Week of Proper 16: Saturday, Year 1   14 comments

Above:  Parable of the Talents Woodcut, 1712

Image in the Public Domain

Sins of Omission

SEPTEMBER 2, 2017

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 (The Jerusalem Bible):

As for loving our brothers, there is no need for anyone to write to you about that, since you have learnt from God yourselves to love one another, and in fact that is what you are doing with all the brothers throughout the whole of Macedonia.  However, we do urge you, brothers, to go on making even greater progress and to make a point of living quietly, attending to our own business and earning your living, just as we told you to, so that you are seen to be respectable by those outside the Church, though you do not have to depend on them.

Psalm 98 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Sing to the LORD a new song,

for he has done marvelous things.

2 With his right hand and his holy arm

has he won for himself the victory.

3 The LORD has made known his victory;

his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

4 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel,

and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

5 Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands;

lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

6 Sing to the LORD with the harp,

with the harp and the voice of song.

7 With trumpets and the sound of the horn

shout with joy before the King, the LORD.

8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,

the lands and those who dwell therein.

9 Let the rivers clap their hands,

and the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,

when he comes to judge the earth.

10 In righteousness shall he judge the world

and the peoples with equity.

Matthew 25:14-30 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Jesus said,

It [the kingdom of heaven] is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them.  To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to a third one; each in proportion to his ability.  Then he set out.  The man who had received five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more.  The man who had received two made two more in the same way.  But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.  Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them.  The man who had received five talents came forward bringing five more.  ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more I have made.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown that you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.’  Next the man with two talents came forward.  ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.’  Last came forward the man who had the one talent.  ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘I had heard that you were a hard man, reaping where you had not sown and gathering where you had not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground.  Here it is; it was yours, you have it back.’  But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant!  So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered?  Well then, you should deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest.  So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents.  For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.’

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The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Matthew 25 is a chapter about the Second Coming of Jesus.  It has three distinct and related sections.  The first consists of verses 1-13, the Parable of the Bridesmaids.  Some were prepared, others were not.  Then follows this day’s reading, the Parable of the Talents.  I will return to that in a moment.  The final part of Chapter 25 is the familiar discourse about the final judgment.  Jesus will interview people.  He will inform many of them that they fed him when he was hungry, clothed him when he was naked, and visited him when he was in prison.  Surprised, they will ask when they did this.  And Jesus will say that they did this for him when they did it for others.  Conversely, Jesus will inform others that they did none of these things.  Shocked, they will ask when they did not.  As it turns out, they did not help others in these ways.

These three sections of Matthew 25, taken together, focus on actions, inactions, and their consequences.  Those who act righteously, even if they have little or no idea how righteously they are behaving, will reap what they sow.  Those who act unrighteously, even if they have little or no idea how unrighteously they are acting, will reap what they sow.  And not doing something when that is appropriate and one has the opportunity to do so is a sin of omission.  God frowns on those, as well as sins of commission.

And all of this occurs in the shadow of Golgotha.

So, with preliminaries out of the way, let us explore the Parable of the Talents.

It is a simple story.  A very wealthy landowner entrusts his property to three servants before he goes abroad for a long time.  A talent, according to The New Interpreter’s Bible, was “a large sum of money, equal to the wages of a day laborer for fifteen years” (Volume VIII, page 453).  So each servant, whether he received one, two, or five talents, held a large amount of wealth, especially by the economic standards of most people of that time and place.  The servants entrusted with two and five talents invested it wisely and doubled their amounts.  Their master was pleased with them when he returned.  But one servant buried the talent in the ground.  It was common to bury something valuable in the ground for safe keeping.  This servant was honest; he did not abscond the wealth and flee the area.  But he did nothing.  Neither did he disobey instructions, for there are none in the parable.  But he displeased the master by not even depositing the talent in a local bank.  The servant had nothing to show, for he did nothing.

William R. Herzog II, in Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed (1994), interprets this story in a way unlike I have read anywhere else.  He treats the servant with one talent as the hero of story.  According to Herzog (pages 150-168), the point of the parable is to identify with the vulnerable whistle-blower who, by his inaction, calls attention to the unjust means by which his master accumulates wealth.  As much as I identify with Herzog’s notions of economic justice and injustice, I conclude that he twists more than one parable, including this one, to fit his preconceived ideas.  I skimmed his chapter on the parable before typing the parable word-for-word into this post.  So both are fresh in my mind.  Herzog’s interpretation makes no sense within the textual context of Matthew 25.

The Biblical texts are what the are, and they say what they say.  Sometimes I argue with them.  Other times I agree with them.   But I try first to identify what they say.  And Matthew 25:14-30 does not say what Herzog wants it to say.

The anticipated Second Coming of Jesus also figures into today’s excerpt from 1 Thessalonians.  Some members of the Thessalonian congregation had dropped out of the work force so they could devote themselves to preparing themselves for the great event.  So Paul wrote that they should resume their lives as productive members of society.  Matters of prophecy will tend to themselves, but we have work to do.  May we not be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good.

Reading the Bible according to a lectionary is the best method, for it facilitates the recognition of connections between passages.  The readings from Matthew and 1 Thessalonians are especially appropriate to read together, for a common thread runs through them.  My synthesis of these lessons follows:  Some of us have more to offer to God than others, but all of it comes from God.  We have the option of seeking the safest course in life, which is not to take risks or rock the boat.  But that is not what God calls us to do.  No, God calls us to take risks–even the chance of losing everything without trying to accomplish that end.  But, if we do this faithfully, at least we have been faithful.  Jesus did not “play it safe,” and neither should we who claim to follow him.  What each of has is time, in various quantities.  May we make the most of it, for the glory of God.  As Mother Teresa said, God has calls us to be faithful, not successful.

Too much of religion consists of “playing it safe.”  But I prefer a riskier spiritual route, one I have heard described as “doing a daring dance with God.”  The tango sounds like fun; God will lead.

KRT

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Curiosity

may have killed the cat; more likely

the cat was just unlucky, or else curious

to see what death was like, having no cause

to go on licking paws, or fathering

litter on litter of kittens, predictable.

Nevertheless, to be curious

is dangerous enough.  To distrust

what is always said, what seems,

to ask odd questions, interfere in dreams,

leave home, smell rats, have hunches,

cannot endear them to those doggy circles

where well-smelt baskets , suitable wives, good lunches

are the order of things, and where prevails

much wagging of incurious heads and tails.

Face it.  Curiosity

will not cause him to die–

only lack of it will.

Never to want to see

the other side of the hill

or some improbable country

where living is an idyll

(although a probable hell)

would kill us all.

Only the curious

have, if they live, a tale

worth telling at all.

Dogs say cats love too much, are irresponsible,

are changeable, marry too many wives,

desert their children, chill all dinner tables

with tales of their nine lives.

Well, they are lucky.  Let them be

nine-lived and contradictory,

curious enough to change, prepared to pay

the cat-price, which is to die

and die again and again,

each time with no less pain.

A cat minority of one

is all that can be counted on

to tell the truth.  And what cats have to tell

on each return from hell

is this:  that dying is what the living do,

that dying is what the loving do,

and that the dead dogs are those who never know

that dying is what, to live, each has to do.

Alastair Reid, 1959

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/sins-of-omission/

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