Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The Parable of the Bags of Gold

2nd Sunday before Advent – Wingrave Methodist Church – 19 November 2017

Gospel Matthew 25

The parable of the bags of gold

14 ‘Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 ‘After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.”

21 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

22 ‘The man with two bags of gold also came. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with two bags of gold: see, I have gained two more.”

23 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

24 ‘Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”

26 ‘His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 ‘“So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Sermon p187 12

One month later—we are still mired in eschatological parables. Seemingly harsh God treats people unfairly—but it is the same God in Matthew who casts wedding guest into outer darkness—place of weeping and gnashing of teeth—as the compassionate God of the Beatitudes and the One who clothes the lilies of the field.

Talents—One of ‘difficult’ parables—Unjust Judge; banquet holder; labourers in vineyard. If these all portray Jesus or God the Father, why is he so unfair?

Traditional explanation—businessman represents Jesus—servants the church members—extended journey is life of church until end of time—reckoning is return of Jesus and settlement of accounts is judgement—bags of gold are wealth of spiritual gifts given to us according to abilities and χάρισμαtα.

Jesus portrayed as harsh masterI harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed—gospel of Matthew redresses somewhat the balance which has swung towards comfy churches with padded chairs and justification by faith alone—towards a righteous and perfect God who is slow to anger but turns away from sin—who requires only the best from us and sits in judgement at the end of time.

Justification by Faith—still we have to remind ourselves we cannot attain the Kingdom through any works of ours—however Christ-like, sacrificial and dedicated to serving others they may be. We cannot effectively work out our own salvation—for most of us that is a comfort because of our inadequacy and recurrent sin.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth—yet in these parables we constantly hear of those who fail to make the grade—consigned to outer darkness for failing to get dressed for the wedding.

Talents—again, we should remember that God freely gives out bags of gold—impossible riches for a slave—signs once again of God’s abundance and generosity towards us.

Master of Slaves—the parable is an allegory—must beware of pushing any allegory too far and too literally—associating God with an unjust judge and a slave master too closely brings far too many problems to the text. But Matthew’s concentration is not on the first two slave who do well—both turn a 100% profit and are rewarded with a happy outcome—but all the emphasis is on warning us to avoid the fate of the lazy slave who did nothing with his money—still, he did not lose it but returned the gold intact.

Outcome is not inevitable—for Matthew, the end of time and our place in it is not a foregone conclusion—his portrayal of outer darkness is not consigning us to oblivion—but his parables are warnings and admonition to us as to how we live our lives and use the abundant grace that God has given us.

For all the difficulties of this parable—Matthew uses the words of Jesus to encourage faithfulness—not condemn us. For the early church the eschatological parables deal with the extended absence of Christ and how Christians should behave. Rather than focussing on judgement of failure—instead we should give thanks for the fact God in his mercy and abundance has entrusted his wealth to us [v14]. God does not want the destruction of anyone

Words and Faithful Deeds in Matthew’s gospel are inseparable—in this sense, justification by faith alone means that our faithfulness is translated into action. As faithful servants of Jesus the Messiah, the ending of the parable of the talents comes as a goad to faithful action. God’s judgement is deeply related to his divine justice and mercy.

God is with us—Immanuel. That’s how Matthew starts his gospel:

23 ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’). [Matt 1:23] God is with us—and that extends to the end of time. Amen

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