The story is told of an Atheist interrogating a Rabbi in Stalinist Russia. The questioner asks the Rabbi, “According to Genesis, God asks, “Where are you?” when Adam and Eve are hiding in the garden. If your God is all-knowing, why didn’t He know where Adam was hiding. The Rabbi replies, “When God asks, ‘Where are you?’ it isn’t because he doesn’t know where Adam is, but because Adam does not know where he is. And God will come in the cool of the day to each man’s life and ask, “Where are you?” And man must face where he stands in relation to God and the call of God upon his life.
He is speaking of Judgment Day, the Day of Reckoning. Just as Amos called us to turn and behold the coming day of the Lord, so Zephaniah calls us to stand silent at the coming day of the Lord.
15 A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements. (Zep 1:15–16)
During these final weeks, our lessons continue to remind us of the Day of the Lord, the coming Day of Reckoning, the Day of Judgment. It is a time for asking, “Where am I?” in relation to the call of God upon my own life. It is a time of examination and assessment. It prepares us for the penitential season of Advent, the season of watching and waiting for the Lord even as we our shortcomings, our sinfulness, our need for grace.
In the Gospel reading today, we see a day of reckoning as the servants of the Master must stand before Him as He reviews their obedience or their disobedience. We are told a parable of a man going on a journey and entrusting his property to three servants: five talents to one, two talents to another and one talent to a third.
I always felt sorry for the guy who only received one talent. He gets the least and then seems judged the harshest. Then I think. Am I guy with only one talent? Look at all those other being and all the gifts God gave them. At this point, I have to stop myself because this is a complete misreading of the story. The numbers may throw us off and have tempted some people to read this like an accounting tale. Who invested the best? It might be more helpful to think of 5 talents, 2 talents, and 1 talents representing the unique shape of God’s call on each servant.
Each servant is different. The Master’s expectations or hopes are for the well-being of each servant. He is seeking for teach of them to grow up into the fullness of their own distinctive qualities.
We know that when the Master returns, two have been faithful and one has hid the talent or buried it in the ground. He has protected it. This is key. He tried to protect it, to hold on to it, to preserve it. Now before we puzzle over this idea of protecting it any further, let’s think about the context of this parable.
At the opening of Matthew 24, Jesus pronounces judgment upon the Temple and then proceeds to describe what this judgment, this Day of Reckoning will look like. He describes a series of images: one after the other, each reinforcing a separation between the faithful and the unfaithful, an end of an age, a time of trouble but also a time of celebration. He tells a series of parables each continuing this theme of judgment where some are rewarded and some are sent away into darkness. This series of images that depict judgment come to an end at the end of chapter 25.
So just to refresh: Chapter 24 opens with a pronouncement of judgment on the Temple system and then 24 and 25 explore the theme of judgment through pictures and stories. At the opening of chapter 26, we are back at the Temple. Now the leaders of the Temple are pronouncing judgment on Jesus by plotting his crucifixion. This is irony at its best. They are planning to bring judgment on Jesus. In the act of carrying out this judgment through crucifixion, they will bring judgment on themselves and their entire Temple system. Within one generation, the Temple will fall and the entire system will come to an end.
If we read the parables of the ten virgins, the talents, and the sheep and the goats with this in mind, we hear a reckoning coming for those who supposed guard the holy mysteries. Each of these parables should prompt a “Where am I?” question. The early church reading Matthew’s Gospel, should ask, “Where am I?” As we see a word of judgment upon the priests and elder, we also should “Where am I Lord?
The Temple rulers are so busy protecting themselves and their power, that they become the foolish virgins who cannot see the bridegroom when he stands in their midst. At the same time, some people within this system are looking with expectant hope for the coming of the Lord. Consider the priest Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist or Simeon and Anna, who watch and wait for the coming of the Lord and behold the baby Jesus before they depart this life.
They were watching and waiting, and they beheld the coming of the Lord. There are people in Israel who are watching and waiting for the coming of the Lord, and there are people who are more focused on protecting themselves and their group.
Now think afresh about the talents. Two of the servants pour out the gift that has been given them and in so doing, see it multiplied. They serve a God of abundance. There is no lack in God’s kingdom. Now think of people who pour out their gifts in the Gospels. Consider the woman who pours the costly ointment on Jesus’s head in an act of extravagant worship, or think again of the woman who gives her last two mites in worship. Both woman let go of their costly gifts and give them away in worship unto the Lord. These are images of the faithful servants. Now contrast that with the priestly system. We ask “Where are they?” of the Temple leaders,
The Temple complex is large and magnificent. At first glance, you might have likened it to the servant with five talents who invested wisely. It looks like they have invested their talents and multiplied them. Not at all. Large and impressive does not mean faithfulness. The Temple is a monument to Herod and his ruling power. It is like the servant with the one talent who digs a hole and hides his talent. He protects his talent at all costs. The chief priests and elders are hiding or protecting their power, but in the process they’ve dug their own grave. They’ve signed the death sentence on themselves.
Let us think about the parable again in relation to this question of “Where am I?” The master has entrusted these precious gifts to His beloved servants. These gifts are for the benefit of servants. In pouring out the gifts, the servants will grow up into their calling, but the one servant refuses. He fears a lack in the kingdom and sets about preserving his talent, his life. In so doing, he will lose his life.
Judgment Day has come. We read this parable as individuals and as a people. The people of God entrusted with the gift of God’s Good News, the Word Made Flesh. But sometimes, the people of God have chosen to protect themselves, their churches, their systems, their egos, their turf. They live as people who think God and the world owe them something. And they fail to pour out their life for the sake of the world.
They fail to follow in the way of the cross, and those who seek to save their lives will lose them. During this season, we examine our own hearts. Lord, how have I been like the servant who dug a hole. Where am I in relation to God and the call of God upon my life?
In today’s Psalm, we are given a prayer for the people of God who have lost their way, who have resorted to power games to preserve themselves instead of trusting the faithfulness of God. They find themselves under judgment. As we read their plight, we realize that we stand alongside them under judgment. The Psalmist declares,
7 For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh. Ps 90:7–9.
This Psalm could be read as a rehearsal on the littleness of human existence, comparing human life to grass that flourishes in the morning and fades in the evening. This tiny glimpse of human life is contrasted with the Lord whose life is more ancient than the mountains that He created. In verse two, we read that His life is from everlasting to everlasting. This word everlasting has the sense of a life that is beyond every horizon point. It is ancient and more ancient than any ancient we can perceive and yet it extends beyond the end of all things as well.
As I read this, I thought of the recent discovery of the Laniakea Supercluster. It is now believed that our galaxy of planets, stars and sun, the Milky Way is part of a much larger supercluster of galaxies of planets and stars known as the Laniakea Supercluster. It is estimated that there are 100-400 billion stars and 100 billion planets in this supercluster.
Our planet and our lives seems tiny in light of the bigness of time and space as we know. For some people, this could make us insignificant. It could make us feel like the guy that got only one talent. He felt jipped and had to use all his power to protect it.
But there is another way to read this bigness of time and space. In this vast horizon of time and space that stretches out beyond us, the Psalmist opens his song by saying, Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. (Ps 90:1).
You have been our refuge. Your love is so deep and so wide and so high that it stretches beyond the scope of all that is and will be. We find security in your love O God. We find our home in your love O God. We find our peace, our joy, our life in your love. So in the great vastness of all that is and in the sense of our own smallness and the need we often feel to defend ourselves, protect ourselves, we can pray with the Psalmist for God to have pity on us.
13 Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands! Ps 90:13–17.
This beautiful, love-soaked prayer is bathed in hope that God will satisfy our needs every single morning of our lives. By HIs grace, we will rejoice in his lovingkindness all our days. This is a prayer that delights in the work of our hands. The Lord has given us the ability to give, to serve, to build, to create, to share, to love. Thank you Lord that we have breath, we have life, and we can serve you and one another with our hands. Establish the work of our hands as monuments of praise to your stedfast love O God.