What is the most reckless thing you’ve ever done? How risk-averse is your church? © ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2017. Reproduced with permission. 

What is the most reckless thing you’ve ever done?

How risk-averse is your church?

© ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2017. Reproduced with permission. 

19 NOVEMBER 2017

Settling accounts Matthew 25.14-30

Lectionary Bible readings RCL Proper 28 Year A

Zephaniah 1.7,12-18
Psalm 90.1-8,(9-11),12
1 Thessalonians 5.1-11
Matthew 25.14-30

We explore:
expectations of God; taking risks; faithfulness.

 

 

BIBLE NOTES

Old Testament Zephaniah 1.7,12-18

Zephaniah speaks with urgency about the day of the Lord: the people must be silent in order to hear (v.7). But instead of the expected feast, Zephaniah foresees disaster. But, as the layout of the passage in the NRSV is intended to convey, this is poetry not prose.

The language is not intended literally, it is couched in metaphors and images that challenge and destabilise the expectations of the listeners. It invites the audience to see the world differently. The language is extreme because it is intended to provoke and disturb. It is also the language of urgency, searching and punishing complacency (v.12), and challenging the wealth and security of a planned future (v.13). This urgency is focused in the fact that the day of the Lord is ‘at hand’, and this is not sentimentalised (v.14). Rather, the imagery is of distress, anguish and threat (v.15). The overall impression is of war, and of distress for those caught up in it – a consequence of sin against the Lord (v.17). And it rejects false hopes that are often about what we can do, rather than what God will do. So why the silence? It is the silence of being in the presence of the awesomeness of God. It is recognition of the difference between the creator and the created.

Gospel Matthew 25.14-30

This is a difficult parable because it appears to be out of step with much of what we have read previously in Matthew’s Gospel. It feels unjust – although we should note that in this parable Jesus does not identify the master with God. One word that recurs is ‘entrusted’ (vv.14,21,23), which suggests a motivation behind the parable of what it means to be faithful. The context is of a man who goes away on a long journey, but who implies that he will return (v.14). Indeed, he does so but only after a period of prolonged absence (v.19). The danger in being absent so long is that the slaves will forget the master and inflate their own status – they will forget that they are slaves at all.

There is a potential source of confusion in the story: a talent is simply a weight of gold or silver; it is money – not talent in the modern sense of a gift or skill. The talents represent the master’s investment in each slave, an investment that is adjusted to suit the abilities of each individual. The first two slaves respond by investing what they are given, thereby building and growing the master’s investment in them (vv.16-17). The third does not – he does nothing. Or rather he buries what he is given (v.18). During the Great Fire of London, Samuel Pepys records how he buried his valuables – including a Parmesan cheese! – to protect them from danger and loss. A similar motive drives the conservatism of the third slave: he is fearful and seeking to protect himself. When the master returns, the first two slaves speak up (vv.20-23); they have risked what they were given in anticipation of the return of the absent master. But when the third is summoned, he is defensive, fearful and protective of himself (vv.24-25). The first two speak of – and for – their master; the third is silent about the master, seeking only to justify his own actions. This is a story whose real target – the connection it is intended to make for Jesus’ audience – is Israel’s concern for its own relationship with God – and the religious conservatism that goes with it – while having little or no concern for that of other nations and peoples, or for what it really means to be faithful as God’s chosen people.

The links between the lectionary readings

All three readings involve speech and silence, although the issue is not speaking or keeping silence as such, but how we respond to God. In Zephaniah, the silence comes from the shock of the unexpected – things are not right, as people had assumed they were. In 1 Thessalonians, the people are encouraged to avoid complacency and to build up each other. In Matthew, speaking up and keeping silence are signs, or indicators, of two different responses to God: one focuses outwards, the other inwards; one demonstrates concern for all God’s people, the other only self-preservation.

© ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2017. Reproduced with permission. www.rootsontheweb.com

 

PRAYER

A personal prayer

O Lord, I am so bad at taking risks.
I am cautious and careful, not daring and decisive.
I am far more fearful than I am faithful.
Help me to look to your strength, not my weaknesses,
to your riches, not my poverty –
that I may fulfil your hopes for me,
to your glory and my joy.
Amen.

A way into prayer

  • It is easy to wait expectantly on God and forget that he waits expectantly on us too.
  • Reflect on what you have been entrusted with this week.
  • Then pray:
    To you, Lord of love,
    I offer my gifts,
    invest my time
    and entrust my life.
    Amen.

© ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2017. Reproduced with permission. www.rootsontheweb.com