I have to admit when I read what the scripture from Matthew’s gospel was this week, I cringed. Wasn’t it just last Sunday we focused on stewardship and giving? Traditionally, this parable, the parable of the talents is almost exclusively used to bolster giving in a church and to define the use of our gifts, the gifts we’ve received from God. That’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate because this scripture isn’t about giving or at least, not in the traditional sense and certainly, though modern church liturgy calls on this scripture for this purpose, its real meaning is much deeper than the narrowly specific topics of stewardship, money, the accumulation of wealth and its use. Simply put, Jesus told this parable for quite another reason, a reason, which centers on another theme entirely.
We have to put the parable in its context. Doing so will help to better define its purpose. So, here it is. Jesus is coming to the end of both his ministry and his life on earth. He’s moving toward Jerusalem fully aware he might pay the penalty of his decision to go to the holy city with his very life. He is very aware his time is short and he has to make these final days with his followers count. When he’s gone, they will be the ones who will carry on in his place, sharing his message and God’s plan and purpose for the world. The stakes are high but Christ is willing to give all he has in order to insure his life’s work will not die with him. So, this parable is the third in a series of four, all pointing to the end time, what Christian theologians have daubed, the Eschaton.
Now, when we hear words like eschaton or eschatology, the study or thought pertaining to the end of time and all creation, as we know it, there may be a variety of emotions or thinking most of which can be quite uncomfortable for us. This would be especially true of churches categorized as mainline, like ours, churches sitting in a fairly liberal area of the country, like New England. That’s not to say we don’t like a good, old fashion movie with a kind of doomsday story line. We must. There’s been a lot of them…Armegeddon, Independence Day, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Matrix, all of the Planet of the Ape movies, Left Behind, Legion and even a few from Disney like Wall-E and Ice Age. In fact, the prospect of the world ending in some explosive, violent and through some unhealthy act or acts on the part of mankind has so peaked the interest of the moviegoer that there are, at present, over 234 and counting films listed on Wikipedia and each film carries the ultimate threat of alienation.
But, for Jesus, “the uncalendared eschaton” as one commentator put it is necessary and inevitable. It completes Christ’s action on earth and our response to those actions in our own lives. The end of time as we know it leads to everlasting time…a time when God’s plan will prove fruitful and fulfilled. So Christ uses this parable to point to a time of both reckoning and reconciliation, a time when we, as God’s servants, will face our master and account for the gifts we have received. How have we used God’s bounty? Have we invested our earthly lives and doubled the gift or have we buried our gain with only one hope in mind…to give back exactly what we have received? This last scenario is the one for which Christ holds the most concern. A life lived without risk, without adventure, or without challenge would be a life without much impact. Christ’s disciples, both then and now, are encouraged to multiply what has been received, to share God’s abundance and to spread God’s word of hope profusely, generously, taking whatever risks are necessary to insure God’s truth and hope will not die or be senselessly buried in the ground of our fears.
And, I think, we would agree: the people we admire the most have lived lives of risk and challenge. We’re inspired by the lives around us of those who take what they receive – the good and the not so good – and make something worthwhile out of it all. They multiply the little they receive and theyproduce great results. I’m reading Sonia Sotomayor’s autobiography. Sotomayor is the first Hispanic and third woman appointed to sit on the Supreme Court. What makes her story even more inspiring is the difficulties she faced growing up. Diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes at age 8, having an alcoholic father who died when she was 9 years old, raised in a single parent home, Sotomayor overcame numerous economic and cultural biases to achieve her seat in our nation’s highest court. She tells her story with candor, intimacy, and humor. It’s in the opening pages of her story I found a rather inspiring anecdote when a student asks Sotomayor a question pertaining to the goal of achieving what she has achieved on a court with limited seats. The student asks:
“Given that there are only nine Supreme Court Justices, each with life tenure, can anyone realistically aspire to such a goal? How do we hold on to dreams that, statistically, are almost impossible?” Sotomayor’s response has much to say to us about taking risks, meeting challenges and living a life fully invested in multiplying our impact in our world and for the sake of our faith in Christ. This is what she says referring to her memoir:
“As I tell in these pages, the dream I first followed was to become a judge, which itself seemed far-fetched until it actually happened. The idea of my becoming a Supreme Court Justice – which, indeed, as a goal would inevitably elude the vast majority of aspirants – never occurred to me except as the remotest of fantasies. But experience has taught me that you can not value dreams according to the odds of their coming true. Their real value is in stirring within us the will to aspire. That will, wherever it finally leads, does at least move you forward. And after a time you may recognize that the proper measure of success is not how much you’ve closed the distance to some far-off goal but the quality of what you’ve done today.
Like Sotomayor’s inspiring story, the odds for the success of a shared gospel in the anti-Christian world of Roman power must have felt to the disciples a task well beyond their ability to accomplish. And, it wouldn’t get any easier nor initially inspire confidence in them when in a very short while Christ would be crucified on a cross. The time was short and this parable, like the others Christ told, was Christ’s last efforts before his impending death to challenge and inspire his small band of followers. It would be the quality of their effort, which would secure the success of God’s hope for the world. In their hands and through their efforts…and in our hands and through our efforts…Christ’s ministry and life would come to alter everything that had been. It would color a world very differently than the world in the present age and that is still happening but we now wield the brush. It would point to a new era, a renewed hope, and an everlasting life for those who believe and who creatively and without fear share their faith with others.
So the challenge is there for us. Burying our hopes in the dirt or giving into our fears is not God’s plan for us. If the God we imagine is one who engenders fear in us rather than hope, than likely, our lives will be lived cautiously and without much risk. Like the third servant in our parable this morning, we will be inclined to hide what we have received returning it without interest or growth. Our fears will have guided our actions. The God we face will be for us the one we imagine and it can go either way…leading us to embrace risk and live our lives in joy, truly giving our dreams a chance to take root. This is the only prescription for a life God might judge with generosity rather than a life of emptiness and loss. It is the quality of our efforts by which we will be judged, not the quantity. As we live our lives fully and in the light of God’s divine love for us in Christ, we will have lived out the hope, the purpose, and the promise God has for each of us. Amen.
 Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4, Mark Douglas, 308.
 Sonia Sotomayor, “My Beloved World”, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2013 viii.