25:44-45 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'
For seven days a week over the last nine months we have been distributing food from Coles Supermarkets through the SecondBite food rescue program. We have met many people and seen many faces that we would never have seen if we did not have this involvement. It always gives great pleasure to see the smile on the face of someone receiving the food. Sometimes we also see the pain of abandonment, disillusion, isolation and of hunger looking back at us.
Earlier in the year I spoke about how some teenagers in a school had been staring into the eyes of another until one had to break away. However, as they held the gaze of another for many minutes something happened within and they began to cry. I also related the story of the artist who travelled around the world and people would queue to come and sit in front of the person and they would be moved emotionally, some leaving in tears.
It is difficult not to be moved when looking into the eyes of suffering and pain.
Barbara Brown Taylor in her book ‘An altar in the world’ writes about the spiritual practice of encountering others. We are often too busy, rushing from A to B, getting things done, having a million things on our mind, to notice the people around us, the people we meet on our way, even the people we live with. If we were to stop and stare for a while, perhaps catching their eye even for a moment, perhaps, just maybe, we might notice God looking back at us. We might connect with the God who is in us and who is in them.
Jesus reminds us where Jesus can be seen. 25:44-45 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' 25:45 Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' Could we be too busy to see Jesus? And not just to busy to see him but to do something for him?
Barbara Brown Taylor says that what we have in common with strangers is not religion but humanity. Jesus talks about when the Son of Man comes in all his glory. When Jesus names himself as the Son of Man, Jesus is saying that he is the fullest revelation of what it means to be truly human, to be fully human and fully divine. Jesus shows us what it is to be truly human. Jesus tells us to love one another as he has loved us. Jesus says love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus tells us to love strangers and to even love our enemies. This may mean not rushing past but slowing down, sitting around for a while, noticing, being still.
Let’s pause and think about this. This is about recognising that all people are made in the image of God. It is about recognising Jesus in everyone we meet and especially in those struggling in life: those in prison, those who are hungry and thirsty, those naked or clothed in rags, those who are homeless, those who seek asylum and refuge, those finding it impossible to get work and an income.
When we look forward for the coming of Christ this passage reminds us that Jesus comes to us not as a great conquering king. It reminds us not to look for Jesus in the places of power and wealth, but to look among those suffering in this world. Jesus comes to us as the Son of man, the true human being. We are reminded to stop, to look around, to really notice, to see, to hear, to understand, that Christ is the stranger whom we are called to love. Perhaps we do not want to look too closely or let our gaze linger for too long in case we get caught up in the humanity of Christ and become more fully human and thus more fully divine.
‘Open our eyes Lord, we want to see Jesus.
To reach out and touch him and say that we love him.
Open our ears Lord and help us to listen.
Open our eyes Lord we want to see Jesus. ‘
Open my eyes that I may see you in the eyes of all I meet.
Open my ears that I may hear your cry.
Open my heart that I may connect with you and with all creation.
Open my being that I may be still and live.
Open my hands that I may share your abundant life. Amen.
It is very important when reading the parables of Jesus not to always equate the master or king with God or Jesus. Sometimes there are similarities in the characters with the God but at other times the characters are entirely dissimilar to the God Jesus speaks of and reveals through his life. How we imagine God to be is very important for how we live our lives. It is very important for how we live in community as a congregation and how we relate to people who are not in our congregation. How do you imagine God? What do you think God is like? One interpretation of today’s parable could be that one of the characters totally mis-imagines God. He misunderstands the nature of God and the life God has given us.
In the parable of the talents a man goes away on a journey but first puts his servants in charge of his wealth. He gives five talents of gold to one slave, two to another and one talent to a third servant. At the price of gold today one talent could be worth almost five million Australian dollars. So, one would have got twenty five million dollars, another ten million dollars and the third five million dollars. These are incredible amounts of money. The master comes back after a long time and proceeds to settle his accounts with the servants. The servant with five talents, hands 10 talents back to the master, double what he received. The servant with two talents, hands four talents back to the master, double what he received. They are both commended as good and trustworthy and are further entrusted with charge of many things and enter the joy of the master. But the one who had been given one talent had been so afraid of losing his master’s money that he had hidden his talent in the ground. He gives it back to the master hoping that the master will be pleased to get what is his back safely, but the master has expected more. When no more is returned the master condemns the servant as wicked, lazy and worthless. The master orders the servant to be taken away and thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The parable reveals more dissimilarities with the kingdom of God than similarities. It illuminates the great contrast there is between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this earth, or the ways of this earth. The master in the parable bears little or no resemblance to the way Jesus has been speaking about God or himself. What is given to the servants is given in regards to their ability. But in the Gospels what Jesus gives to people is given freely irrespective of ability and without expectation of return. Jesus doesn’t give money to his disciples, quite the opposite, he sends them out without money. Jesus gives eternal life. Jesus speaks about entering the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, but this is not the reward for those who have done well or those who have lived a righteous holy life. The kingdom of heaven is opened to sinners, tax collectors, the undeserving, the outcast, the sick and the lame and the blind. The kingdom of heaven is opened to Samaritans, Romans, foreigners, gentiles. It is not a reward, it is an invitation to a journey, to a new life, to begin and enter now.
The servant imagines the master as a harsh man reaping where he does not sow and gathering where he does not scatter seed. Jesus is the opposite, Jesus sows and sows, scattering seeds of grace wastefully in the wind, to blow where they will and in response people come flocking to him. The similarity between the teaching of Jesus and the huge amounts of money the master gives is that the kingdom of heaven is priceless. Nothing is more wonderous, more valuable, more lavish than the eternal life Jesus freely gives. What the master says describes the unfairness of the world we live in: the rich getting richer and the poorer getting poorer, even from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The master orders that the ‘worthless’ slave be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be gnashing of teeth. This is not Jesus’ understanding of a loving God that he reveals in his teaching and ministry nor is it the way in the kingdom of heaven.
Perhaps the parable is telling us simply to be confident in God’s goodness, to not be afraid of God. God is generous and we are to be generous in love and grace, to use what has been entrusted to us, not to lock it away in fear for safe keeping. Perhaps the parable is encouraging us to do something great and incredible with what we have been given. To freely give as we have received.
What is given to us is good news for the world, wonderful news, life changing, life enabling news, far greater than any amount of gold or wealth. Will we keep on living the good news and being good news, or give it all up because we are afraid, because the world doesn’t seem to be getting any better? Shall we throw in the towel? Jesus has entrusted to us the secrets of the kingdom of heaven; secrets which look weak, insignificant and ineffectual against the might of empires and against the violence of this world and against the might of the dollar? But Jesus’ secrets bring abundant life.
At the beginning of time and at the end
you are God and I bless you.
At my birth and in my dying,
in the opening of the day and at its close,
in my waking and my sleeping
you are God and I bless you.
You are the first and the last,
the giver of every gift,
the presence without whom there would be
the life without whom there is no life.
Lead me to the heart of life’s treasure
that I may be a bearer of the gift.
Lead me to the heart of the present
that I may be a sharer of your eternal presence.
- from ‘Sounds of the Eternal’ by John Philip Newell
Photo; The Burren, County Clare, Republic of Ireland
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Please read the passage a couple of times. What words or phrases stand out in your mind? What questions do you have? Imagine you are in the story. Who do you relate to? Imagine waiting for the bridegroom to come and falling asleep then waking with a start when you hear the shout. Perhaps for a moment you don’t know where you are. You jump up to light your lamp. Are you one of the young women who has extra oil for your lamp or have you forgotten to bring some?
Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning. Give me oil in my lamp I pray. Give me oil in my lamp keep me burning. Keep me burning till the break of day. What is this oil that we sing about?
As Christians, when we speak of having oil in our lamp, I suggest that we are not speaking about something external to us, something we carry with us, but something within us. We have with us some oil for the journey. We have some oil so that the flame may light our way. We have a light so that we can see our way in the darkness of this world.
In the Bible oil is symbolic of a number of things. In this parable the oil could be symbolic of wisdom. One could say that the wise or prudent young women had oil, they had the wisdom, and the other young women did not have wisdom. All Jesus’ parables are about seeking this wisdom (the wisdom of the kingdom of heaven) in our lives and letting this wisdom be a light that shows us a way forward, a wisdom that enables us to discern our path through the darkness of life.
Theologian and liturgical writer, Aelred Rosser says: “Wisdom is that elusive attribute that enables us to see beyond the surface of things into their depths, to see as God sees, and therefore to see God.” With wisdom one is able to see beyond human thinking, to be able to see as God sees, to even see God. I wonder what he means by seeing God. Does he mean seeing God in all things, in all places? Does he mean having a heightened awareness of God’s presence all around us? Does he mean seeing God in a way that does not necessarily require physical sight? Does he mean that we see God where previously we did not recognise God? Perhaps we have been looking for God in certain places but with wisdom we begin to notice Go (or what we name as God) in unexpected places, in ordinary places as well as in extraordinary places, in good times as well as bad times.
Wisdom is seeing God. Wisdom enables the eyes of the heart to see, one could say wisdom is the eyes of the heart seeing. Wisdom does not mean that we know everything, but it enables us to see in this dark world, to negotiate the darkness, to go forward to meet our coming God.
Wisdom is different to knowledge. With knowledge one can know about something or know about someone. But wisdom is gained through relationship. In the Wisdom of Solomon 9 (A book between the Old and New Testaments) wisdom is presented as a person, a woman. In chapter 6:12,13 it says - Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known to those who seek her.
The wise seek wisdom. Wisdom is not a thing, rather wisdom is a way of seeing which comes from being in relationship with the mystery we call God. We find our own wisdom. We can learn how to find wisdom from others but they cannot give us wisdom. Nor can we share our wisdom with others. Perhaps this is why in the parable the young women could not share their oil with the others. It was impossible. We have to get our own oil to light our way so that we can go to meet the bridegroom when he comes.
Prayer: (you may like to sing or read this hymn as a prayer a few times)
Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, almighty, victorious, your great name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light, nor wanting, nor wasting, but ruling in might; your justice like mountains high soaring above, your clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.
You give life to all, Lord, to both great and small, in all life now living, the true life of all; we blossom and flourish as leaves on a tree, then wither: but ever unchanged you will be.
Great Father of glory, pure Father of light, your angels adore you, all veiling their sight; of all your rich graces this grace, Lord, impart-- take the veil from our faces, the veil from our heart.
All praise we would render: reveal to our sight what hides you is only the splendour of light; and so let your glory, Almighty, impart, through Christ in the story, your Christ to the heart. Amen.
Photo: Lough Hyne, West Cork, Republic of Ireland
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation