November 15, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
As I was graduating high school and entering into college, I was introduced to the book, The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran. I think this book is a right-of-passage of sorts for young adults, an introduction to new ways of thinking about common topics. In The Prophet, Gibran composes prose-poems on different topics, each poem entitled “On ________.” Though I was young, not yet married and certainly without children, one particular poem stuck with me through the years—“On Children.” Hear this short prose by Kahlil Gibran:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might
That His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable.
The bow and the arrow…they come through you but not from you. A word I borrowed from the Rev. Karoline Lewis, a Lutheran pastor, comes to mind when I spend time with Gibran’s words—‘Entrustment…Entrustment.’
Gibran’s words echoed within me when I held both of my children for the first time. Entrustment. I was being entrusted with the most precious of gifts, two wondrous lives. They had come through me, but not from me. God’s arrows may go swift and far, yes please! I bend with gladness! I felt much the same way when I stood before you all of St. Paul’s UMC Ithaca for the first time, and when I stood for the first time before previous congregations. I was being entrusted with a gift that is beyond words, to be in ministry alongside you, to be appointed among you for the journey of faith and to be a church family together. Entrustment.
THAT is the essence of this second parable in the gospel of Matthew—Entrustment. But it can be very hard to find that point, to wrestle the blessing, from this problematic parable. Remember last week when we talked about using the Genesis passage about Jacob wrestling with God all night long, and refusing to let go without a blessing, as a metaphor for dealing with difficult scriptures? This parable is a real wrestling match, especially because we read it out of context in our worship service, isolated from the rest of the Gospel. Remember again from last week, these parables of Matthew, chapter 25, are in the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus is preparing to ‘leave’ them. Therefore, he is preparing them to be about the work of God, his work, while he is physically removed from their presence. Last week, in the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, the Ten Young Women, we were called to stay focused, to remain vigilant, to stay on task, even when our resources run low—our lamps go out and we have no more oil. Stay the course, don’t run off looking for more resources. Await the One, the Bridegroom, who is always coming to us in each and every moment. This week, in the Parable of the Talents, the question we are asked is, “What will we do with what is entrusted to us while Jesus is ‘away?’” And, if we thought the Ten Bridesmaids was a bit unsettling, welcome to this week’s parable!
A master with slaves…trading money and burying money…an EXTREME punishment…those with much receiving more…those with little having what they do have taken away?! Last week we also lifted up that Jesus’ parables, these strange stories, come with a twist, a shock. Well, the Parable of the Talents is one big shock after another after another after another! The first zinger is right at the beginning of the story, as Jesus sets up the narrative. A man, later called the master, is going away. Literally in the Greek he is leaving to set up his household elsewhere. So, the man calls together some of his slaves to ENTRUST (there is our word), to entrust them with his property. So far so good—nothing terribly unusual or shocking here. And then Jesus says that to one slave the man gave 75 years salary, to another 30 years salary, and to the third 15 years salary! Whoa! Simply wow! That is an obscene amount of money—millions and millions of dollars in today’s economy! The disciples hearing this story would have been blown away. And while they are still gasping at these outlandish totals, Jesus continues by telling them how the first two slaves run out and hit Wall Street. They risk it all trading and yet, the odds are ever in their favor, and they double their amounts. But the third slave digs a hole and hides the fortune entrusted into his care.
Now, we in 21st century America hear this story VERY differently than the disciples gathered around Jesus on the Mount of Olives, where this teaching is taking place during Holy Week. Burying a fortune in a hole in the ground seems ludicrous to us. At the very least we would invest the money in a bank and earn some interest as the master suggests. We would be more likely to hire someone to set up a good financial portfolio. However, for first century observant Jews, the Talmud is echoing in their minds as they listen to Jesus. The Talmud teaches that it is absolutely the correct thing to do to bury funds entrusted in your care by someone with more power and resources than you. You literally bury it carefully in the ground and NEVER risk it. And investing? Investing for interest is forbidden in the Torah. From beginning to end, this parable not only shocks, but it is outright offensive.
Why? Why does Jesus share this shocking and offensive parable days before his crucifixion? Because, everything, absolutely everything is at stake! First, the disciples will not soon forget these unusual parables of chapter 25. These stories will stick with them, even through the upcoming events of arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. They will chew on these stories, wrestle for the meaning and the blessing. Second, remember the opening of this parable, ‘for it is as if…” “For it is as if.” Jesus defines the ‘it’ of this opening in the first verse of chapter 25, “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like this…” For it is as if…for the Kingdom of Heaven is as if a man was leaving to move his household and he called those that serve him. That is what this is all about—the Kingdom of Heaven, the kin-dom of God, the Beloved Community. This is what is entrusted into the hands of those who serve the master, nothing less that the realm of God.
The disciples of seen God’s dream, embodied in the life and teachings of their master, Jesus. They have glimpsed the Promised Land! Some have more of a handle on this inbreaking kin-dom than others, but all are entrusted with it. The work of living God’s way is a treasure beyond measure, certainly more than 75 years salary, and it is entrusted into their care. This is God’s new creation being birthed through them but not from them, and this work involves new rules. The disciples need to carry this Good News forth with boldness, risking everything. They must obey the heart of God’s dream, even if it means breaking current interpretations of God’s holy Law. And for the sake of everything that is holy…literally…for the sake of EVERYTHING that is holy, don’t BURY it! The world is hungering and thirsting for the Good News of Beloved Community, for an understanding of their identity as beloved children of God. Don’t bury the kin-dom, the Good News! That is indeed darkness and weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
Entrustment…Entrusted. The work of the Beloved Community, the very love of God for this frightened and hurting world is in our hands. We are entrusted to be about bringing blessing on the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. We are called to join hands with the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, our fellow works of the kin-dom. God trusts you. God trusts me. God trusts us to not bury the Good News. To not bury it under our stress and fear and those feelings of being overwhelmed. To not bury it under despair at ever making a real change in the brokenness of this world. Don’t bury it, risk it. For when you bury it, you not only hide the Promise from the world, you hide it from yourself.
The Kingdom of Heaven is not our.
The Kin-dom is God’s longing for us.
The Beloved Community comes through us, but is not from us.
We are the bows from which God send forth
arrows of reconciliation, arrows of justice, arrows of love,
onto the paths of the infinite.
As we move into the season of Advent, let us bend with gladness. Let us bring forth God’s New Creation even in the midst of this pandemic, especially in the midst of a divided nation, a divided denomination. For even as God loves the arrows that fly, God cherishes as beloved the bow that is stable. Entrustment! Amen.