Goodness and Mercy
There are many stories found in scripture which we can tell from memory. Major narratives include the creation story, the exile, the birth of Jesus, his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection, triumphing over death. Between these grand sweeping narratives are smaller, more human stories. One such story which has been on my mind of late is the Parable of the Talents as found in Matthew’s gospel.
It’s a striking story about a landowner who goes away, giving a gift of money to three servants. To one five talents, the second two and finally the third receives one. The first two servants invest or otherwise double the money which had been given them. However, the third servant buries the money fearing the cruel wrath of the landowner. For many the characterization of the landowner as cruel is troubling as we often read God into the part of the landowner. However, the parable itself never makes this connection.
Another aspect which is troubling is the treatment of the third servant, who at the end of the parable is tossed into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. It doesn’t sound pleasant and for some reason many Christians identify with the third servant. We don’t want his fate to be ours. We are afraid of failing, of not doing enough to earn the good graces of the landowner.
It is here that our fear fails us. We make the mistake of reading ourselves into the parable and forget that Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of heaven. This parable is not about us, our fears or our successes. This parable is about God’s kingdom, our part in that kingdom comes in our relation to it. The talents which are given to the servants should not be considered money or exceptional ability. Rather, they are a gift of grace freely given.
This gift is the grace we receive from God. The first two servants recognize this and work to share that grace. The third servant fails to properly acknowledge the gift and instead tries to turn it into a possession. Something for him alone to enjoy. The third servant does not realize what has been gifted to him. It is sharing the gift of grace that causes the landowner, the kingdom of heaven, to return.
All this is on my mind as we approach Advent and the Christmas season. It is a time of startling contrasts as we spend money on gifts for family and friends. A wonderful expression of our love. However, within our community are many who are unable to share as richly in a material way. This past Wednesday, November 22, was Housing Awareness Day in Northumberland County. A stark reminder that there are many within our community who do not have adequate housing.
As communities of faith we need to acknowledge that this occurs in our backyards. That there are individuals who are living rough, waiting for shelter space, or sleeping on a friend’s couch as they wait for a better opportunity. Jesus was an itinerant preacher, that is to say for all intents and purposes he had no home of his own. He travelled and stayed with friends, was dependant on their mercy.
The message of the parable of the talents is to share what has been afforded to us. To expand the work of God’s kingdom through the generous use of our resources. To advocate for change, educate ourselves to the reality of our communities and enact God’s plan for goodness and mercy for all people.
This article originally appeared in the Northumberland Today.