For those of you who have been dozing, October and November are the heart of Stewardship Season, and that means talk about sacrifice, wisdom, money, and talents. Thus here we are in the middle of the transition from last week’s gospel, which centered around the parable about the foolish and wise bridesmaids conserving their oil and being watchful, and this coming Sunday’s gospel, which centers around the parable of the talents, with slaves being tasked with earning money for their master.
It’s no surprise that the last several weeks in the lectionary have lent themselves pretty easily to discussions of how we use our resources to support our faith communities. This Sunday’s gospel is no different. How many of us will hear a sermon preached on the double meaning of the word “talent” in the parable that is the centerpiece for Sunday’s gospel reading? I am willing to bet that there will be much made over that.
In the time of Matthew, a “talent” was an unimaginable amount of money. Then, as now, people with unimaginable amounts of money expected to see a return on their investment. Yet I think that we wander into very dangerous territory when we interpret Matthew’s parable of the talents this coming Sunday in ways that make God the “harsh man” who expects a return whether “he” works for it or not. I also think we lose our direction when we think these parables we have been hearing for the last few weeks are about who goes to heaven, and who goes to hell.
Ultimately, salvation is about more than just the hereafter.
Ultimately, stewardship is more than just about money.
As disciples, we have been given a glimpse into the dream God has for us as human beings, born to seek relationship with each other and with God. The question is, what do we do with that vision? Do we continue about our business, thinking that how we live our lives doesn’t matter as long as we claim to believe in Jesus? Or do we acknowledge the grace that is God’s gift of love to us, that can’t be bought or earned.
Whether we use the metaphor of light or of money as a way to talk about our relationship with God, do we hide our precious knowledge of God’s saving love in the autumnal soil of our hearts?
There is a season for everything under heaven, as Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 reminds us, including a time to plant, and a time to reap. As Christians, one of our most vital concerns is about what we have planted, and why: have we planted in fear, or in love? Have we planted for the benefit of ourselves, or for the benefit of the community? Stewardship calls us to be true disciples. That includes living our lives in such a way that those precious lives proclaim God’s healing love in a world that needs both healing and love. For too many of us, that is much harder than simply writing a check.
The danger of stewardship season is our tendency to make our relationship with God and each other transactional in nature, to tread perilously close to the prosperity gospel, that false religion that says that God blesses those who give and curses those who won’t– or can’t.
What if we sought to measure each day in how our lives told the story of God’s love? What if we sought each day to be a blessing for someone else, regardless of whether they could reciprocate or not?
It is vital that we live our lives in such a way that they testify clearly to how being Christians has changed us ethically, spiritually, and morally. This is the standard by which we can hold ourselves at the end of every day. Has what I do been of light, or been of the darkness? Or have I capitulated to the ways of the world, and gotten distracted from my calling to be a disciple?
It’s tough. The cynical ways of society exercise an inexorable pull. It’s easy to justify things we do, even in the Church, as being reasonable and responsible. But shouldn’t we do a double-take when we justify our actions either within or without the church, as being in line with the best practices of the corporate or political world?
The core of stewardship is not just our utilization of our money, or even our “talents,” but how we use our lives as testimony to the gospel that we profess as Christians. A gospel that calls us to unity. A gospel that calls us to faithfulness in a cynical age, risking looking foolish or naïve. A gospel that calls us not just to identification but to proclamation and embodiment of the beauty of God’s love- truly following in the footsteps of Jesus, our model, our brother, our guide.
Our relationship with God is anything but transactional in nature—to believe so is to deny the fundamental nature of grace, unearned gift that it is, and also to forget the wonder of that grace.
Image: Andrey Mironov, The Parable of the Talents, from wikipedia