The parable of the talents is now the second of the three in this chapter of Matthew. Last week we heard the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and then next week will be the culmination of Jesus’ teaching in this gospel in the judgment of the nations. It’s the final teaching of Jesus before the real event as to what this all means and what it has to tell them about who this God and who this Jesus really is and what he’s all about. Like the other two parables this one is filled, like our lives, with many contradictions that are hidden in plain sight.
Our natural inclination, as I’ve said before, is to automatically try to identify who’s who in these parables that Jesus offers us. It’s almost as if we have to identify roles so we know where we fit and somehow feel comfortable with it, knowing who’s who. However, that would leave us in a bit of a predicament with calling God the master of the story, considering what we know about the master according to the one who was given one talent. Even the master makes a pre-judgment about the guy by only giving one, according to his ability. But this same guy then reveals the identity of the master by telling us that he’s demanding, a lie and a cheat and pretty much leaves them to their own accord by leaving. Now I can’t necessarily say that’s how I would identify God, and yet, when we rush to judgment and trying fill in the blanks, it’s the God we’re left with. But maybe that’s Jesus point.
Let’s look at the other two who obviously were very successful in turning the talents into great wealth. According to our standard today we’re talking millions of dollars, more money than we know what to do with. They make this money by becoming the likeness of the master and his success which means they too become demanding along with liars and cheats. It was common knowledge in that time. Also common thinking, as it often is to this very day, that wealth and this accumulation of it was how they viewed God. The more I had the more somehow God has blessed me and graced my life, as if grace and blessing can somehow be quantified. Today we’d call it the prosperity gospel. The more I have the more God must love me and well, if I don’t it’s probably my own fault. You see, God is not the master in this sense. The master is a god but they serve the master of success of wealth and power. It stands in total contradiction to what they are about to witness about the true Master facing the passion, death, and resurrection. Yet, we’ve adopted in our own churches serving the wrong master at times. It may bring us joy, as we hear, but it’s a fleeting joy, not the joy that comes through the true Master, the eternal.
That does, though, leave the third one hanging out there. Mindful of all we know of Jesus and all the stories we’ve heard from Matthew this year wouldn’t it make sense that he’d be drawn to this final character of the parable. You can almost imagine him huddled over out of fear seeking the Lord of life. But the master of success in the parable has already made a judgment about him, just as the Pharisees have done about anyone that has not been somehow blessed by God, by not having. Here’s a guy who even stands up to the master of success, facing him with a sense of authenticity and courage, humbling confronting the master and just as the Pharisees do, he’s tossed into the darkness. He comes with nothing and leaves with nothing. Isn’t that just how our lives are designed? We always want more and the more is never enough. Success for the true Master is more about less being more, it’s about coming as we are, with nothing, in humility and with authenticity standing up to the many masters we serve.
That is what’s behind this rather unusual proverb we hear in the first reading. What the heck does the ideal wife have to do with talents and all the rest in the gospel? What makes her the ideal is that she’s not there to serve the master in her husband. Rather, she’s mindful of the true master and does all she does in the name of that Master. The proverb tells us that she finds all the superficialities as fleeting, charm and beauty are simply joys that will pass. She keeps her eye on her one God. She is a woman that fears the Lord in its truest sense, a hope and joy that is eternal and she finds that through serving the true Master, as we’d say, in Christ, through the grace to trust and have a deeper sense of faith that transcends what the world offers her, which at that time was not a great deal.
Paul reminds us through his letter to the Thessalonians today that the moment comes in all of our lives, like a thief in the night, when we’re questioned and when we should begin to question the master that it is that we are serving. He tells us when it arises in us it’s like labor pains, a painful experience when we are awakened to the reality that we’ve been serving our own master rather than the Master. It will not only be what master we decide to serve but also what we do with it. Do we continue to seek fleeting joy and the instant gratification in our lives or do we look for more? Ironically, when we look for more it’s often less that can fill. The more we try to fill ourselves with our own masters the more empty we become, lacking meaning and purpose in our lives.
We are now just over a month away from when our lives become all about the “more”. We’ll need more gifts, cards, parties, stuff to have ourselves a successful Christmas. Yet, we’ve probably all been in that place, that, when all is said and done we feel empty and unfulfilled. More often than not it’s because we’ve spent our times serving the wrong master and then we’re faced with the holiday blues. We pray this day for the grace to become aware or maybe even just to begin to ask ourselves who is the master we serve in our lives. The master we serve says a lot about the God we choose to serve. This god of success and prosperity is so tempting in our lives and yet often comes at great cost. Maybe not in the moment but at some point it happens. The true Master calls us to a life of humility, faith and trust. The more we keep our eye and heart on the true Master the more we begin to realize that we don’t need much, that less is often more. It’s a God of deep mystery that we are invited to fall into, as the ideal wife does in Proverbs, trusting in the promise of the eternal joy that arrives when we finally let go of our own masters and learn to trust the fall into the true Master of our lives, the eternal Christ.