Today’s Gospel lesson has Jesus telling us a parable about a man that goes on a trip and leaves the care of his property to his slaves. He entrusts each with different amounts of his money. You know how the story goes. Two of the three multiplied the money they were given. The third buried the money out of fear of the man whom he described as harsh and dishonest.
To have a fuller understanding of the Parable of the Talents, it is important to put it in context of the larger narrative which is unapologetically apocalyptic. It begins with the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew with Jesus leaving the Temple and foretelling its destruction. When pressed by the disciples about when this will occur, he then launched into the signs of the end of the age, describing great suffering false prophets, wars, famines, earthquakes, nations rising against nations and kingdom against kingdom. This all sounds more like the kingdom of the world than the Kingdom of God.
Jesus goes on to talk of faithfulness and the importance of staying alert and watchful because the Son of Man is coming to set things right, and at a time we cannot predict.
Last week you most likely heard the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids – five of them foolish and five of them wise. He begins by saying this is what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like. Basically, the five wise bridesmaids came prepared with enough oil for their lamps to last through the night while waiting for the Bridegroom (Jesus). The foolish bridesmaids were not prepared with enough oil, and when they asked for some from the wise ones, they were turned down. They missed the Bridegroom because in their unpreparedness they were away looking for oil.
This brings us to the doorstep of the Parable of the Talents. Many interpret the parable as being about good stewardship of the gifts we have been entrusted with by God. Yet, it’s unavoidable that the “master” is characterized as harsh, reaping what he doesn’t sow, threatening and instilling fear, and banishing the meek to outer darkness and suffering. If this “master” is thought to represent God, well, that’s not God as I understand God. This doesn’t sound like the Kingdom of Heaven to me. It sounds more like the kingdom of a dangerous and corrupt world.
Unless we look at all the larger narrative together with nondual vision where there is no “bad” or “good,” “right” or “wrong,” no “dark” and “light,” What if we look at all of it, with the totality of our very existence as all being of the Kingdom of Heaven, both our joy and our sorrows, knowing that we will always drink from both the cup of salvation as well as the cup of tears.
And what if we take Jesus at his word that if we insist on living outside of God’s desire for us there will be a price to pay. Reading the scripture from the contemplative dimension, what if being cast into outer darkness is not about a physical place, but instead speaks to our inner spiritual condition. What if hell is not a place as much as it is a state of our being.
Taken together, chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew’s telling of the Gospel are pointing us squarely to the coming of Christ, and some parts of the vision are easier to accept than others. In preparing ourselves for the coming Reign of God, we are called to wait and be alert like a watchperson in the night. We are encouraged to examine ourselves and give ourselves to the transformative work of the spirit of God within us.
But here’s the rub. We have to do the work for ourselves. That’s the lesson with the foolish bridesmaids. The “oil” represents the quality of our transformed consciousness. In her wonderful book The Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault suggests that the reason the five wise bridesmaids who had oil couldn’t give it to the five who didn’t is that the oil symbolizes something that must be nurtured within yourself through your own conscious striving. Nobody can give it to you, and nobody can take it away. Like the bridesmaids, we must do the work for ourselves.
Like many, I find some of the language in today’s parable hard to swallow. Language like fear, worthlessness, slavery, being cast into outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth. It sounds like punishment or even revenge. It seems a bit over the top, like being scared straight. I struggle with this because God as I understand God is a loving God. One who is compassionate and caring. Powerful? Yes. But Divine power is one of dominion, not domination.
This is the Good News that I hope to proclaim. This is the Christ that I want to seek and serve in all persons, including myself. This is the God of justice, peace, and dignity, that I strive for.
As we inch closer to the start of Advent in two weeks, may we develop and nurture the inner-transformation that will indeed create in us a clean heart and right spirit to welcome Jesus into our world, and in doing so, each of us can become a living sacrament that is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.