Three slaves are entrusted with their master’s money. The first two are given more money than the third and they use it with wisdom and savvy to double the amount. The third is given only one talent and he buries it in the backyard and keeps it “safe” until his master returns. We don’t truly know the relationship between the first two slaves and their master, everything seems to point toward a poor relationship between this third one and the master. Not only does the master give him one talent, but the slave declares the master to be a harsh man and accuses him of unethical behavior liking reaping where he did not sow and gathering where he did not scatter seeds. He fears the master. And maybe rightly so, because the master treats him harshly, calling him wicked and lazy and throwing him out into the outer darkness. How very different the master treats this third slave whereas the first two were congratulated and rewarded for their actions.
It’s a difficult parable. At the start of it, we are in favor of the master and proud of the accomplishments of those under him. But by the end we have some sympathy for this third fellow who is afraid and not willing to take a risk. We want the master to represent a more compassionate figure who, instead of holding the slave accountable, would offer sympathy and understanding for his failures. Maybe even share a little wisdom and make this a life lesson so he might succeed in the future. Instead we are forced to accept the consequences of the slave’s decision and even buy into his fear, allowing ourselves to become more fearful in turn. After all, fear is contagious—we are much more easily influenced by it than by compassion or hope or joy.
The third slave’s actions and responses to the master and the opportunities afforded him are tainted by fear. Instead of taking a risk or putting himself out there, he thinks he is playing it safe by burying the responsibility given him. But fear is a cruel mistress. She works to drive a wedge between us so that we see ourselves as separate from one another. The more we find ourselves distinct from one another, the more we falsely believe that our differences are more important than our commonalities. We begin to villainize those who think, believe, or act differently from us to the point that anyone who is not for us, is against us and therefore our enemy; even if they are family members or neighbors and most especially if they are strangers.
We begin to associate these differences with threats to our way of living, our families, and our desires in the world. The more we associate other’s differences as threat, the greater harm we believe can happen to us and the more our fear grows. We end up in a vicious cycle of fear creating even more fear. We have forgotten that sometimes, most of the time, another person’s beliefs, thoughts, or actions though different from our own, are not intended for our harm. Most people not only want good for themselves; they want good for others as well. With this in mind, we can be less threatened by those who are different and more challenged by them to grow through examining what we believe and discovering that maybe there is space for both of us. Or, gasp, maybe the difference isn’t so different or dangerous after all.
Fear keeps us not only from truly experiencing all that this world has to offer, it serves as a stumbling block to our relationships. We all have fears, they help us to survive. But when fears become exaggerated, then they become a problem, especially in our ability to relate and partner with one another to do God’s work in the world. I think this is the truth of the parable this morning. The first two slaves don’t seem to be driven by fear, or if they are, they have found the courage to work through their fears. They are faithful because fear is not ruling their relationships, expectations, or abilities. Instead of hiding they embrace the possibilities of life. Maybe it’s a stretch but I see some parallels in this parable and our faithful response during this time of pandemic.
God hasn’t left us, but it does feel a little like he has gone on a journey and challenged us these past months to faithful living in the absence of our ability to gather. The talents he gave to us were put to use in reaching out and caring for one another and our community through pastoral care, worship, Christian formation, and outreach.
We’ve done a lot in the time of pandemic. Instead of burying our talent in the ground because we were afraid or lazy, we have creatively and actively engaged in investing our talents in the growth and building of the kingdom. We have not allowed fear to overwhelm us but instead have pushed through that fear to find new and creative ways of shining the light of Christ for all to see. We have been active and engaged as we await the Master’s return.
We are on the precipice of Advent. A time of watching and waiting for the second coming of Christ. This is not a passive time but an active one in which preparation and investment in the kingdom allows our faith to shine forth and inspire others with hope—especially in this dark and fearful world.
The Master gives according to our abilities. We prove ourselves worthy when we act from a place of faith and give to God’s purposes; when we strive to be in relationship with one another with a compassionate heart rather than villainizing one another because of our differences; when we don’t give into our fear and allow it to darken our hearts and define our purposes. That is the folly of the third slave—he chooses fear over faith—he does not attempt to prove his worth, he villainizes and shifts the blame of his failure to the master instead of accepting personal responsibility, and he finds himself cast into the outer darkness because he has darkened his own soul.
Three slaves are entrusted with the master’s money. One buries it in the ground while the other two not only double their talents, they live into the abundance of God.
24 Pentecost 28A: Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; I Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, November 15, 2020
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer