Sunday, November 19, 2017

Useless Servants

Don’t we all wish we were wise?  Lest we forget, wisdom is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Unfortunately, it’s a gift many of seem to have returned to sender.  Many of our tweets, the TV shows we watch, and the things we say on Facebook give evidence to that claim.  If the Holy Spirit had eyes, they would be rolling.
Wisdom enables us to see the world from God’s point of view. We believe that Jesus is eternal Wisdom and that through our Baptism we are asked to walk by the light of Christ and to trust in his wisdom. 

Our Bible is where we can find wisdom.  For example, our first reading is a proverb.  Great wisdom is expressed through proverbs.  This one is about the worthy wife and her value being beyond pearls.  She’s an unfailing prize.  

This bit of wisdom might have been okay for Old Testament times, but certainly not for today.  She must be good with wool and flax – she should sew and weave.  Most of the entire proverb describes the worthy wife as a good housekeeper tending to her family’s every demand.   I hope most of us will agree that this definition of worthiness is outdated and short-sighted.

The proverb should be re-written this way:  “When one loves and marries a woman, her value is a foregone conclusion and immeasurable.  Her husband entrusting his heart to her has an unfailing partner.  She brings him love and challenges all the days of her life.  

She works in and out of the home joining her husband to support and protect the family.  She puts her hands to the cell phone and her fingers ply the computer keyboard.  She reaches out her hands to all who need her and extends her arms to those who require her care.   

Charm might be deceptive but her beauty never fades; the woman who loves her God is to be praised.  Never expecting a reward for her labors – just appreciation – she deserves her husband’s love and affection when she passes through the door to their home.”

Yes, that’s a little better.  That’s the kind of wisdom we can all understand and try to apply in our everyday lives, especially us men.

Today’s Gospel reading is about using our talents wisely.  Almost all of us believe Jesus, through Matthew, is telling us to use our God-given talents wisely and to help others.  Yes, we should, but this reading clearly tells us that talents are a form of money – not abilities.  A talent was worth about 20 years of wages for a laborer! 

So what’s the parable’s real message?  Jesus begins by saying, “A man going on a journey.” Who was that man and where was he going?  We only know the answer from Luke’s version of this same parable.  The man was of noble birth, and he was going to a distant place to have himself appointed king of his own people.  Then he would return. 

Also from Luke, we learn his compatriots disliked him and did not want him to be king.  That’s critical information, and we don’t find it in Matthew’s version.  However, in Matthew we discover this man was a demanding person harvesting where he did not plant and gathering where he did not scatter.   Let’s think about that important point.  He relied on servants and slaves – the indentured poor.  

This guy was a tyrant and greedy.  He expected his servants to grow his money.  And if they didn’t do what he told them – make his money grow – then they were useless servants to be thrown into the darkness outside where there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 

I suggest we should consider this so-called “useless” servant who buried the talent as the hero of the story.   He wouldn’t make his master’s money grow to be used by this rich man to steal more land from the poor making them day-laborers on the land they used to own or even making them slaves. 

Who is this despicable master to which Jesus refers through the words of Matthew?  He’s Herod – the powerful, arrogant, and hated King Herod.  Herod had gone to Rome to get himself crowned by the Roman occupying army and nation.  Without being named, Herod and those tyrants like him are cleverly condemned by Matthew.

The Gospel message is not about using our human talents wisely.  It’s about the opposite of the kingdom of God – the world in which Jesus lived – the Kingdom of Herod and his sons.  We tend to forget that.

It was a world based on power, violence, investments, interest, exploitation, dominance, occupied territories, nationalism, arrogance, terrorism, slaying enemies without justice or recourse – an unfortunate parallel to current times 2,000 years later!  It’s about the rich getting richer and the poor becoming destitute and miserable by the decisions made by those in power, the last part of the Gospel reading.

This is a powerful parable with a message for us today – seek the kingdom of God by standing against injustice even if we have to carry Jesus’ cross on behalf of others.  We must resist the kingdom of Herod where there is “darkness outside and where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Deacon David Pierce

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