Sunday Homily - November 15th, 2020 - Disrupting Routines

The Parable of the Talents stained glass 


Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Zephaniah 1:7,12-18
Psalm 90:1-12
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

I.

The fall season is indeed lengthening,
 the leaves are blanketing the ground,
  and the gentle decent of darkness and night
   has begun to gently stretch and encroach upon
    our daylight hours,
     like it usually does during this season.

This could be seen in the natural cycles of nature outside,
 but it is usually more alarmingly put in our faces
  by Daylight Saving Time
   that arbitrarily messes with our established rhythms of the day.

If I sound frustrated,
 well, it is because one sort of person
  that doesn't understand the time change very well
   nor is happy to adjust their routine without first declaring their uncompromising disagreement
    is the lovely one-year-old whose nap times are completely blown out of whack.

And, therefore, the parents are also somewhat blown out of whack at the same time.
 God bless you parents, grandparents, and foster parents out there!
  Daylight Saving Time is not the holiest of times in this sense!

But something that Daylight Saving Time shows us
 very clearly, in more cases than not,
  is that we have a deeply established routine
   as it comes to our daily rhythm of time.

The completely arbitrary shifting of an hour
 in both fall and spring
  destabilizes our established routines in such a way
   that it can actually be very disturbing on a basic level,
    such as my one-year-old likes to remind us of
     whenever it happens and naptime has been postponed a slight bit too long.

There is a reason why we have rhythm and routine,
 a way to organize our observance of the daylight hours,
  a way of working effectively and efficiently,
   and perhaps more importantly,
    a way to lessen and round off the sharp stresses
     that come with not knowing what we are doing next. 

But disruption of routine,
 while it is uncomfortable on a very deep level, 
  can also be a good thing.

For you who have had to adjust your diet in order to be more healthy,
 disrupting the routine of doing unhealthy things,
  such as eating too much or not getting enough exercise,
   is actually a healthy disruption.
    It is a disruption that doesn't make you very happy at first,
     but, again, it is in fact a necessary disruption to your established routine.

Even something as simple as learning something new,
 a new piece of knowledge or experience of something in a new way 
  that causes you to reevaluate what you had thought before,
   is a deeply unsettling experience.
    And yet, it is sometimes the case when that new thing is allowed to pressure
     or interrogate your understanding,
      it may sometimes turn out that that new things you learned
       leads to a healthy disruption of the ways in which we are conditioned to think,
       or how we routinely live our lives.

Which is why,
 the closer we get to Christ the King Sunday,
  which is next Sunday by the way,
   the more we have a theme of disruption of the regular
    with the inbreaking of the holy,
     the breaking in of the Kingdom of Heaven
      ushered in by Christ Himself.

But, it is helpful as well
 to also allow ourselves to hear the words of Jesus,
  the parables of Christ,
   in a more nuanced fashion
    than perhaps we are so used to
     in the routine hearing of this parable we heard this morning:
      the parable of the talents. 

II.

Because,
 perhaps despite what you might normally expect,
  there are a lot of ways to read a parable.
   In fact, that's the whole point of parables: 
    they have layers of meaning that are meant to play with your imagination.

But this parable that Jesus tells us today
 is, in my opinion, one of those rare parables
  that conveys two different deeply important biblical truths.
   The catch is that the parable has to be read
    in two distinct ways
     to get at those truths.

The first truth is in the more traditional reading of the parable.

The incredibly wealthy man in the parable
 leaves investments with his servants
  and entrusts them with this unfathomable amount of money
   to grow his investments while he travels out of country.

The one with the most money makes twice as much.
 The one with the second-most money does the same.
  But the one given the least amount of money
   does the safest but also the most financially useless thing you can do with the money
    which is to go a bury it.

And of course, the rich man comes back
 and rewards the good and faithful servants
  for using what they were given wisely.
   But for the other servant,
    who criticizes the rich man,
     that servant is cast into outer darkness.

What can be brought out of this traditional reading
 is the truth that the rich man, who symbolizes God,
  entrusts us with gifts according to our abilities.
   And that those gifts are to be used in a useful fashion,
    to bring about the increase of God's treasure in heaven,
     such as the spiritual gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, and the like
      as referenced in Paul's letter to the Galatians.

However, to not exercise the free gifts given of God,
 and to bury them in the dirt,
  is unbecoming of a grateful servant of God,
   and rather is unbecoming of God's rich grace given.

The truth is that we have been given gifts and are entrusted with using them
 for the good of the Church and the world,
  the building up of each other in faith.
   And indeed, this is a good truth to reflect upon.

But there is a second truth that is present,
 and it has to do with a very different reading of the parable
  that is, in fact, no less biblically sound that the first reading.
   And it all hinges on the latter half of the story
   and the reasoning that the servant with one talent gives
    for why they buried the money.

Notice with me the specific charges that the servant
 brings against the wealthy man:
  
"Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours."

But even more importantly, listen closely to this wealthy man's response:
 
"You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents."

Now, a couple of really important notes:

First of all, 
 this wealthy man did not refute 
  nor even try to contest the charge
   of taking what was not his.
    
In fact, his response is similar to that of a complicated businessman
 who has had one of his employees
  find out that he had been lining his pockets
   with illegal revenue.
    "Ah, so you knew, did you, that I reap where I don't sow
      and gather where I didn't scatter?"

But, secondly, notice the suggestion
 that the wealthy man makes to this servant:
  "...you ought to have invested my money with the bankers,
   and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest."

This suggestion is hugely problematic for this wealthy man to make
 because this suggestion is potentially a violation 
  of an explicit command in the Law of Moses:
   "Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, 
    whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest." (Deut. 23:19)
  
[note from the preacher: the presence or absence of the sin of usury (charging interest) is contested by interpreters in this passage. However, one must make interpretive decisions as to whom one believes to be more supported by the evidence. 

While it is true that in the Law of Moses, Israelites were permitted to charge interest to non-Israelites, both 1) Jesus's immediate audience and 2) the incredible amount of money given even in 1 talent that may have been accumulated by illegal means, and 3) the context of the wealthy man leaving his servants in the country in which he resides while he himself goes out, these three points suggest that the bankers in which this wealthy man had a relationship would have exercised a real possibility of breaking the commandment about interest in Deut. 23:19)]
 
Not only is this wealthy man not contesting 
 that his wealth may have certainly come from illegal sources,
  but he is also suggesting that this servant invest with bankers
   that would have been breaking the commandments of the Law!

In other words, when Jesus tells this parable,
 Jesus's character of the wealthy man in this story 
  might not in fact be a stand in for God.

Instead, Jesus's parable can equally carry the second truth
 that we as followers of Jesus
  will be faced with making incredibly difficult decisions in our lives
   that involve the direct naming and turning away
    from participating or committing evil,
     even if that naming and revealing of evil
      costs us our financial stability,
       our jobs,
        or even our very lives. 

In this second reading of the parable,
 the third servant is in fact the righteous servant
  that has chosen to follow the will of God in the Law
   rather than be a participant in evil
    in which "those who have much, more will be given them"
     while "those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away."

This second truth is the bare-faced and uncomfortable truth
 that we might, at various points in time,
  actually be called to disrupt the routine of evil.
   And disrupting that routine
    is not something that evil really likes to have done to it,
     and likewise, we may have to pay the price
      for the sake of the Love of God
       and the Love of our neighbor.

In this second reading,
 the wealthy man is in fact a corrupt man,
  in which his servants continually grow his wealth by crooked means.
   The servants are in fact those who have been given the choice
    to continue to grow the wealthy man's power
     while they themselves are given gifts for their services,
      or to make the choice of the third servant 
       who alone challenges the evil dealings of illegal revenue 
        and oppression of the poor.
       
And yet this righteous third servant
 is in fact the one who pays the price.

III.

So, you might be wondering in your minds,
 "Well, these readings are so different,
  which one is the one that is correct?
   Which reading is how we should read this parable?"

Well, the simple answer that I want to suggest is this: 
 both are how we should read this parable. 

You see, the point of parable
 especially the parables of Jesus that aren't immediately explained by Jesus Himself
  are actually meant to have multiple layers to them.

Parables are meant to have multiple meanings
 and even have a multi-faceted way of being employed.

And one of the reasons that this particular parable is so special
 is that both of the truths within the readings of this parable in its biblical context
  are, in fact, Jesus saying two equally true things
   and yet doing it in two very ways.

It is indeed true 
 that God has given gifts to us,
  the servants of God
   for the good of the development and sustaining and building up
    of the Church,
     in deep service of God and neighbor,
      and we are most certainly not called to disdain or bury the gifts given
       because our gifts are given for the sake of the other,
        and not for us to hoard for ourselves.

And it is equally true
 that we are called to confront and hold up a mirror
  to those powers in the world
   that actively go against the Word of God
    even if that means you do it alone
     and even if that means that you literally lose everything.
      Because a stronger theme in the Gospels is that if anyone desires to follow Jesus,
       we must deny ourselves,
        take up our literal death to our selves,
         and follow Him, 
          and to become utterly disruptive to the easy routines in the world
           that bend their function to evil 
            and not in service to God.

Both of these truths are contained this parable.
  And the truths are indeed borne out
   and lived out most explicitly
    in Jesus's own sacrifice on the cross
     unyielding to the corruption of the Ruler of this world
      and rising again on the third day
       in fulfillment of God's ultimate victory 
        over sin, death, the Devil, and hell.

Tied intimately to both of these truths
 is what we are called to do in response to them.

We are meant to channel the gifts we are given
 for the glory of God,
  the love of our neighbor
   and for the common good.

Likewise, we are meant to stand against evil when we see it,
 even if that evil may seem to have a terrifying amount of power over you,
  because Jesus also calls us not to fear those who may kill the body
   but then after that can do nothing to you,
    because you who are in Christ will be raised up again
     and no power of the world can ever change that truth.

Go, friends,
 in the name of Christ
  who utterly disrupts our routines for our own good.

And never be afraid to use your gifts for the sake of the other,
 and to challenge evil in the name of Christ whenever you must.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 

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