Superabundant – 19 Nov 2023

Matthew 25:14-30

14 ‘Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 ‘After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.”

21 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

22 ‘The man with two bags of gold also came. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with two bags of gold: see, I have gained two more.”

23 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

24 ‘Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”

26 ‘His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 ‘“So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

In this last part of the church’s year before Advent comes again, we are emersed in Jesus’ lasts words on last things to his friends.

The scene for this parable is a Middle Easter wedding. It may seem quite strange to us. We celebrate wedding a little differently.

In Auckland, New Zealand, where Leanne, I and the kids served for four years, we had the pleasure of being exposed to a wonderful community of Lutherans from India who had emigrated to NZ and were part our congregation.

We would marvel at how the Indian folks celebrated big events. They put how we celebrate things in the shade!

At Christmas they did not just come for an hour to a church service and go home and open presents and etc. They would come for the service and stay most of the night sharing community dinner on Christmas Eve and do it all again on Christmas Day all day!

For other church festivals like Easter and Pentecost, they would actually pull an all-nighter in the church building, singing, praying and sharing food and drink etc. They put our celebrations in the shade!

In Israel or Gaza, when it is relatively peaceful, the customs described here by Matthew in his telling of this parable would still happen. Lots of things need to happen and the whole thing goes for a week, not just a day. It would not be unusual for a late-night torch lit procession to the final destinations to gather the bridesmaids.

But what is Jesus saying about his coming – his final appearance when everything will be complete?

Having the oil seems to be the key to getting into the new life in Jesus beyond this one.

What is the oil?! What ‘oil’ did the five wise women have and the five unwise women lack?

This is where it gets tricky, because whatever you believe the oil to be, will be the thing upon which your acceptance by Jesus sits.

If you say that the oil the five wise women had plenty of was love, then the unwise people did not have enough or do enough of it and so were shut out. So, if you don’t love enough, you will be locked out of life.

If you say the oil is patience, then the five foolish people obviously were not patient enough and so, were shut out.

Same for faith, or kindness or whatever other virtue you believe the oil to be. Whatever you make that oil puts the weight of your everlasting future in Jesus’ great wedding feast community fairly and squarely on it, and can you see, on you.

And if Jesus is saying that we need to do more, be more, love more last longer and etc … this turns this parable into a heavy weighted word of law. If you do not have or have enough of the oil of love or faith or patience, then you will miss the moment and be shut out forever.

Who of us ever has enough of these things?! Angry gnashing of teeth and hopeless resignation to all that you have lost becomes your lot.

But what if Jesus is saying that the oil is not our love or faith or patience or anything we can do or manufacture or achieve ourselves? What if instead, the ‘oil’ is a gift; gift to be received that makes us ready, not work to be done that hopefully makes us ready? Then this parable speaks of pure wonderful grace and fires our hearts in thankful faith and solid hope for what is to come because it is not based on me – but founded on Jesus.

I listened the Luther on this and it made sense …

The Lord …  compares it (the Christian community – us) to ten virgins. Five are wise, five foolish.

The foolish virgins are those Christians who give the appearance and impression of being godly. They want to be good evangelicals (Lutherans) and are able to say much about these things. They praise the Word and say: “Yes, it is a splendid thing. This is what it means. It cannot possibly be otherwise according to the Scripture, etc.” Paul speaks of these people in 1 Cor. 4:20: “The kingdom of God is not in only talk, but in power.” It consists not in speech, but in life; not in words, but in works. Although they are able to say much about many things, they are in reality unwise virgins who only have the lamps or the vessel, that is, the external equipment, and they behave according to their nature, as Matthew writes (7:22), saying, “Lord, Lord!” The mouth is there, but the heart is far away (Matt. 15:8).

“Come and share your master’s happiness!”, or “Enter the joy of your master”. I want it. I want to hear these words today and at the end of this journey.

I suspect we want to know we did something good, we made a positive difference with all we were given. We all want and have wanted all along to breed love and joy in our kids, our families, workplaces, present friends and associates. We know the world needs joy, hope and love.

We all want this final affirmation for living now with some clarity, some hope, some meaning some joy. I want to ‘enter in the joy of the Master’ who knows what I am doing and have done and will do, so that in the end he ticks my contribution as good, useful, meaningful, gospel good news in a very ‘un-gospel’ world.

But when I hear this parable about the end of it all – me and the world, I always find myself feeling pretty uncomfortable. That last guy gets very harsh treatment by the Master! It makes me wonder what sort of God we have if God is like this Master!

I wonder whether I am going to be OK after all. Can I earn enough, do enough, be enough, contribute enough well enough for the good of enough?

I leave the parable pensively wondering if God is a God who rewards the rich and successful and makes them richer and more successful and condemns the poor and the losing, and makes them poorer and more losing.

And if this is how God treats a person who does not do enough with the gifts given, knowing that I cannot do enough most of time, then am I going to be called worthless and thrown out of God’s community?

I am confused. From all we know of Jesus, who is the one telling this parable to his disciples, this does not add up. I know in my bones Jesus is not a God who rewards the rich and successful and condemns the poor and losing in life. His words and behaviour show he is the opposite to that, any which way to cut it.

Thankfully, there five unusual things Jesus puts in this parable that help me find him; see a different focus, a different gift, a different message about our future and how it shapes our living now.

For one, the size of those gifts the owner gives all three of his servants are huge. A talent is a sack of money. A talent is about 6000 denarii. One denarius is a day’s wage. So, a talent would be roughly 20 year’s wages! As of this week the average annual income for Aussies is $90,800. So, each talent of money the master gives is around $1.82M. The first guy is entrusted with $9.1M, the second, $3.6M and the third, $1.8M.

  1. This parable begins with superabundance. The Master is a superabundant generous giver. He gives way over the top. He obviously loves to give.
  1. The Master is a man who trusts. Would you give this kind of cash to your subordinates? It might ruin some of them. Like a guy who wins Lotto who only a matter of months after the big win is back to where he was minus wife, kids, grandkids job and soon his new mustang that will be repossessed. The superabundance destroyed him. The Master takes the risk anyway. He loves to give and entrust, it seems
  1. The master knows our differences and accommodates them. They are all gifted according to what they could handle. Size does not matter when superabundance is always the character.
  2. The Master is very patient, very empowering in approach. He waits a ‘long time’ before checking in and calling things to account. He gives all three people ages to use the superabundant gifts in service of the master and others.

But, then that third person….. he just does not do well with what he has been given. We wonder if this is one big warning to be ‘good Christians’, good leaders, good parents, workers, owners…… and watch out of you are not!

At this point I might be supposed to say something like:

You are called to live out your vocations and privileged to earn the dollars, have the family, own the house or land and all the rest. It is incumbent upon you to get to work, even if you are heavy laden and tired. Toughen up. There is an accounting coming. Do you want to be the third person here?

But that is not the heart of Jesus’ word here. This parable is more about the Master than the third guy.

The parable is not mainly about super-accountability. It is way more about superabundance. It is more about the generous trust and patience of the master than the fear ad self-orientation of the third guy. It is more about the joy of living in the superabundance gifts of the master than begrudgingly paying the master off to keep him off your back as you do life your way.

I hear Jesus saying that he is always inviting you into his superabundance – not in cash but in blood which paid the price for all your lack of giving, trusting, steam-rolling and waiting.

With Luther we proclaim:

At great cost, he has saved and redeemed me,

            a lost and condemned person. 

            He has freed me from sin, death,

            and the power of the devil,

            not with silver or gold,

            but with his holy and precious blood

            and his innocent suffering and death.

 

The third guy speaks to our culture in this first part of the 21st century – narcissistic, self-driven and orientated centre, founded on the emotional self.

There is no Giver. You just have to get. There is only a hard ‘task-master, if anything: A task-master autocrat who does whatever he wants at whoever’s cost to humanity and me. A master to be feared and from whom to hide; a master to reject and ignore and expunge from the culture’s story and hope. A master tax department who can only paid off to get him off your back lest he burn you. No, blow that: a master to be cancelled at all costs because ‘all religion is destructive on human flourishing. Sounds like Marx – “Religion is the opiate of the people”….

But the search for who we are and what we are for goes on unabating. Like a lighthouse whirling around searching for a ship, our kids, our people are whirling around searching for markers in the landscape to head towards to find identity, meaning, purpose. In our time for the foreseeable future, it seems that they will look just about anywhere except this Master of superabundant meaning and identity… and his joyful super-abundance self-giving for love.

But one more thing:

  1. The Master knows the Law of growing abundance. The abundance grows when shared. The first two guys invested as they were invested in and knew the joy. They grew and their contribution to the world grew only as they gave, went, said, did, and not before.

The Master of the joy-filled feast is here offering you bags of talent; talent to give, use, work with, trust with, wait with, listen with.

Take the talents and use them in time for him and his world. It is his joy and yours. The gifts grow and sustain and give as you spend them.

Here we are. We are in the game. It is still day, and the Master is super-giving, super-trusting, super-patient, super-accommodating of our difference, and knows that giving shared grows. We have a chance of making a positive difference and a reason to do the job.

Enter into the joy of the Master.

He is generous to you, trusting of you, aware of you, patient with you and at work in you.

Yes. Today and at the last.

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