The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28), November 19, 2023

October 25, 2023 | by Beth Hayward

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Matthew 25:14-30

This is a tough one. I keep searching for the good news of this parable, yet when I find it, there are still parts of the story that are incongruent with that good news. I appreciate that this is part of the many parables placed together in Matthew to serve as preparation for Jesus’s eschatological return. I appreciate that there is a message here about what to do while we wait for the kingdom of heaven to come. I resonate with the idea that fear holds us back, keeps us from living to our full potential. I celebrate interpretations that insist this is not a prosperity gospel parable, that the message can’t be – gamble what God has given, and you’ll be rewarded. I certainly understand that interpreting this allegorically falls flat on its face when we consider what a shady character that master is and how he simply can’t represent Jesus.

Where I get stuck with this one is that no matter what angle I come at it from there always seems to be pieces of the parable that I leave laying on the ground because they are not compatible with where I land. There are always dangling threads of this one and I end up feeling like a substandard preacher who, after 20-plus years in the pulpit, still can’t sew a parable’s lesson neatly into a garment that the congregation can pick up and take with them in any meaningful way.  This might just be a week to admit to the congregation that some biblical passages continue to confound, that the wisdom from them is elusive even to you, the professional! It might also be that this parable is a rather fine example of the Process tenant of well, process. If the world is ever in process, ever evolving, in an ongoing state of becoming, then even this parable continues to become as we engage it once more.

Like I said a couple weeks ago, this is not a season to get lost in the weeds. Most of us preachers are already in Advent. It’s usual when approaching the end of the year and want to gloss over and get to the good stuff just around the corner. My best advice, if you choose to preach this parable: be honest about what you are leaving behind, what you are leaving on the table unaddressed. Let your people know that you couldn’t reconcile it all, that this parable is a work in process.

There is stuff in her that does preach. I keep coming back to two details. Each slave was given talents according to their ability and the third slave saying, I knew you were harsh and so I was afraid.  Out of his fear he did what most people in those days would have done with a talent, buried it, kept it safe.  A talent, it seems, is 20 years wages. The original hearers would have known that the talents were hyperbolic, and they would have known that any reasonable person would bury such treasure to keep it safe.  I’m struck that the slave who received the least talents according to his ability – received more than he would ever need, received an absurd abundance. I’m struck that he did with his abundance what every other person around him would have done in those days, buried it for safe keeping, for a time when he might need it.  I’m struck by the fact that it says he did the usual thing with the talent because the master was harsh (and unscrupulous) and out of fear.  Do we operate out of fear too? Do we do with our money what any reasonable person would do? Are we called to examine why we do what we do with what we have?

I’m curious too about this idea that the original gift related in some way to their abilities.  Did the first two have greater ability? Was their ability about intelligence? Morals? Social status?  What motivated them to do such an unusual thing with the talents?  Why would the two with greater ability take more radical action? Did they wish to please the master?  Was it easier for them to take risk because of some social or intellectual circumstance?

What I do know is that the person with the least ability acted out of fear. When he acted out of fear he did the expected action, he did what every other person in his shoes could be expected to do.  Even if there are many parts of this parable that leave you scratching your head, fear is something the people in our pews can relate to.  Don’t be afraid echoes throughout our scriptures like a deep and aching call to step into the light, to dare to risk for the sake of a richer, fuller, more abundant life. What fears are leading you and your people to do the usual thing? Does your faith invite you to continually try the unexpected?  What risks are being presented to you as invitations to engage in the ongoing process of becoming the people God would have you be? The Advent new year is coming, just maybe this is time to make some resolutions about turning from fear and expected action.

Beth Hayward is an ordained minister with the United Church of Canada. Having served congregations from coast to coast in over 20 years of ministry, she describes herself as a practical public theologian. Beth is particularly interested in the ways Process preaching can inform authentic communal experience and transform the way people engage with their neighbours in a pluralistic world. You can connect with her through her website