24th Sunday after Pentecost (3-year, Series A)
Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center
The Rev. Dr. Jason D. Lane
GRACE, MERCY, PEACE, FROM HIM WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME, JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD. Amen. The text is the Gospel from Matthew 25, the parable of the talents.
Our text is a continuation of last week’s Gospel, which ended with these words: “WATCH OUT, THEREFORE, BECAUSE YOU DON’T KNOW THE DAY OR THE HOUR.” You don’t know when the Bridegroom will arrive in full wedding procession, with His holy angels with Him, riding on the clouds of heaven as His chariot. You don’t know. So He says “WATCH OUT.” WATCH OUT that you are not like those foolish virgins who came banging on the banquet hall door, late to the party, because they missed the Bridegroom’s arrival and missed the joyful procession. Woe to the one who is not prepared. They said, “LORD, LORD, OPEN the door!” But the Bridegroom said to them these chilling words, “TRULY I TELL YOU, I DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU.” Jesus then turned to His disciples; He turns now to us and says: “WATCH OUT, THEREFORE, FOR YOU KNOW NEITHER THE DAY NOR THE HOUR.”
Beloved in Christ, the Church in her wisdom has established the lectionaries or readings for each Sunday of the church year, so that God’s people would learn the whole counsel of God, that we’d hear as much as we can about the whole life of Christ and our whole life in Him. These Sundays at the end of the church year are about the Second Coming of Christ. They serve first and foremost as a warning, so that we wouldn’t be like those foolish virgins or like this foolish servant in the Gospel today, who wasn’t prepared for the Lord’s return, because they either grew lazy in regard to God’s Word or despised the gifts or the measure of the gifts given to them. These passages of Holy Scripture are warnings for us, because as the prophet Zephaniah says, “THE GREAT DAY OF THE LORD IS NEAR, NEAR AND HASTENING FAST… What kind of day will it be for those who are not prepared?
The prophet calls it 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. The scope of His judgment is cosmic but it begins for the prophet Zephaniah in Jerusalem. Its scope is cosmic, but for the Lord the judgment begins with all those who find themselves with gifts in their hands from Him. The judgment against the whole world narrows down first to the people of God. Jerusalem was the Holy City, the Lord’s city. All the virgins had oil; all the servants had money to invest while the Master was away. For as the Holy Spirit says, “IT IS TIME FOR THE JUDGMENT TO BEGIN AT THE HOUSEHOLD OF GOD; AND IF IT BEGINS WITH US, WHAT WILL BE THE OUTCOME FOR THOSE WHO REFUSE TO BELIEVE THE GOSPEL OF GOD” (1 Pet. 4:17)?
In other words, the judgment actual begins before the Lord returns, while the Lord is away. The kingdom of heaven is LIKE A MAN WHO WENT ON A LONG JOURNEY. Or as St. Luke records it: “A PRINCE WENT INTO A FAR COUNTRY TO RECEIVE FOR HIMSELF A KINGDOM AND THEN RETURN” (Luke 19:12). It’s the Lord of life who went out by Himself into a foreign land to win a war, to defeat an enemy, and to establish an eternal kingdom. Matthew, however, says it very simply: A MAN WENT ON A LONG JOURNEY.
Before He went HE CALLED HIS SERVANT AND ENTRUSTED TO THEM HIS PROPERTY: FIVE TALENTS TO ONE; TWO TO ANOTHER; AND ONE TO ANOTHER. And, v. 19, AFTER A LONG TIME, HE CAME BACK. Matthew’s version doesn’t tell us what the man was up to on that journey in a far off land. It’s just that he left and left His servants with HIS PROPERTY.
Before our Lord went on a journey, He said, “MY KINGDOM IS NOT OF THIS WORLD.” The servants of Christ said, “LORD, WE DON’T KNOW WHERE YOUR GOING.”
But now we know. He said: “I’M GOING TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU.” First, the place He went to prepare is the cross, where the Master of the Universe waged war against all the powers of this world, against all sin, against the devil and death. With blood and sweat and eternal patience and love His cross stretched out over this far off land to redeem us from death. He prepared that place for us, all alone, without one of His servants to help, so that their death would be blessed and become a sweet death, so sweet that Jesus Himself will call it simply “sleep.” He’s suffered in our place and prepared a place, so that in our sufferings we might rejoice, knowing that He is conforming us into His own cruciform life. “I’M GOING TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU,” He said. And we hardly understand it.
It’s just like in Matthew’s version of this parable. The servants don’t know where the Master’s going or what the journey will cost Him or what it will mean for them. Before Jesus entered into the eternal courts of His Father, He went to win a kingdom for us through suffering, cross, and grave. Before it was ever “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God,” it was “crucified, died, and buried.” “YET A LITTLE WHILE AND YOU WILL SEE ME…AND THEN YOU WON’T SEE ME; AND THEN A LITTLE WHILE, YOU’LL SEE ME AGAIN.
Before He ascended, He descended into an even farther off land with the victory over sin and death, to defeat the devil himself. After He overcame death, He charged into enemy territory, robbed the devil of his powers, and stripped him of the keys of death and hell. “IN A LITTLE WHILE YOU WON’T SEE ME,” He said, “but then you’ll see Me again.” Before that Easter morning, the disciples had no idea what kind of journey He was on. But when He rose, there was joy! The Master’s joy!
Now, however, it seems that He has journeyed again, this time into the heavenly places. And we hardly understand. I tell you a mystery: Jesus died; Jesus rose; and Jesus is coming again. All of Christ’s work, His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension are summarized in this little phrase: “A MAN WENT ON A JOURNEY.” You know the Gospel accounts: before He left, HE CALLED HIS SERVANTS AND ENTRUSTED HIS PROPERTY. Before the Lord ascended, He said to His servants: “ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH HAS BEEN GIVEN TO ME. GO, THEREFORE…” What is HIS PROPERTY? In the parable it’s money, a relatively large amount of money. But according to St. Peter at Pentecost, it’s the Holy Spirit with His manifold gifts of grace, and most importantly, His means of grace in Word, Baptism, Absolution, and the Holy Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. That’s HIS PROPERTY that He gave to His disciples to go and invest.
After giving each an amount, five, two, and one, according to each one’s capability, HE SET OUT. According to St. Luke, the master said, “USE the money UNTIL I RETURN.” In Matthew, it’s implicit. The servants should already know how their Master dealt with His property, how He could create revenue where there was none, and expand His kingdom in the most unlikely of places. Jesus tells us how it’s like with money, but it’s only because that’s what we understand. It’s easy to think of financial investment. But His spiritual kingdom, which is what this parable is about, is His grace, His love, His forgiveness. That’s HIS PROPERTY that He hands over to us through His Spirit and His gifts. Christ earned it and He gives it to us! As if to say, “Here! You know what I do with forgiveness. You know what I do with My love. You know what I do with mercy. You do the same!”
That means first: come when He calls and receive the forgiveness of sins that Christ has won, that He offers here in this Christian Church, daily and richly. Take it and use it until He returns. Take it and give it away, because the more you give away, the more you have, as impossible as that seems. Forgive those who trespass against you, and when they sin against you, forgive them again, and again: 70 x 7! For with the measure by which you measure, so will it be measured unto you. Let His grace and mercy have their way with you and extend God’s mercy and grace to others. The LOVE OF GOD HAS BEEN POURED OUT INTO OUR HEARTS. Pour it out for others, because there’s a never-ending stream that flows from God’s throne. Everything that we’ve received from heaven is increased and spreads by doing the work that the Lord has given us while it is still day. Thus says the Lord, “BE IMMOVABLE, ALWAYS INCREASING IN THE WORK OF THE LORD, BECAUSE YOU KNOW THAT YOUR WORK IN THE LORD IS NOT IN VAIN (1 Cor. 15:58). And it is not in vain, as the parable tells us.
Verse 19, AFTER A LONG TIME, THE MASTER OF THESE SERVANTS RETURNED AND SETTLED ACCOUNTS WITH THEM. Dear Christians, Christ will on the Day of Judgment return in glory. And when He comes, He will call to us to settle accounts. He will ask each of us to give an account in accord with the grace He has given to each of us. Some of us have been given much. Others have been given less. But each will have to give an account. He will ask: What have you done with my forgiveness? What have you done with my love? What have you done with my mercy?
Vv. 20-21: The one who received five talents CAME FORWARD. He rushed up to the front and he put five more talents before his Master. “MASTER,” he shouted, “YOU GAVE ME FIVE TALENTS; HERE I’VE MADE FIVE MORE! What you’ve given me, I’ve increased!” HIS MASTER SAID TO HIM, “WELL DONE, GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT. YOU HAVE BEEN FAITHFUL OVER A LITTLE; I’LL SET YOU OVER MUCH. ENTER INTO THE JOY OF YOUR MASTER!” And He said the same to the second.
Their Master didn’t say do this and don’t do that. And it’s silly to think that they did it for a reward. They did it because they loved their Master and loved whatever is His. They risked giving it away, just like their Master would. Regardless of how long He was gone, they carried on His work, because they knew Him and they knew what He loves.
When He came back they were like children who made something while their father was away at work and who couldn’t wait to show him. The door opens and they run. And the father sees what they have in their hands. He says, “What’ve you got there?” as he puts down his things. Their faces are glowing, and one runs up and shouts: “Papa! Look what I made for you! It’s for you!” On that Day when the front door of Paradise swings open, we’ll come running and say: “Look, Lord, look what we’ve made for You!!!” And we will hear on that Day the most tender and almighty voice speaking: “WELL DONE, child! COME INTO MY JOY!”
Blessed are you who have it done to you as you believe, who expect much from Christ and who receive more than they could have ever expected. But woe to the one who receives from the Lord what he believes, who expected less and less. Verse 24, “THE ONE WHO HAD RECEIVED ONE TALENT ALSO CAME FORWARD, AND SAID, “MASTER I KNEW YOU TO BE A HARD MAN, REAPING WHERE YOU DID NOT SOW, AND GATHERING WHERE YOU SCATTERED NO SEED, SO I WAS AFRAID, AND I WENT AND HID YOUR TALENT IN THE GROUND. HERE YOU HAVE WHAT IS YOURS.” As if to say, “I knew that no matter how hard I work you’d still just take all the money back. And if I risked investing it and lost any, you’d make me pay for it, because you’re the kind of master who reaps where you don’t sow. You take everything and leave nothing for us.” And if that kind of accusation sounds familiar, it’s because that’s exactly what Adam said to the Lord after he was bewitched by Satan. It’s the voice of every child of Adam who thinks that the Lord has been hiding something. It’s as if that servant didn’t know the Lord at all.
That’s the difference between the third servant and the first two. They knew their master and loved Him and wanted to please Him. The third didn’t know Him, thought He was hard, thought He was quick to anger and slow to mercy. The most horrifying thing in this passage is that the third servant got exactly what he believed. The master said: “YOU WICKED AND LAZY SERVANT! DID YOU really KNOW THAT I REAP WHERE I DIDN’T SOW AND GATHER WHERE I DID NOT SCATTER? If you really thought I was such a harsh master, then you should’ve at least INVESTED MY MONEY WITH THE BANKERS, AND AT MY COMING I WOULD’VE AT LEAST RECEIVED WHAT WAS MINE WITH INTEREST.
That’s how it’ll be on the Last Day for every servant who does not trust in Master’s mercy. The grace that was given to him will be taken away and given to another. But I suppose that’s really no surprise.
What is a surprise is that the other servants, who never worked for a reward are rewarded. The Lord says, TAKE THE TALENT FROM HIM AND GIVE IT TO HIM WHO HAS TEN TALENTS. It means that the ones who never worked to have it, get to have it, and get to keep not only what they were given, but what they gained, and then even more than they gained. That’s what the Master does when He’s checking His accounts. That’s how it is in the Kingdom of God: We receive what we haven’t earned and whatever we gain in His name, we get to keep that too. FOR TO EVERYONE WHO HAS WILL MORE BE GIVEN, AND HE WILL HAVE AN ABUNDANCE. BUT FROM THE ONE WHO HAS NOT, EVEN WHAT HE HAS WILL BE TAKEN AWAY.
What we have is the eternal inheritance that Christ won for us and delivered to us at His ascension and Pentecost. We have not earned it, but it’s ours, because we are His. And the best is still to come. WHAT NO EYE HAS SEEN AND NO EAR HAS HEARD, NOR THE HEART OF MAN IMAGINED, WHAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM. He will come, if not now then soon; and if not soon, then now. But when He comes, when the skies rip open, when the door of Paradise is flung open, the children of the Heavenly Father will come running, even flying from their graves to meet the Master and receive the inheritance of His kingdom, namely, the resurrection of our bodies and the Master’s JOY forevermore. Amen.