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21st June 2020


Passage: Matthew 25;14-27


Jesus’ parables are the kind of stories you can read and enjoy on different levels. I have used the parable of the talents in school assemblies to make the point that while some of us may feel that we are not as clever or as gifted as others, we all have something we can do well and it is far better to do what we can do-with our own particular talent- than sulk over what we cannot.
Fair enough. A huge part of Jesus’ ministry was about restoring self-esteem to people who believed they were worthless.

The Revd Dr Susan Durber, a URC minister, who wrote her PhD on the parables of Jesus, proposed an alternative interpretation. She said that in the Middle East today, people cheer for the third servant and not for the first two. Why? Because they interpret this parable as an attack on Capitalism. The rich man is unfair in his distribution of gifts, seeing that some people start off with plenty and go on make more, while others start off with very little and make less. The third servant, by burying his gold coin in the ground is distancing himself from the whole corrupt system. He does not want anything to do with it. And let the people say “Hooray….”

Right… where do we go from here? I started thinking about currency. When you are living in a particular country, you live by the currency of that country, whether it be pounds, euros or dollars. But currency is not only about money. It is also about what makes you valuable in any given situation.
In many situations that currency is money- the more money you have, the more power you have, and the more people admire you. But not always. Sometimes it is celebrity- how many friends you have on Facebook or followers on Instagram or photos in Hello magazine. Or, if you are a member of the emergency services, the amount of money you have means nothing compared to the levels of strength and courage you display in a crisis.
I thought of King Henry the Eighth- and the “currency” by which he assessed the value of his wives, namely their ability to bear a male child. His first wife was a princess of Spain- perhaps the most powerful nation in Europe at the time but this meant nothing to him compared to the third wife-an insignificant country gentlewoman who produced the son and heir he needed.

Back in the story of the talents then, it is clear that, whatever the currency in this situation, servant number three felt that he did not have as much of it as the others and he was not happy.
Life, basically, is not fair. We do not begin life on a level playing field. The master in the story could have given all three servants ten gold coins to start with and there would still have been one who made twenty, one who made twelve and one who ended up with two. Because their natural abilities would have been different; their family circumstances would have been different; their levels of strength and energy would have been different. Which is why even the most idealistic of communist or socialist governments have failed to create a society in which all are equal.
The Bible itself never pretends that life is fair. There will always be some who have less good health, less good fortune and less natural ability than others.

The problem with the third servant in Jesus’ story is that, whether he was suffering from low self-esteem or burning hatred of an unjust system, he was giving up. That’s it! Life is unfair. My master is unfair. There is nothing I can do about it, so I quit.
Maybe you cannot blame him but nor can you praise him. Because faith is about believing that you can make a difference. There is a philosophy called “absurdism” which contrasts what appears to be a heartless universe, in which people suffer for no apparent reason with our stubborn human refusal to sit down under this. From as far back as we can trace, human beings have determined to find a meaning and a purpose in life. They do not give up and say, “it is all unfair, so I quit.”

And in the person of Jesus Christ we see what happens when someone refuses to quit. Jesus was born and grew up in difficult and unjust circumstances; he ministered to people who were victims of poverty, sickness, injustice, racial and religious prejudice. You could say that he died a victim of human hatred, fear and cruelty. But he never gave in. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, brought peace where there was trouble, understanding where there was ignorance, hope where there was despair. And although he left a world which was still unjust, he also left a community of people passionately committed to standing up against evil and injustice; fired with the belief that they, in Jesus Christ, were God’s own people who, in God’s own power could transform the world.
And although the Christian church and its individual members have taken wrong turnings many times, the power of Jesus Christ in us has achieved tremendous things.

You see, coming back to currency, Jesus demonstrated a currency which was universal. Everybody, no matter who or what they were, could access it. And that currency is love. Not just the hearts-and-flowers, cuddly toys, emotional kind of love but the whole way in which we see the world and our part in it.
The universe is unjust. Life is unfair. But to live in a spirit of love means to live with respect and reverence and hope.
When people treat the natural world with respect, reverence and hope, we gain cleaner air, purer water, a more safely balanced ecological structure. We find causes of illness and their cures.
When nations treat each other with respect, reverence and hope, there is peace rather than war; co-operation rather than cut-throat competition; an end to racial and cultural prejudice.
When we treat each other with respect, reverence and hope, the frail are helped, the gifted are encouraged, community is strengthened and those who have started life with only one gold coin are given a few extra by those who have been lucky enough to start off with ten gold coins.
Despite the fact that life is not fair to start with, we can do a huge amount to redress the balance, if we believe in love.

And love is a currency to which every single person has access. Everyone is capable of giving love and of inspiring love. Yes, some of us feel more socially inept than others- terrified of saying the wrong thing or doing something silly. Yes, some are deprived so much of love in their early years that they find it very hard to love and trust others as they get older. And most of us have memories of failing in love that haunt us to the end of our days.
But Jesus preached salvation- saving grace. Because there is a God whose nature is love, there is a forgiveness more powerful than anything we could achieve. And because there is forgiveness, there is hope.
The servant who has started out with just one small coin of love in his life and who lives in a state of sulking despair can still learn that even that one small coin in a bruised and fragile life can become, by the grace of God, a vast treasury of love.

One of the most loving and generous people I have ever known started life in a home with very little love. A “one gold coin” woman. Yet by the time she died her treasury of gold coins was huge. And yes, she was a woman of faith.

I have called this new series of services “The Base Camps.” The places where you stop on your journey and reassess where you are going and whether you have the resources to get to where you want to be. And Jesus’ parables had a way of allowing people to stop and think.
• What is the currency in your life? What do you think makes you valuable?
• Are you a ten gold coin person? Five? One?
• Do you feel that life (or God) has treated you unfairly?
• Are you ready to quit?
• Or are you looking for hope?
• Do you believe in the power of love?
• Do you believe in the vastness of God’s love?
• Can you trust God’s forgiveness?
• Will you receive God’s saving grace?

As you go out into the week ahead, take as many gold coins of love as you have, whether they feel like many or few.
Ask God to show you how and where to use them.
And, at the end of the week, look at your coins again and see if they have grown.