Judges 4:1-7 and Psalm 123 • Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 and Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12 • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 • Matthew 25:14-30
If I were making a list of most mis-understood scripture passages, this week's Matthew text would be near the top. In it, Jesus tells a story of three people, one of whom fails to use his 'talents' wisely. This last character finds himself in eternal torment for failing to do more.
'Talents' in the passage is the translation for money – currency – in Biblical times. In efforts to understand the meaning of this reading, talents become equated with a person's strengths, financial and otherwise. The passage often gets summed up this way: look at your strengths and invest them for the kingdom of God wisely. Well, at least as I see it, yes and no.
In the yes column: Yes, look at your strengths. Remember, though, realistically, that if you want to be strong, you must attend to your relationships with other people. Hiding yourself – distancing from your family – creates weakness. It may feel like strength, as the emotional system finds solace in avoiding those often-called toxic people. The trouble, though, is that they may be finding you to be a tad toxic too! The ability to be your own self with your family – to neither avoid them nor to give up who you are to be with them – is the beginning of strength. Mutual respect is the goal.
In the no column: No, you are not responsible for the kingdom of God. God is responsible for the kingdom of God. The arrogance of thinking that one could possibly take on such a responsibility! The ease with which that expectation gets communicated through the church! Rather, each of us creatures is responsible for herself: for developing and offering her own gifts to her community. Cooperation begins with the humble awareness that one's own talents must be expressed with and through others.
Cooperation in Jesus' time would mean that the Pharisees would lead the people towards justice and mercy. It would mean the Pharisees focusing on what matters in their own lives, rather than scolding others about the details of law. Both then and now, overfocusing on others leads to a decreased awareness of oneself and one's own contribution to the problems of the day. Parallels to the 21st century are easy to see. But focusing on these parallels can become its own avoidance strategy. Instead, one can embrace the reality that much work lies ahead: individually, and co-operatively.
Morning: What family members do I avoid? How might I stay calm while connecting with them?
Evening: How did connections with family go today? How did I work cooperatively with others in my life?
Psalm 90:12 So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.