Matthew 25:14-30 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
2nd Sunday before Advent
The story goes of a minister who dreamed that he was preaching a sermon and when he woke up he realised that it was true. Whether it’s a true story or not, to me it sounds like a nightmare. But staying awake can be a bit of a challenge. I remember the time when my family and I travelled to New Zealand, to spend our holidays with my sister. The journey was long and at the end of it, the time difference turned my body clock totally upside down: for the first few days, I was awake half the night and falling asleep during the day. Our upside-down world took some getting used to!
The readings for today are set to help us not to lose the natural sleep that we all need, but to help us stay awake in the spiritual sense; to see the light of salvation and not get lost in the dark. First, there’s the parable of the talents that Jesus told:
The master being away for some time, and entrusting his servants with some valuable resources, to work with during his absence: five talents to one of them, two for the other, and one talent for the third. (A talent, by the way, was a unit of money, about 15 years’ of a labourer’s wages, so quite substantial sums were handed out!) We know how the story goes: the first two servants got to work with their talents and increased their value; but the third servant went and hid his talent and didn’t do anything with it. When the master returned, the first two were commended for their diligence, but the third servant was thrown out into the dark for his lack of obedience and for his disrespect for the master. We may wonder what this is all about: the treatment of the third servant may even seem a little harsh to us. Well, as in previous sayings of Jesus, we are to understand it in the terms of the relationship between God and his people. And the third servant stands for the scribes and the Pharisees, who had been given the Law of Moses, the Temple, and the promises, through the prophets about God’s blessings for the whole world. But they had buried them in the ground, disregarding God’s generous gifts, and rejecting the giver. Now, as their master has returned – in the shape of God’s Son, Jesus – they are called to give an account. And they are found wanting.
The other two servants are those who respond to Jesus’ call, and as they accept him, they develop God’s gift through the change in their hearts, and make it grow into a harvest for the Kingdom. The light of Christ has begun to shine in their lives, so they are no longer living in darkness. They have become day-time people, and, having watched the sunrise of the new day, they belong to the new world that God is creating.
Paul, in his description of the change in those who have responded to Christ’s call, uses several metaphors that may sound a bit confusing at times, as they tumble over one another in their eagerness to make the point. The woman in labour, the thief in the night, the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation: they are images of the dramatic change for the children of light who have escaped the darkness of sin and death. As you can imagine: a burglar leaves their mark on a property; a child born into a family changes them for ever, and the faith and love and hope that come with the Good News of Jesus Christ will change a person’s outlook in a very noticeable way. From now on, a believer will ‘wear’ their faith and hope, and will have a new ability to love, as he or she has found that God loves them, with an everlasting love. The new light of Christ that has begun to shine on the world can never be put out. That’s a promise.
Therefore, we are encouraged to be awake, and alert to the fleeting changes of this life in this world. Especially now, at this time, what with winter approaching and the restrictions to our common life. We do not need to fear the dark. Christ has already overcome it. But we do need to stay alert, so that we may shine with the light of Christ, as he has called us to do. ‘For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
And so, I’m reminded of this little verse:
‘Jesus bids us shine, with a pure, clear light.
Like a little candle, burning in the night.
In this world of darkness, so let us shine.
You in your small corner, and I in mine.’