13 November 2005

Sharing the divine life...

33rd Sunday OT: Prov 31.1-13, 19-20, 30-31; I Thes 5.1-6; Matt 25.14-15, 19-21
Fr. Philip N. Powell
Church of the Incarnation, Irving, TX

In case you haven’t noticed: the end is near.

For the last several weeks Jesus has been teaching his disciples the basics of servant-leadership, communal living, the necessity of preparedness for the consummation of the kingdom. He has been preparing them for the hard reality that some will not follow them, others will openly rebel against them, some will persecute them, and still others will follow at first, then wander away, and possibly join the persecution. There is little in the recent gospel readings from Matthew to lighten our mood, to lift our hearts, or to make this choice for Christ easier. Good! It’s not supposed to be an easy choice to make nor is it supposed to be a easy life once chosen. There’s nothing easy or simple about a life lived in Christ for others. It’s work. Hard work. The pay is bad. The hours long. You can’t pick your co-workers. But hey I hear the benefits are pretty good!

So, what is this work in Christ for others? Jesus has been prepping the oftentimes dense disciples for their post-resurrection role as living witnesses to the gospel he has been preaching. He’s been preparing them for the tough task of living in a world that demands of its inhabitants a ruthless individualism, a mercenary mindset in service, and a dogged ladder-climbing mentality to the top. The spirit of this world demands the worship of the idols of money, power, prestige, celebrity, reputation, and appearance.

Jesus knows that he’s leaving his best students to the ravening wolves of empty and seductive philosophies—worldviews that make the human person nothing more than an animal, worldviews that make the human person into angels with traitorous bodies, and worldviews that make creatures into the Creator, that make gods out of what God has made. He knows that what he has taught them to teach is treachery to the Empire and the Temple, a betrayal of everything sacred to the powers and principalities of this world and blasphemy to the faith of their mothers and fathers.

But he leaves them knowing that he will send his Spirit among them after he is gone and that he will return in the end to gather them up and make them perfect in his presence forever. In the meantime, they have a lot of hard work to do. They have been given a handful of talents, a fistful of dollars to spend, invest, or bury. The good and faithful servant in our gospel reading tonight invests his talents and is rewarded with greater responsibilities and a share in his master’s joy.

Jesus makes this point: take the gifts I give you and make them bigger, better, and more fruitful. Make them grow. Make them more. Spend them and they are gone. Bury them and they rot. But if you make the hard choice to follow my way, to teach as I taught, to preach as I preached, to live as I lived, your talents will flourish, your gifts will abound, and the fruit you produce for the kingdom will be worth any reward from heaven.

The gift of the divine life left unshared with others is buried, rotted, or stupidly spent. The gift of the divine life lived in cringing fear of opposition or boring religious routine is puttered away, squandered at our Lord’s expense. The gift of the divine life lived in dull moderation with an eye to practicality, convenience, or inoffensiveness is a rich inheritance blown on cotton candy and circus hot dogs.

Jesus knows all of this. He knows the temptations that await his favorite students. He knows the troubles that will rock their faith, make them question their witness, and seduce them into complacency. He knows them. And he knows us. So, he prepares us to spend our lives in him serving others, teaching what he taught, preaching what he preached, living as he lived.

And part of this difficult lesson is that the end must come, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” There is a conclusion to this life, and there is a judgment to be made after its end. Like the three servants gifted with the talents in the gospel, the master will return, and an accounting will be made. This will be a time of measurement, appraisal, and a time of clarification, of illumination. But this time is not yet. Knowing that it is coming, hearing the Lord’s assurance that it will be done, is part of our motivation to take seriously his charge to us to be good and faithful servants, to be his excellent students, his excelling brothers and sisters.

This is no easy task for the contemporary Church. Two-thousand years separate us from the first efforts of the disciples to build something monumental after Christ’s death and resurrection. Two-thousand years spread between their immediate experience of Jesus in the flesh and our immediate experience of Jesus in the sacrament. The landscapes have changed. Languages have changed. Fashion, economics, governments have changed, but what is basic to the Father’s human creatures hasn’t changed. We are still tempted by power, prestige, selfishness, despair, and trial. We are still pushed around by the powers and principalities of the world, shoved into the obscure corners of the marketplace of ideas and slapped with the label “old-fashioned” and “intolerant,” as if being newly fashioned and tolerant were previously undiscovered virtues!

Yes, we are still tempted into sin and persecuted in varying degrees, but what bridges two-thousand years and every gap in history between the disciples and this congregation is the Living Word, Christ Crucified and Risen—the timeless bridge of He Who Is for us our final healing and our eternal salvation. The lessons of servant-leadership, communal living, and the necessity of being prepared for the consummation of His kingdom are as fresh, as bright now as they were then. We lead in the world by serving one another. We witness to Christ by being his one body. And we declare our faith in his promise of eternal life by living that promise of eternal life right now. Can this be said often enough: by your baptism and your good faith participation in this Eucharist tonight, you bring yourself to Christ to be an offering of praise and thanksgiving; you make your life holy so that what you do for others out there is truly sacrificial.

We are not promised an easy field to harvest. We are not promised a smooth, straight path to walk. We are given gifts to use in the spreading of the gospel, in the sowing of the Good News, and we are given, through the apostolic tradition, in the unswerving handing-on of the witness of the apostles, instruction sufficient to be children of the light and children of the day.

The end is near! The end is always near. Every moment of our lives brings the possibility that we will be called to accountability, called to answer for the use of our gifts. Let the Lord find you with double the gifts, triple the fruit.

Be the worthy wife: “Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.”

1 comment:

  1. Father Powell,

    I found your blog via John da Fiesole at Disputations, and loved my first dose. I posted on your homily for today, on the parable of the talents, because it reminded me of something in a recent post by The Anchoress. Amazing connections on the Internet.


    "Kicking Over My Traces"