20170924 – Homily on the Momentum of Virtue (and Vice)

In this homily on The Parable of the Talents, Fr. Anthony discourages us from interpreting scripture in a way that would turn God into a monster.  He then argues that the point of the parable is to convince us of the need to do good in this world.  Enjoy the show!
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Homily Notes:

The Parable of the Talents
St. Matthew 25:14-30

What are we supposed to learn from this?

  • People think the Bible says all kinds of things and they aren’t always right, no matter how strongly they believe it
  • True of people who trust God and the Scriptures and those who don’t; both are capable of creating a false image of God and His will for us.
    • The atheist does it to show how unreliable the Biblical god is and to turn people away from belief and religion. This can lead people who do not understand the Scriptures away from God. After all, who wants to worship a God that is unreliable?
    • But believers do this, too. And sometimes the God that they create through their misunderstanding of the Scriptures can be even worse than anything the atheists come up with. I know of believers whose vision of God is quite monstrous; the kind of God that no one of good will could ever worship. I am sorry that they do this; but I am very happy to say that they are wrong.
    • So let me give you a basic rule for understanding Scripture: if your interpretation of Scripture makes you think that God is unreliable, or foolish, or evil… then your interpretation is flawed.

I begin today’s homily on the Parable of the Talents with this note on interpretation because there is a line in the lesson that can be misunderstood.

What does it mean when Christ-God says;

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.”
And that those who end up with nothing will be…
“cast … into the outer darkness,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

(St. Matthew 25: 29-30)

One of the keys to understanding scripture is its context. The most important context for the Holy Bible is the heart of the believer and the heart of the Church.

  • We know that God is loving and merciful because we are connected to Him through our hearts and through the Mysteries of the Church. The image of God as a monster cannot co-exist with this thing we already know.
  • Let me be more specific: the liturgy that we are celebrating is a manifestation of God’s mercy. Through participating in it we are healed, forgiven, and deified. This is not the kind of worship that a monster god would demand.

Moreover, when it comes to this specific parable, we can look at its scriptural context.

  • When we were learning to read we would often come upon a word that we did not understand, but we were often able to figure out its meaning based on the flow of the work.

This Parable of the Talents comes in the middle of a longer talk Christ gave on the Judgment and how we are supposed to prepare for it. In more general terms, it is part of a series of lessons designed to teach us how to live.

  • The backdrop of the Judgment is part of the lesson and is designed to show that what we do in our lives matters. There is a time coming when Christ-God will “come again to judge the living and the dead.” There will be a reckoning and none of us can avoid it.
  • This particular lesson on the Judgment [known as the Parable of the Talents] comes after the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. All of these devoted believers were supposed to have their lamps ready for when the Bridegroom came. Some did and some didn’t. The ones that didn’t were not allowed into the feast. This teaches us that our actions and our inactions have consequences and that when the reckoning comes, there will be no “do-overs”. It’s a hard lesson, but it’s one we all need to hear.
  • Looking again at the context of the Parable of the Talents, it comes right before Christ’s straightforward description of who will be saved and who will be damned. Those who love and serve others will be saved; those who let people suffer without lifting a finger to aid them will be damned.

So now we can fit this Parable of the Talents into the broader theme that Christ is giving us:

  • God has created a world where actions have consequences. Good actions are rewarded and bad actions are punished.
  • Good and bad are not abstract concepts, nor do we get to chose how to define them. As we learned last week, good and bad only make sense when we have a goal; in these lessons, God has given us our goal and described what good and bad look like.
  • The best thing we can do is actively love our neighbor (to include ourselves); this means serving them heroically and sacrificially.
  • The worst thing we can do – aside from actually hating our neighbor (to include ourselves) – is to do nothing. God really does expect us to roll up our sleeves, take risks, and get our hands dirty (so to speak).

 

So now this difficult passage makes a lot more sense:

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.”
And that those who end up with nothing will be…
“cast … into the outer darkness,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

(St. Matthew 25: 29-30)

It doesn’t mean that people who don’t have much money are going to end up with less; that the rich are going to get richer; and then God is going to throw all the poor people into hell and the rich people into heaven.

It means that there is a cycle of virtue and a cycle of vice. That there is a momentum that comes to doing well. That once we learn to love, we will be given more love to share with others until we are brought into a place where there is an unending supply of it. And if we refuse to love, then what little love we have will grow cold and we will put ourselves into a hell of lonliness where such a thing as love cannot even be imagined.

It is our choice. We are not slaves; God will not force us to do one or the other.

Let’s chose heroic, sacrificial, and hard-working love.

 

 

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