I intentionally do not post all my messages (sermons) from Sunday mornings, however after a few requests for the written version - here it is. This was originally preached on November 13th at Epiphany Lutheran Church, based on Matthew 24: 14-30.
Okay - so I’m just going to say it. The third servant - I feel sorry for him. Not only do I feel sorry for him, I kinda like him too. I’d probably do the same thing if the guy I’m most scared of in the world just handed me the equivalent of 20 years wages. What in the world am I supposes to do with that much money?
From most peoples’ vantage point he’s done nothing to deserve this harshness and wrath. And yet, he’s thrown into the darkest regions of the universe by none other than... God...?
I mean, isn’t that how we always read this? We assume that the wealthy landowner is God. I wonder how God feels about this characterization?
I’m sure God gets angry and is disappointed with us sometimes, but wanting us to live in fear? To be scared stiff? No. I’m confident this isn’t what God wants for us. So, I’d like to hold out the possibility that maybe the Master isn’t God.
In this parable we also have the two ‘wise’ servants - the ones who do the ‘right’ thing. They are given enormous amounts of money, more than they could ever or should ever be able to earn in the course of their lives. And they make more.... Good for them. And, good for the master.
I guess I wonder who else is it good for? It certainly doesn’t say.
Over the years we’ve heard this preached as - take what God has given you and use it, do more with it! Multiply it. Give it away. That’s valid; God does want us to do that.
However, I believe there’s more to it, because I have a question. What if you have nothing? What if you haven’t been given an astronomical amount of money? Or talent? Or joy? Or...anything?
What if you already live in no-man’s land? There are plenty who live this way - on the fringes, skating by, lucky to have two pennies to scrape together. There are plenty in the world who are already gnashing their teeth and weeping as we sit here.
And then there’s the idiotic third servant. You know, the guy who heads out to the field, digs a hole and buries the treasure. He wants nothing to do with it. Obviously he has done the wrong thing. I mean, seriously, who goes out and buries treasure?
Everyone. Everyone...seriously. Especially during this time period - if someone entrusted something to your care it was because they trusted that you would protect it at all costs. Burying it was common.
Those hearing this parable would’ve assumed the third servant was doing the right thing. So, when Jesus says the third servant gets thrown into the darkness everyone is shocked and surprised.
So, how about a surprise this morning? I mean, that’s the point of parables really. To wake us up, to broaden our perspectives, to make us think about God and God’s world. Once we start to assume we know what God’s story is all about then we’ve “predictibilized” the Gospel. We’ve made it the ‘good news according to Christine’ or the ‘good news according to_____”.
What if the good news today is:
The third servant is Jesus. Is this possible?
Let’s just play around with this a bit...
The third servant guards something precious with his whole life - just like Jesus.
The third servant pushes back at those with great power - just like Jesus.
The third servant is tossed aside, discarded, left for dead - just like Jesus.
The third servant is misunderstood and mocked for years and years - just like Jesus.
I mean, could it be that there is more to the third servant than we assume?
If Jesus is the third servant, he can’t be talking to God... since Jesus is God. So it means he’s taking on someone powerful and mighty and wealthy.
Maybe the words the third servant would spit out today would be:
“Do you know how scared everyone is of you? How your big feet squash them down? You steal money that’s not yours. People work in the heat and filth of this world, just so you can get more. And then, you cut the needy out of your budgets.
Well, I’m smarter than that. I’m not going to work for you. I’m going to try another way. Don’t worry - I don’t steal. Your money is back there, buried. Get it yourself.”
I mean...what if Jesus was saying that? It’s not really a leap – just a different way of hearing it.
Of course, he’s going to get fired for talking that way to the boss. Don’t those who speak up against injustices always get thrown into the outermost regions of the universe?
In this parable the rich get richer.... and the poor get poorer... And if we don’t like that ending, then I believe the question to us is, “What are we going to do about it?”
The disparity is great in this parable and here in this world. And I have a huge problem preaching that by our just being more generous with our money then things will be better for those on the bottom.
The good news has to be more than just ‘give generously’. Jesus didn’t have to die for us to learn how to give money away. People in Jesus’ time did give; many of us already give....
Plus, if faithful servants are those who get returns on their investments, then we’re all in trouble in today’s unsteady economy.
Maybe the good news today is about us not being like the first two servants - who produce in excess and use money to keep the system going...
The system was corrupt in Jesus’ day. Poor servants made the world go ‘round. Unfortunately, the system is still corrupt today. Poor servants still make the world work the way we want it to work.
Did you know that every single one of us has slaves working for us? You heard that right.
Here’s one - make-up. I wear it most days. Many of us do. Did you know that many of the minerals used in make-up come from mines in India that have been worked by children?
From the smart phone, to the cup of coffee we drink, to the t-shirts we wear, to computers... Honestly, I could go on. And on. The truth of the matter is that we unknowingly buy products which make our lives easier and simultaneously injure another.
There isn’t a single solitary one of us who hasn’t unwittingly been one of the ‘generous two servants’....giving from what we have, but not necessarily knowing where’s it’s come from.
The third servant knows where things come from.
This coming Saturday we’re hosting a Fair Trade Fair here. People can come and buy holiday gifts and ALL the profits go to support small-scale farmers and artisans, so they can be productive, self-sufficient members of their communities.
If you know nothing about Fair Trade or even if you are unsure about what it means, let me tell you that at its core it is a method of doing business with justice and morality. The business practices oppose cruel working conditions, support women’s rights, do not engage in slave labor, and promote good stewardship of resources and the environment.
The entire principal is built upon equity. Not wealth; not on making more and more. It’s giving every one a fair shot at living well. Not living large, but living fully.
There’s a difference.
All the items - from baskets to jewelry, from textiles to kitchen-wares, from nativities to coffee have all been produced and crafted by individuals who have been trampled upon, who have been weeping and gnashing their teeth...
And in some small way we have a chance this weekend to protect the thing God treasures most. God’s people. We...who in many ways can act like the first and second servant are given the opportunity to be -
The fourth servant.
What?! No, fourth servant?
Ah, there must be. Today, my dear friends, we must be the forth servants. We must be the ones who follow after the third servant. Who is this forth servant?
The fourth servant doesn’t only give from what we have. We give up our right to have more.
The fourth servant doesn’t make more money to live a comfy life and then gives away want he or she doesn’t want. We learn to live with less, so that others can live with more.
The fourth servant doesn’t only ensure his or her kids get to go college, but works to ensure all children are afforded a good education.
You may say that I am taking liberties with today’s Gospel...maybe I am.
But what if, no-mans land isn’t no-man’s land to the people who live there? What if the fourth servant went to the place where people are weeping and gnashing their teeth? What if God’s calling fourth servants today?
And, what if that forth servant was you?
It’s a hard road to go. It involves sacrifice, and thinking, and work and a whole lot of compassion for people we may never meet in this lifetime. But thank God Almighty that the third servant has been there already and is still there willing to work with us. It’s time to write a new chapter to this parable. AMEN.