Talents aren’t talents

Watching for the morning of November 16

Year C

The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 28 / Lectionary 33

File:Fanefjord Judgment day.JPG

Fanefjord Church, Møn, Denmark. Fresco of the Day of Judgment

A talent is a measure of weight and a unit of money. It is unfortunate that it is a homonym for natural gifts and abilities; it tempts us to mishear the text.

Judgment day, the end of all things, the final accountability of all creation to its maker, these are the deep bass notes rumbling the floor of the theater this Sunday. There is sweetness in these texts. There is beauty and poetry. But the vibrations in that cup sitting in the console indicate the thumping steps of approaching danger.

Through the prophet Zephaniah, God declares that a day is coming when God will make “a full, a terrible end…of all the inhabitants of the earth.” The prophet’s rich, wonderful poetry carry devastating words:

The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
the warrior cries aloud there.

That day will be a day of wrath,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.

And the apostle Paul, writing to Thessalonica, declares:

The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!”

In the Gospel the ‘worthless servant’ is cast “into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Even in the psalm we hear this note of judgment:

7 For we are consumed by your anger;
by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

But we are a long way from fire and brimstone, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” This is about that moment when the laboring mother changes her mind and decides she doesn’t want to have a baby. There is no stopping the inevitable. A new world will be born. And the only question is whether we are ready and waiting for it.

The Prayer for November 16, 2014

Almighty God, Lord of all,
you summon us to lives of faith and love
and stand as judge over all things.
Renew us in your mercy that, clothed in Christ,
we may live as children of the day
that is dawning in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for November 16, 2014

First Reading: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
“Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand.” – During the reign of Josiah, in as era that seems like a period of great national revival (though not far in time from the Babylonian conquest), the prophet exposes the underlying faithlessness of that generation. His portrait of the coming cataclysm is cosmic in scope.

Psalmody: Psalm 90:1-12
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” – This opening prayer of the fourth ‘book’ (section) of Psalms, reflects on the brief and fragile nature of human life, and the ever present threat of God’s “wrath” – God’s opposition to our ‘sin’, our rebellion from and resistance to the fidelity to God and one another for which God fashioned us.

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
“Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you.” –
Having assured the community in Thessalonica that those who have died will share in the coming transformation of the world, he urges them to be awake and aware of God’s dawning reign of grace, living as faithful children of the light.

Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30
“It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.” – Jesus uses a salacious example of a greedy and ruthless man entrusting his affairs to his underlings in a parable summoning us to understand the nature of God and God’s dawning reign.