Jesus: Lighten Up!
Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
An-other unsettling parable.
Last week: the bridegroom rejects the five bridesmaids— foolish.
This week: the master rejects the slave who did not invest his
money— wicked and lazy.
Next week: the Son of Man rejects those who neglect the
Jesus seems to be on a rejection roll,
which doesn’t square with the Jesus that I know.
What is Jesus really saying?
Applying this parable literally would lead to the conclusion
that God is a harsh bully who enjoys damning people.
Some of us perhaps sometimes go there in our heads!
“Oh my, how I have wasted the talents; I am doomed!”
Upon first reading, this parable is an unsettling story.
A rich man entrusts his property—his money.
A talent is a measure of money equivalent to 6000 denarii.
One denarius was a day’s wage.
And so, the man entrusts 99 years worth to servant #1,
33 years worth to servant #2 and 16 ½ years worth to servant #3.
An outrageous amount of money—without any instructions.
Now, the average person
would probably simply do his/her best to keep the money safe.
He/she would not risk investment.
Consequently, the choice of the third servant seems to be the wise
—especially given the known harshness of the rich man!
And so what happens?
He is thoroughly excoriated:
“As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Excuse me!??!? Thrown into darkness for being prudent?
Is God harsh? Can God be a bully at times?
God may seem to be harsh.
There is the story of Saint Teresa of Avila (+1582), Spanish Carmelite
nun, making her way to her convent during a fierce rainstorm,
slipping down an embankment and falling squarely into the mud.
The irrepressible nun looked up to heaven and admonished her
"If this is how You treat Your friends,
no wonder why You have so few of them!”
God may seem to be harsh
—given the complexity of our lives and the unavoidability of pain.
This too, however, is somehow a revelation of God who is king,
of God whom we know, in faith, to be love.
In actuality, God cannot act contrary to Who He is,
and thus cannot act contrary to love.
God does not make bad things happen.
He sure as heck allows a lot of bad things to happen,
which is mysterious and trying and perhaps upsetting and
I know that I repeat myself when I say:
we always read Scripture in reference to the theological truth
that God is love, bearing in mind that Jesus sometimes speaks
in deliberately exaggerated terms to reveal this.
God acts with intensity—like harshness, but it the intensity of love.
And the higher the stakes, the greater the intensity with which God
In other words, the more intimate the matter, or the more awesome
the greater the vulnerability of God,
and thus the more intense the action of God.
The “harsh” cleansing of the Temple, for example,
was an act of love by Jesus.
What is Jesus really saying?
Perhaps the detail to be applied, the key in the parable,
is the entrusting of something precious.
The kingdom of God entails God, the King, entrusting something
precious that He would like to see grow and bear fruit.
And this something He entrusts with a corresponding sense of
What does God entrust?
In the end, God never “entrusts” anything less than Himself.
God entrusts His inner riches, i.e. His life, and thus His love.
Perhaps, response of the rich man serves well, in its exaggeration,
to underscore the unbelievable preciousness of what we have been
and how our refusal, in a mysterious way, impacts God.
Think of a time when you were impacted when, with love,
you entrusted a precious gift to someone
that was subsequently carelessly ignored or even rejected.
I have shared this story before: 5 th grade, Nikki Booth. Big Crush.
And, we had a field trip one day, and I mustered the nerve,
as we boarded the bus, to give her a ring, symbol of my feelings for
It was a cheap ring that was precious to me.
The day seemingly went well; enjoyed being together.
After we alighted the bus, she walked directly to the nearest trash-can
and tossed the ring in it.
I still haven’t recovered—obviously!
It is infinitely greater with God…
Now, we sometimes close ourselves to the gift of God out of fear.
We think God is perhaps a harsh bully who enjoys damning people.
The third servant “mismanaged” because he feared the rich man.
The first two servants did not fear.
We must ask the Holy Spirit to help us to see God as He truly is.
If ever we have pulled back from the gift out of fear
or ignored or misused the gift out of self-absorption,
all we must do is acknowledge our failing, which opens our hearts,
which opens us to God’s merciful embrace.
Let us be embraced this day, this morning.
And, let us ask that this gift, which is not our own, transform us,
and that we communicate it to others—with a sense of God’s