Thursday, November 13, 2008

Meditation on this Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, November 16, 2008:

First Reading: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Judges 4:1-7

Psalm: Psalm 90:1-8 [9-11] 12

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 123

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30

This week's Gospel gives us the parable of the talents. One servant turns his 5 talents into 10, one turns his 2 talents into 4, and the servant who buries his one talent in the yard doesn't create any new capital.

It's easy when reading this Gospel to focus on the word "talent." It's natural to think of our own talents, to wonder how we're investing them, and how we're wasting them by burying them in the yard.

For example, with a little work, many of us could have a fine singing voice. We might even sing in a choir (or start a choir). With even more work, many of us could learn to play an instrument. I suspect that most of us are burying these talents in the yard. It just requires too much work to do otherwise.

The parable makes it clear what will happen to people who bury their talents. Now, I know that many of us are blessed with a multitude of talents. We do have to make judicious choices about which talents are worth cultivating. I hope that we won't be the servant cast into worthless darkness because we pay attention to one set of skills over another.

But let's look at that parable again. Let's look at that word, "talent," again.

As I read this week's Gospel again, I forced myself to think about the fact that this parable really is about money. It's not instructing me to return to the piano keyboard at the expense of the computer keyboard (feel free to revise that last sentence to fill in the talents of your choice). And it's an unusually Capitalist message from Christ. I'm used to the Jesus who tells us to give our money away. I'm not used to the savior who encourages us to make wise investments of our money.

I'm not used to thinking of money management as a talent. But this parable makes clear that it is. Jesus makes clear that money is one of the gifts we're given, and the verses that follow (31-46, ones that aren't part of this week's Gospel) show that Christ is not straying from his essential message. The verses that follow talk about treating the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner as if those people are Christ incarnate. God has a vision for how we'll use that gift of money.

And obviously, we'll have more resources to help our fellow humans who are in trouble if we've made wise investments. These days, I'm not sure about the best investment strategy to turn 5 talents into 10. But again, if I look at the Gospel as part of the larger chapter in Matthew, I suspect that to see this week's Gospel as a parable about making my money grow means I'm missing an essential part of the message.

The servant who was cast into out darkness was cast out because the talent went to waste buried in the ground. How would he have been treated if he had given the money away to the poor, the sick, the stranger? I suspect he would not have been cast into outer darkness.

Our current (and some might say collapsing) Capitalist paradigm often doesn't take community into account. Not making enough money in America, where workers have unreasonable demands like a living wage and safe working conditions? Just move your industry to a country that has less oversight. Sure, you rip apart the social fabric, but at least you're making money.

No, we do not believe in a savior who preaches such nonsense. Our God is always obsessed with the poor and dispossessed. And we're called to be part of that obsession.

Unfortunately, tough economic times mean that we'll find many opportunities for this aspect of Kingdom Living. With the holidays approaching, we might think about our customs. Maybe, instead of giving people who have lots of stuff even more stuff, we could donate to a charity in their name. In my family, the adults decided that instead of exchanging presents with each other, we would choose a different charity each year and donate to that charity. Maybe, instead of an endless whirl of parties, we might give some time to our local food pantries or soup kitchens. As we buy a book or two for our favorite children, we could buy a book or two for local reading programs or donate to RIF (Reading is Fundamental, the nation's largest child literacy organization, at

The ways to help heal the world are endless, and God invites us to join in the creation project. We can donate money, time, skills, prayers, optimism, hope. Doing so is one of our most basic Christian tasks.

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