Proverbs 31: 10-13 + Psalm 128 + 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-6 + Matthew 25: 14-15, 19-21
November 19, 2023 at St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples, FL
This is another one of those “not fair” parables, and at the first stirring of that feeling, you know to go deeper. Then, when you know that it is against Jewish laws to charge interest, this is even more “unfair” since the other guys get praised for doing something that is wrong while this man is called wicked and lazy for keeping the rules and playing it safe. I found a helpful hint about this in the response of this third man. He calls the master “a hard man.” What I do think is that the third man was clearly afraid. He could not take any risks. He had to “play it safe.”
Matthew is writing to Church that has much to fear from persecutions. They were facing big changes as more and Gentiles found their way into what was primarily a Jewish/Christian community. They are afraid of the persecutors and afraid of change. He writes to encourage that church, just as he writes to us today, and Christ speaks to us today about having the courage to confront fear with hope and courage. It is a timely message. There is plenty of fear being used on us these days. Instead of offering us hope and a pragmatic workable solution to the problems we face in our society, those running for public office just want to frighten us by telling us what danger there is from the policies of their evil opponents. At the same time, there is fear lurking within our church, and it started a while ago after the Vatican Council in the 70s. Fear of a changing Church leads to closed minds, ears, and hearts. Add to that the individualism of this age which nurtures the “I’ll do it my way” attitude “because I can” puts our unity is in danger.
At another level, we must keep in mind that there was no capitalism when Jesus spoke these words. Increasing wealth by investment never crossed their minds. They had a notion that there was a limited amount of good. There is only so much wealth to go around and an increase to one person takes from another. Someone with more than they needed would be seen as greedy and wicked.
What we are given here is also a warning about being seduced into an unjust system while encouraging disciples to expose greed for the sin that it is. There is no reason to think that the man with all the goods represents God. That’s not what this parable is about. It comes just like last week with a warning to be ready – a reckoning is coming. What we see at the end is what can happen to those who blow the whistle on the rich and powerful. The parable also encourages disciples to find ways to stand together as they confront unjust systems and not to be found in a vulnerable solitary position like the third man.
This parable is not about the stock market. It is about fear and greed. Throughout the whole of the Gospel, there are more warnings about the dangers of money than anything else, so those of us with it are well advised to be vigilant in stewardship. In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, this is the third of three parables stressing the need for disciples to be found faithful when Christ comes again. In contrast to slaves who live in fear, in the face of greed, with a master who punishes those who do not go along with his plans for amassing more and more wealth, disciples learn to live with trust in God whose provident love gives them the courage to work for justice while waiting for the fulfillment.