Twenty-third Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, November 16, 2014
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
“Embracing God's Reign”
Well, it finally happened. I was determined this morning to leave home no later than 5:30 a.m. I stopped for coffee on the way in to church.
I arrived at 6:00 a.m. Buzz and Tony were already here setting up for the day. I helped with my share of the work for about thirty minutes. When I sat down at my computer to print out the message I wanted to share with you this morning, I realized that I had left my thumb drive at home.
There was no message to print. I looked at the time and thought I could make the drive back home in Wailuku, pick up the thumb drive and return with time enough to spare. But it only took a second for me to realize that that would not be possible.
So here we are with a kahu, a pastor dependent on the technology to which we have become accustomed, wondering what I could do to rescue myself from this embarrassment. Since all of the Sunday sermons are posted on our website, you will find the full text of what I had prepared [below].
In the meantime, I thought I would recollect with you what I was prepared to say. I went in to the bank earlier in the week to do some business. While there I asked the teller about the interest payment on my checking account and she said, “Well, so far this year, it’s zero.” I mentioned to her that I looked at my year-end statement for 2012 and that the good news was at least on my savings account, I received .07 cents.
It is difficult not to feel cynical these days about “the economy. The news this week is that several banks including Bank of America, UBS in Basel and Zurich, HBCS in London and three other banks were due to pay several billion dollars in fines for manipulating the currency of foreign markets.
There was hope after the financial collapse of 2008 that the U.S. Department of Justice would take action against the major financial institutions for the massive fraud that occurred with mortgage-backed securities. Those of you familiar with banks and lending know that then and now, many of the banks sought ways to increase their profits without any care to how it was done.
Our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew is striking in that regard. The biblical commentaries euphemistically refer to a slave owner as a wealthy landowner. The landowner decides to go on a trip, but before leaving, he calls his three of his slaves and entrusts some of his property to each according to his ability with the understanding that they were expected to increase his wealth.
It is a distressing parable. To say that Jesus uses persons with less than admirable qualities to make a point would be an understatement in this case.
Surprisingly, most who hear the parable conclude that it is the third slave who is the one with the less than admirable qualities. But for me it is the words of the slave and not the words of the slave owner that I find compelling.
I know some who will say, “Look Kahu, Matthew was addressing his gospel to the Jewish-Christian community in the turbulent first century. They were waiting for Jesus to return. The story is about faith, not about slavery.”
I also know there are others who will say, “It is a parable about the reign of God and about how we embrace God’s reign of equity and justice.”
The slave who buried the talent was aware that the slave owner harsh. He was also aware that whatever the slave owner had acquired, he had come upon not through his own work.
The slave owner does not deny what the slave says. In fact, he acknowledges that if he knew that, he would have invested the money with bankers. At least he would have received what was his own with interest.
It is ironic that the slave owner should be so quick to pass judgment. “You are a wicked and lazy slave!”
My thought is the slave could have said, “You are a greedy and dishonest slave owner.” But he didn’t.
Now I am not sure what the economy was like in Matthew’s day, but I imagine if the slave owner and slave were living in our day, the slave would say to us: ‘I knew the slave owner was a harsh man who takes what was not his to take. I knew that he did not have any legitimate authority. I resisted his demand to invest the equivalent of 15 years of af an average salary increase his wealth. I knew the consequence of this defiance. I may be a slave but I am not stupid.”
Matthew words were meant for a community of believers struggling to make sense of the persecution they were experiencing. If there is any hope in the story it is that our embrace of God’s reign is one where justice and equity abound for all people.
I sometime wonder and worry if too many of us to take to heart these days the words of the slave owner. “For those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”
If there is any hope in the story it is that the slave is far from being a worthless person. If there is any hope in the story it is that there is also hope for the slave owner.
Kahu's ORIGINAL Manao
Twenty-third Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, November 16, 2014
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
“Embracing God's Reign”
It is difficult not to be cynical these days. I looked at my year-end bank statement from two years and was painfully amused to read “For this Statement Period: Interest Paid, Year to Date” – .07 cents. Not much has changed since then.
A few days ago we learned that six banks have been ordered to pay fines to agencies in the U.S., Britain and Switzerland totaling around $4.25 billion for manipulating the foreign exchange market. Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase will pay the largest fines, about $1 billion each.
Other banks that agreed to settle the accusations include Bank of America, UBS- a Swiss global financial services company based in Basel and Zurich, the Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC, a British multinational banking and financial services company based in London that the is the world’s second largest bank. At issue is the approximately $5.3 trillion traded each day in foreign exchange – the world’s biggest financial market.
Those of you who know banking and finance know that the exchange rates are set daily. Traders at the big banks that are being fined, as well as other banks under investigation, are accused of rigging the rates so that their own banks profit.
In looking back over the previous decade, there are those who point to the massive criminal securities fraud at JPMorgan Chase and other banks that led to the financial collapse in 2008. There are those who believe that over time the U.S. Department of Justice would make things right. (“The $9 Billion Witness,” Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, November 20, 2014, page 54) But the most recent news of civil charges against major banks for manipulating the foreign exchange market reminds us that money can easily entice and seduce all of us.
That enticement and seduction is what struck me about the parable of the talents that comes from our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew. The parable “is a story of financial activity. A talent was not the ability to sing or paint but a large sum of money, approximately the amount a laborer would receive for fifteen years of hard work.” (Preaching Through the Christian Year, Year A, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1992, page 514)
But the parable is also a story about reign of God in the world. The reward given to the first two slaves appear in verses 21 and 23: “Enter into the joy of your master.” As someone pointed out, it is not business talk.
Likewise in the conclusion of the parable it is the third slave who is cast out into “outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It would seem that such language would have no meaning in the financial world but it is a part of Matthew’s description of the judgment that is to come.
Jesus shares this parable with the disciples a few days before they are to share the Passover meal. We are made aware then that the parable is about both the reign of God and an allegory for Jesus’ return.
Matthew’s words were probably of great comfort to those who were a part of the Jewish-Christian community in the turbulent late first century after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Many were fearful. Surely his return was imminent. (Seasons of the Spirit, SeasonsFUSION, Season of Creation, Pentecost 2, 2014, Wood Lake Publishing, Inc., 2013, page 154)
But whether in the first century or today, Matthew’s words are of little comfort to me. There are those who are convinced that the third slave is “wicked and lazy” and therefore deserves to be condemned to hell. After all, the slave owner entrusted his property to his slaves each according to his ability.
To say that Jesus sometimes uses persons of less than admirable qualities to make a point would be an understatement in this instance. What troubles me is not the third slave but the slave owner. I know there are those who argue that the parable is meant to teach us a lesson about faith and not about slavery. Back in Matthew’s time, some argue that slavery was an accepted practice. If that is the case, I wonder what others would have said back then about the history of salvation that is at the core of the Exodus story. What would others make of Moses’ audacity to say to the Pharaoh: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let my people go’”? (Exodus 8:1, 20)
If we are to embrace God’s reign, it will come through the ways in which we God’s reign of justice and equity are established for all of the people. It is the third slave, not the slave owner, who captures my imagination.
It is the third slave who dares to stand up to the slave owner. The slave owner demands that the three slaves increase his wealth. It is the third slave who does not hesitate to say to him, “I knew you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering the seed where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” (Matthew 25:24)
I imagine if the slave were here to address us this morning, he would probably say: “I knew the slave owner was a harsh man who took what was not his to take. I know that he did not have any legitimate authority. I resisted his requirement to invest the equivalent of 15 years of an average salary to increase his wealth.”
“I knew the consequence of my resistance. I resisted by burying the money and challenging his ownership of me and I resisted by refusing to exploit others for his gain.” Well, needless to say his resistance did not go over well. Remarkably, the slave owner did not deny his harshness or his exploitation of others.
It is ironic that the slave owner would then conclude that the slave is “wicked and lazy.” (Matthew 25:26) It is ironic that the slave owner is quick to judge and condemn him as a “worthless slave.” (Matthew 25:30)
Financial advisors today will caution us about our financial investments in stocks, bonds and cash. I don’t know what the financial market was like in Matthew’s day, but I imagine the third slave would have been this close to saying to the slave owner: “Invest your money with the bankers? Are you kidding me? Kahu got .07 cents on his savings account and zero interest on his checking account?”
“Invest your money with the bankers? Not in today’s market. Haven’t you heard? The U.S. Department of Justice has announced a series of historic settlement with banks charged with fraud and other felonies. The settlements totaled over $60 billion. What has been actually been paid so far is $31 billion by the shareholders. Invest your money with the bankers? I may be slave but I’m not stupid.”
I sometimes wonder if we do not live in a world where there are those who have taken to heart the words of the slave owner: “For all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29) Such words in our day and time would give us cause to worry and to wonder if it is possible for us to embrace God’s reign if there is no justice and equity.
Far from being wicked and lazy, we give thanks for the audacity and courage of the slave who dared to speak. The slave owner concluded that he was a “worthless slave” – that the slave was a person of less than admirable qualities.
But tell me what is admirable about a person who belittles, maligns, berates, curses, and condemns another person to hell? For me, the answer is: Nothing, absolutely nothing. If anything it is the slave owner who is in need of salvation.