The Rev. Bain White: Utilize the gifts you’ve been given
In our tradition, we are fast approaching the end of the church calendar year, since our year runs from the first Sunday in Advent through the last Sunday in Pentecost, otherwise known as Christ the King Sunday. We often feel that we have a pretty good understanding of what the Gospels teach us through the year, until we reach certain parables that tend to “throw us for a loop” in our understanding. A certain degree of comfort sets in and, though we know that Jesus’ teachings often turn the world on its head, we think we are ready for most anything.
The past week and the week to come have parables about the 10 bridesmaids, five of whom were foolish, and about the talents, where three servants were entrusted with varying amounts of their master’s property, according to their ability.
In the parable of the 10 bridesmaids, five bridesmaids brought their lamps but no spare oil in case the bridegroom was delayed, whereas the five wise bridesmaids brought their lamps with spare oil. When the bridegroom finally arrives, the five foolish bridesmaids asked the others to share their oil and the wise bridesmaids told them to go to the dealer and purchase more oil, for there wasn’t enough for all of them.
When the 10 foolish bridesmaids finally showed up at the wedding banquet, the doors were already closed, and the lord told them that he did not know them. Some think this is an issue of fairness, that the lord should not have refused them entry solely because they were not prepared for his arrival. The standard interpretation of this parable is that the bridegroom is Jesus Christ and the wedding banquet is that Messianic banquet portrayed as heaven, where Jesus is united with His bride, the Church. No one, however, wants to think they might be denied entry into heaven solely because they were not prepared for His coming and refused to do anything about it, even when they knew He was coming, but not knowing the day or the hour.
In the parable of the talents, we are invited to change our direction from preparedness to utilizing the gifts we have been given by the Lord. Here, we have a rich person who leaves on a journey and calls his three servants and entrusts his money to them to invest and use to grow his fortune until his return. The rich man gives to each of his servants according to their ability and upon his return, asks for an accounting of how the money was managed in his absence.
One servant was given five talents, an incomprehensibly large amount of money, and he used his talents and gifts to increase that money 100 percent. The second servant was given two talents, according to his ability, and he used his talents and gifts to increase that money 100 percent. The third servant was fearful of losing any of the one talent entrusted to him, so he buried it and gave it back to the rich man with no increase and no effective use of the funds. He claimed that the master was a harsh man, reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he did not scatter seed.
The rich man was furious and took the talent from the one and gave it to the one with the most talents, stating, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” (Matthew 25: 29, NRSV).
The two servants who handled their talents well were described as entering into the joy of their master, whereas the one who failed to utilize his gifts was described as being thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
One of the standard interpretations of this parable is that the rich master is the Lord, and an example is used for those who utilize the gifts given to them, according to their ability, by the Lord. Those who take a chance, who step into the unknown, perhaps even “thinking outside the box,” are rewarded for their risk taking and desire to please the Lord. The one who refused to use the God-given talents entrusted to him would not commit to take a chance, encounter a risk or be effective in his encounters with others. Since this parable deals with one thrown into the outer darkness, it also deals with judgment and those who are deemed worthy and one who is not.
Once again, the fairness issue shines forth. That just doesn’t seem fair to us in many ways. After all, all one must do is state, “Lord, Lord,” and there is an immediate open door into the Messianic banquet, right? All you really have to do is sit back, do nothing and just being there qualifies one for a seat at the Messianic banquet, right?
If that is foremost in your mind, then you may have forgotten many other statements that Jesus Christ made to his disciples and to those who heard Him. There are references to the people being told to strive to enter through the narrow door and that the way will not be easy. Jesus reminds His listeners that we are called to be prepared for His coming again; we must be disciplined in our lifestyles and how we relate to others, we must be in relationship with the Lord and we must utilize the gifts that have been so lavishly given to us, so that we will enter into that Messianic banquet, where there will be a place set for us, and we will enter into life, and life eternal.
The Rev. Bain White is pastor of St. Mark’s Church of Grace.