Tag Archives: Matthew 25

Listening as the First Step to Serving: Comments on Proper 29 Meditation

One of the questions that was asked during the Sunday evening discussion was “how do we know when our fellow Christians are suffering for the sake of the Kingdom and when are they are suffering due to poor choices?”  Another set of questions that arose during the discussion was “is it our place to judge who is a Christian and whether or not someone is suffering on behalf of the gospel?”  Ultimately, it is God’s call regarding who is a Christian and who isn’t.  While Karl Rahner makes a case for considering those of other world religions who serve the Kingdom of Heaven as “anonymous Christians,” practicing this gospel text needs to begin with how we engage those who self-identify as Christians and are actively participating in a Christian community.

Sometimes, the distinction between suffering from poor choices and suffering out of conviction about living out the gospel is easy to discern, other times, it is much more difficult (1 Peter 3:17 — sometimes we suffer for doing good, but we also suffer from doing evil).  Donahue (cited above) states that the case of missionaries suffering for the sake of the gospel is a clear application of the gospel text.  Discernment about living out the gospel call is made even more difficult when we consider the gospel reading from Proper 28 (the Parable of the Talents):  while we have a common basic set of “insider information about the Kingdom of Heaven,” we are not all given exactly the same information with regards to some of the details.  We have different “talents” but a common call to invest what we have been given for the profit of our King.  Motives are always mixed, judgement about how to respond to our understanding of the gospel is limited by our finiteness and damage due to sin.  Yet we are called to serve each other and we are called to exhort one another to the gospel life.

As theologian-in-residence for Deaconess Anne House, some of the protestors have faces that I know, love, and serve. Not only have the interns and priest in charge of Deaconess Anne House been actively involved in acts of social disobedience, the protestors also include my bishop, the dean of the cathedral, several priests as well as deacons and lay persons from the diocese.  They have felt the call to stand physically with the disenfranchised, to protest with those whose voice has too long been unheard in St. Louis County.  Some have been arrested (they have been prisoners and now face court hearings) for the sake of their conviction that standing with those who are treated as the least in our society is a gospel mandate.  One of the interns said that he was going to the protests in order to learn and hopefully gain empathy for those who are suffering.  He, and the others, go to hear Christ speaking through the voices of those who are in pain.

Because of my role at Deaconess Anne House and the openness of the interns on their intentions,  I have listened to others–Christians and those who don’t identify as Christians–talk about the protestors with my heart tuned differently than it might have been.  I have had the opportunity to share a little of the motives of the interns and their stories with those who have not felt the call to protest and those who say that they “just don’t get what all the fuss in Ferguson is about.”

Mostly, however, I have been sadly reminded of how we Christians treat each other over disagreements about doctrinal concerns and how we might best address social justice issues.  When we disagree, too often we don’t listen with the ears of our hearts.  Too often we villanize each other.  At our worst, this has led to Christians of one tradition killing those of another tradition (the sacking of Constantinople and the Thirty Years War are but two examples of our sad history). In more “civil” moments, we become schismatics who do not consider each other to be sisters and brothers in Christ or we make fun of those we disagree with so that we don’t have to listen. Peace-makers, whether involved in ecumenical dialog to serve as a bridge between Christian traditions and denominations or between those who are on either side of the protests in St. Louis, are called to listen.  We are called to listen to the Holy Spirit who speaks through Scripture.  We are called to listen to how the Holy Spirit speaks to us through other Christians.  If we don’t expectantly listen for the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture and our brothers and sisters in Christ, how can we hear God speaking through those who do not identify with Christ?

In order to participate in the merciful acts listed in Sunday’s gospel, listening to each other and seeking to see Christ in all who are called by his name (that is, those who self-identify as Christians) is a critical first step to living as members of the Kingdom of Heaven.  How we Christians love each other is the way that those who are not Christians can see the truth of Jesus’ message (see John 17).  Only when we learn to see the image of Christ in Christians with whom we disagree will we be able to learn how to see the image of God in all people.  Caring for suffering Christians must be a priority (but not our only priority).  It is by living out this gospel call of seeking unity within the Church that the Kingdom of Heaven will prosper.  Unity includes caring for each other even when we disagree.

Our call as Christians is to seek and serve our King in each other, especially those who are in need.  If you are looking for what we are going to be “graded on” at the end of life or the end of time, which ever comes first, this is it.

November 23, 2014 (Year A Proper 29: Reign of Christ) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 25:31-46

This parable is the third in a series of teachings about Jesus’ second coming. In the first parable, we learned that we are to be like the wise bridesmaids and prepare for his coming. In the second parable, we learned how we are to prepare for our King’s return: we are to invest our insider knowledge about the Kingdom of Heaven (our talents) so that God’s work is done through us. This week we are given two more important and interrelated insights into the end of time: a description of our King and details about what investing our talents for the sake of the kingdom looks like.

Our King is a humble king, who suffered on behalf of his people and has tender compassion for the suffering. [1] Our King also is the Judge of humanity who doesn’t leave his people guessing as to what investing our insider Kingdom knowledge looks like: it looks like a life characterized by merciful deeds. [2] We are to be a people who seek justice by acting with loving-kindness [3] to our Christian brothers and sisters who are most in need because of hardships or persecution for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. [4]

As Christians, we are being transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit into the image of Christ our King. Who do we, as Church, not recognize as our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven?

What do we, as Church, need to be doing in order to train our individual eyes to see Christ in each other, especially those who suffer for the sake of the gospel?

Jesus will judge us on how we treat our fellow Christians who are suffering on behalf of the gospel. What do we, as Church, need to be doing in order to encourage each other to take risks and suffer for the Kingdom of Heaven? [5]

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[1] For a summary of the Christology in Matthew’s gospel, see John R. Donahue, S.J., “The ‘Parable’ of the Sheep and the Goats: A Challenge to Christian Ethics.” Theological Studies 47 (1986): 16-22.

[2] Examples of these merciful deeds are feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoner. See also Mt 7:15-27.

[3] I agree with Donahue that loving-kindness is a better translation of hesed and eleos. (Ibid., 23-24).

[4] Ibid., 4. “While the ‘classic’ interpretation of this passage has always stressed that Jesus is present in needy or suffering people, for the majority of Church history these needy or suffering have been identified as Christians.” However, since the 19th century, has been seen as a call for the church to engage in universal care of the marginalized of society (Ibid, 8), but recent scholarship in the last two decades has called for a re-evaluation of this interpretation. Yet, in Matthew’s gospel, the term adelphos is used explicitly to describe a fellow Christian. (Ibid, 25). Donahue calls attention to Mt 10:40: “he who receives you receives me”; I would add Mt 12:50 “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (NRSV) as further support for the classic interpretation. This interpretation does not preclude or minimize the commandment to love our neighbors and our enemies, but that is not the focus of this passage. See also Mt 5:10-12.

[5] See Mt 5:10; my assumption is that if we hear the stories of those who have personally experience suffering for the sake of the kingdom or we recognize when our suffering is for the sake of righteousness, we will be sensitive to the suffering of others and seek to care for them.

November 16, 2014 (Year A Proper 28) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 25:14-30

This reading is the second of three parables about the judgment at the end of this age, when Jesus returns.[1] Last week we were encouraged to always be prepared for Jesus’ return by living lives characterized by good deeds so that we are recognized as followers of Jesus. We were left with the command to stay awake as we wait. This week, we receive a description of what staying awake looks like lived out.[2]

We have a tendency to read the word “talent” as a natural or spiritual gift.[3] But what if the “talents” in this parable refers to “knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” as the property of the master which we have been entrusted to tend?[4] This seems more fitting given the enormous value of a talent as currency in Jesus’ day, where these servants are entrusted with the equivalent of 73, 44, and 15 years’ worth of wages.[5] We, as Jesus followers, are called to live into the invaluable knowledge of the kingdom of heaven that we have been given and live lives that profit God’s mission.[6]

The first two servants faithfully put the master’s property to work for their master. Jesus has entrusted us with invaluable information about the kingdom of heaven. What, as church, do we know about the kingdom of heaven?

When the master returned, his delight is not in the amount of profit that the servants have made, but their faithfulness to his mission.[7] Both of these servants are welcomed into their master’s joy. While we wait for our Master’s return, in what ways are we, as church, called to live out, to invest, this knowledge of the kingdom of heaven that we have been entrusted with?

The last servant, the one whom to whom the master did not entrust much, did not trust his master. Because he did not trust his master, he was afraid and did not act upon the little property that he had been entrusted with.[8] In what ways can we, as church, demonstrate our trust in Jesus by more fully investing the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven that we have received?

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[1] John Walvoord states that this is “the sixth and concluding illustration that our Lord uses relative to preparedness for the second advent.” (John Walvoord, “Christ’s Olivet Discourse on the End of the Age: the Parable of the Talents.” Bibliotheca sacra 129/515 (1972): 206.)

[2] E. Carson Brisson, “Between Text and Sermon: Matthew 25:14-30.” Interpretation (2002): 307.

[3] For a brief discussion of the source of our English word, see footnote 15 in Ben Chenoweth’s “Identifying the Talents: Contextual Clues for the Interpretation of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30).” Tyndale Bulletin 56/1 (2005): 65.

[4] After discussing the range of interpretations for the meaning of “talents” in this parable, Chenoweth makes a compelling argument for interpreting this term as “the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven” in his essay (Ibid, 61-71). In particular, Chenoweth uses Matthew 13:10-12 as foundational for understanding this parable in its literary context: “Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.'” (NRSV)

[5] A talent = 5000-6000 denarii; a denarius = 1 day’s wage; so 1 talent = 13-16 years worth of wages. Using the average and rounding up, then 5 talents = 73 years worth of wages, 3 talents = 44 years worth of wages, and 1 talent = 15 years worth of wages.

[6] For the progression of these three parables, see Chenoweth, 71.

[7] Walvoord, who holds to the more prevalent position that “talents” are spiritual gifts, comments that we should not expect each other to have the same talents, but all are called to be faithful with what we have been given (Walvoord, 208).  His comment here is helpful, even if one takes “talents” to be “knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God.”

[8] Walvoord makes clear that “Works are not the ground of salvation; they are simply the evidence of faith. Here works are presented as an evidence of true faith in the Lord.” (Walvoord, 210).

November 9, 2014 (Year A Proper 27) Celtic Meditation

Matthew 25:1-13

Today’s gospel comes from the end of Jesus’ teaching ministry. He was preparing his disciples for his coming crucifixion but also for his second coming. This is the first of three lessons that Jesus gave his disciples about the judgment that comes at the end of this age.[1] In this parable, Jesus speaks about bridesmaids who have a role in weddings that is very different from the role of bridesmaids today. These women were waiting for the groom to come. Their role is to light the way for the groom to travel to the bride’s house and then to light the way for the bride and groom as they journey together to the place of the wedding and the wedding feast.[2] The oil in their lamps symbolizes good deeds that result from accepting Jesus’ authority to describe what obedience to God looks like lived out.[3]

The foolish bridesmaids do not have oil for their lamps. They did not come prepared with a flask of oil which was necessary to fulfill their role in the bridal party. In what ways are we, as church, depending upon others to do the good deeds we have been called to do?

The wise bridesmaids do not share their oil—if the lamps go out before the bride and groom are escorted to the wedding, then the bridesmaids’ role in the wedding procession is not done—there is no one else to do this work. Good deeds worked through the presence of the Holy Spirit cannot be transferred from one person to another.[4] What good deeds are we, as church, empowered to do in this time and place?

The door is shut against the bridesmaids who were not prepared. They do not get to join in the wedding festivities.[5] But worst yet, the groom no longer recognizes them as his friends. Jesus calls us to be alive,[6] to watch. When he returns, it will be too late to do what we have been called to do. What do we, as church, need to be doing in order to better live into the reality of our calling as Jesus followers?

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[1]“Matthew 25, the second and final chapter of the Olivet Discourse, is divided into three sections. The first two sections are the familiar parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents, concluding the section of illustration and application which began at 24:32. The final section, 25:31-46, predicts the judgment of the Gentiles after the second coming of Christ.” John F. Walvoord, Bibliotheca sacra 129/154 (1972): 99.

[2] Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford University Press, 2011), 46.

[3] Karl Paul Donfried, “The Allegory of the Ten Virgins (Matt 25:1-13) as a Summary of Matthean Theology.” Journal of Biblical Literature, 93/3 (1974): 427-8.

[4] Both Donfried and Walvoord make this conclusion based upon the allegory.

[5] Robert D. Young, “Matthew 25:1-13” Intrepretation 54/4 (2000):419-422.

[6] The Greek word translated as “watch” can also mean “be alive.”