of our spouse, children or friend can be born out of, or supported by, fear. Our love for God or another is our gift given freely in a relationship of love, a reciprocation of love.
So, if Jesus was preparing his disciples to manage in his absence, what was Jesus teaching? What if Jesus’ message was not about earning as much return on investment as you can, but what if Jesus’ message is, “Care for one another; love one another--love one another as I have loved you? Cooperate with one another rather than compete with one another. Shore up another’s weakness with your strength. Let others help you when you are in need. Live in community, loving, supporting, caring for one another.
Maybe Al thought he had to go it on his own with no help from others who were obviously more skilled in this area. This is a story of isolation. And, maybe those other servants highlight what happens when we are only focused on ourselves and our personal gain with no regard for others’ need. …still, a story of isolation! If the motivation of the other two servants was to be a winner in their master’s eyes, they may have won that race but completely lost out on their relationship with Al. Being a winner in this world’s economy might have to do with reaping financial rewards or being superior to our peers, but being a winner in God’s eyes happens when we live the life we are called to; when we become more fully the creation God made us to be; when we honor God, our lover, with all we can give out of our own gratitude and love of God.
Bringing the wisdom of this Gospel story forward to today, Jesus’ voice is heard clearly. Jesus is teaching us that in his physical absence with us, there is a way to live, a way to conduct ourselves. Now we may think that this little teaching story is not very comprehensive. But the seeds are there, and maybe that was enough for the disciples to hear. Maybe that’s enough for us to hear right now, too. If we plant that seed, which simply says, “Love one another. Love God,” we will learn to love ourselves, too. And as we do that, we can root a strong plant that will bloom and grow, bloom and grow—and, that is a prosperity God will reward.
~ Fr. Tony Moon, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
 Carla Swafford Works. Working Preacher.com; Commentary on Matthew 25:14-30