Today’s Reading Matthew 25
WEEK 5: WEDNESDAY
Another story about a master going away and coming back to see how the staff have been doing in his absence. Just as Jesus seems to have told several parables about farmers sowing seed (as in chapter 13), so here again, and even more in Luke’s gospel, we have a further twist on a now familiar theme. But how would Jesus’ first hearers have understood it?
For Jesus’ first hearers, a story about a master and his servants, and about the servants being given responsibilities in the master’s absence, would without a doubt have been understood in terms of God and Israel. God was the master, Israel the servant; and God had left Israel with responsibilities, with tasks to perform. This takes us right back to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus picked up some of the great prophetic themes of the Old Testament and declared ‘you are the light of the world . . . the salt of the earth’. God had called Israel to be the means of carrying forward his great project to rescue and renew the whole creation. God had given Israel the means to do this: the Land, the Temple, the Law, the great structure of family life. Sooner or later, according to the prophets, God would return to see what his people had been doing with these gifts.
Jesus’ charge against his contemporaries, repeated in one form or another throughout the gospels, was that they had failed in this God-given responsibility. They were like the third servant in the story, who, given the chance to shine, buried the talent in the ground. The result, as with the wicked tenants in chapter 21, the ungrateful guests in chapter 22 and the wicked slave in chapter 24, is that those who fail in their calling are writing themselves out of the picture. Privileges and vocations carry responsibilities; to avoid them is to forfeit the privilege or the vocation.
That seems to me to be the main, original thrust of this parable. But, to be sure, we can read it, and the church has read it for many years, in a secondary sense to do with Jesus’ own calling of his followers, his gift to each of us which is to be used for his service. John Henry Newman, the great nineteenth- century writer and eventually cardinal, used to say that each of us has been put here with a particular purpose and calling which only we can do. Our task is to find out what that is and to do it. That remains true whether the purpose is playing the trumpet, cooking meals, planting trees, performing heart transplants or even preaching sermons. Sometimes, of course, it’s a struggle to discover what our calling is.
Sometimes people are quite clear about their particular gifts but have no opportunity to exercise them. But each of us is called to exercise the primary, underlying gifts of living as a wise, loving human being, celebrating God’s love, forgiving, praying, seeking justice, acting prudently and courageously, waiting patiently for God’s will to be done. If we are trustworthy with these gifts at least, God will be ready with his answer: Well done, good and trustworthy servant. To hear those words from an earthly master would bring a glow of satisfaction. To hear them from the Lord of love will be greater than the greatest delight we can imagine.
Lord of all gifts, help us to use to your glory the things you have entrusted to us.
We would like to thank SPCK Publishing for providing Lent for Everyone by Tom Wright. For more information, please visit their site: http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/lent-for-everyone-matthew/
Lent for Everyone is a devotional created and written by N.T. (Tom) Wright. For each day of Lent, there is a reading chosen from the Gospel of Matthew, plus a reflection by Wright. These readings have grown out of a project encouraging Lent reading in Northern England. This is the second in a three-volume series based on the Revised Common Lectionary of the Church of England.