Homily for Sunday 15th November, 2nd before Advent: The Parable of the Talents.
Based on the Lincoln Diocese Homily for this Sunday and adapted for the FYT Parishes.
What a strange year this has been! Incredibly, we are hurtling towards Advent; we were still in Lent at the start of the first lockdown. With advent comes the start of a new church year – and with a new year comes time to reflect on the year just passed. What better reading to help us with this than the parable of the talents in Matthew chapter 25! By the way, while the Gospel readings for the current church year have focused on Matthew, the new lectionary year starting at Advent will focus on Mark. I am re-reading Matthew during this lockdown, and it is interesting how certain talks and services come flooding back. Maybe you could try it and ask God to remind you of messages you needed to hear in this most peculiar year!
Our hymns this morning focus on our first reading, Psalm 90 – an especially important message for these uncertain times. God’s faithfulness – no matter what.
The gospel reading however challenges us to think about faithfulness the other way round – how WE can remain faithful to the talents and calling God has given us – no matter what. The main part of the parable is concerned with what takes place when the slaves have to come before their master, the figure who represents Christ, as he prepares to settle accounts.
Most of us are very familiar with this parable. The slave who had five talents had worked to produce five more for his master; the slave with two talents had worked to produce two more and the slave who had only one had buried it in the ground to keep it safe and could give back only what had been given in the first place.
It is clear that the parable presents the first two slaves as the ones for us to imitate! St John Chrysostom, a Father in the early church, commenting on this gospel passage said that we should “contribute whatever we have – wealth, diligence or giving care – for our neighbour’s advantage.” A message that we can echo 20 centuries on. What better time to serve our neighbour than now, with so much uncertainty, fear, and lack of face to face services that were gradually restarting prior to this second lockdown.
Of course, the greatest gift that God gives us is the gift of Faith itself. So how does that count when thinking of the five, two and one talent distributed to the slaves? Well, for those of us who consider ourselves faithful Christians, most uncomfortably. You see we are the ones who, in the way of this parable, have been given the five talents! We profess each week our unwavering faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; we are the ones who know what faith should mean in our lives; we are the ones who know how much we have received from God and daily receive from Him. How much harder would the judgement have come upon the slave with five talents if he had buried so much? Perhaps we should bear in mind these words from Luke 121:48 “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required: and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” It is fully five talents that have been “entrusted” to us. Following Jesus was never going to be an easy option!
And finally – that slave who had only the one talent and buried it in the earth. Here is a warning to us as well. St Gregory says that hiding a talent in the earth means “employing our abilities in earthly affairs, failing to seek spiritual profit and never raising the heart from earthly thoughts.” An easy trap to fall in to! He shows us as well that sins are not just about doing evil – but failing to do good. “What we have left undone.” What good can we do today in our communities and families? How can we use that wonderful gift of Faith and our other gifts and talents to help and encourage others whilst growing our own faith at the same time?
All of this comes so appropriately as we turn our minds to Advent. We will no doubt soon be singing, or listening to, “Lo, he comes with clouds descending”. That coming, as in this parable, will inevitably involve “settling accounts.”