(Judges 4:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18, Matthew 25:14-30)
We walk a narrow path, it seems. The whole world is in a seemingly precarious state, from additional and unprecedented Covid 19 cases, to the election in the United States, to racial tensions and climate change; well, it all sort of feels overwhelming and end of the worldish.
Last week the bridegroom left out the virgins who had no lamps, and Amos told the people that God takes no delight in their festivals or their sacred rituals. I was the reader for our church service and had to practice reading the Amos reading several times before I could get to the point of not choking up.
This week in the Judges reading the Israelites mess up again (a somehow comforting, renewable theme through all of humanity) and are sold into slavery. This is a common problem, but it is interesting to note that as the problem repeats, as the people rebel and are sold and a judge comes to save them, that eventually there aren’t any more judges and the people fall into chaos and even war. Deborah is the only female judge, and the reading continues past the lectionary reading, noting that Barak will go only if Deborah leads him.
This opens up an interesting thought process on call, specifically God’s call on our lives. Deborah was called to be a prophetess, as the three slaves were called in the gospel reading. For me this has obvious real world implications i.e., the only female ever elected, and what calls we are choosing to ignore or to flat out turn down.
The letter of Paul to the small church at Thessalonica continues the theme; are we simply watching for the Kingdom to come? Or are we working for it, donning the armor of salvation if you wish; birthing it, acting as midwives for the work of God in our world?
Zephaniah at the outset sounds awful, we will build houses we will never live in, plant vineyards but not drink their wine, our flesh will be spilled like dung — and yet I wonder if this reading too doesn’t pick up and call out the theme of idleness, false grace, cheap mercy, and easy Christianity. If this reading doesn’t remind us that God, though loving and merciful, also commands our obedience, also punishes. Zephaniah mentions those who “rest complacently”, the natural opposite of complacent rest is dedicated, focused work. It is difficult to work in a focused or dedicated way if we don’t know what we’re focused on or dedicated to.
Again and again we are returned to who we are supposed to be, a mirror appears at the end of a long corridor and we see ourselves – only honestly this time. Again a phone rings, a letter arrives, and we ignore the call and the summons to work for the Kingdom of God.
We circle finally to the parable of the talents. We know that a talent was a huge sum of money, and we know that a master giving not just a single talent, but as many as five talents, to three slaves, would have been an unheard of event. We hear the way that the first two slaves used the talents they were given to make more talents for their master, and how the third slave buried his talent in the dirt. When the master calls them back “after a long time” to show what they have done the master is not pleased with the third slave, because the talent was hidden and buried, no good to anyone where it lay secreted in the ground.
Could this be about more than talents, and about actual talent? That is to say, could this parable be about the bountiful gifts that God gives, about the ways that we participate, or not, in God’s economy? We know that parables are allegorical, and so we can wonder if it isn’t money Jesus is talking about but our actual selves, endowed with the gifts and divinity of God. Do we go out and sow those gifts, or do we bury, hide and deny them?
Lord knows we have a lot going on. I hope you’ll brew some fresh coffee or tea, turn on some peaceful background music and bang out your messages of hope, and your calls to justice, and obedience, to God for this weary world.
Alicia Hager resides in West Michigan and is a Postulant to the Sacred Order of Priests in the Episcopal Church. Alicia enjoys spending time with her daughters and her husband, is bonkers about her cats, and blogs at astrawberrypointe.wordpress.com.
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