Sunday, February 10, 2013

Good Stewardship and Abundant Life: Orthodox Homily on Investing our Lives in the Kingdom of God

2 Timothy 2:1-10
Matthew 25:14-30           
        Today’s gospel text describes what three servants did with the talents, the large sums of money, entrusted to them by their master when he went away on a long journey. The one given five talents invested wisely and produced five more.  The one given two talents did the same and earned two more.  They both doubled their money and earned the praise of their master when he returned.  But the man who received one talent was so afraid of losing what the master had entrusted to him that he simply buried the money in the ground and gained no profit at all. The master was not pleased by this third servant, for at least he could have put the money in the bank and earned interest.  So he took away his talent and gave it to the first servant.             The parable ends with the statement that “to everyone who has, more will be given and he will have abundance, but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”
            Jesus Christ told this story as a reminder of the importance of being a faithful steward of our lives and of all our blessings.   God has given life to us all along with various gifts and abilities. He wants us to invest our time, energy, attention, and talents wisely in ways that help us to grow more fully in the divine likeness, to become more perfectly the sons and daughters of God we were created to be.  He calls us to an abundant life that bears fruit for the Kingdom, blesses others, and becomes a sign of the salvation of the world.
            Maybe we cannot imagine that our lives could ever have that significance.  Perhaps we are so afraid of losing control, falling short, and being rejected that we would rather play it safe.  The problem is that staying exactly as we have been never works.  If we are so afraid of losing our money that we literally bury it in the ground, we will have less than when we started out due to inflation.  In a marriage or a family, to try to keep things exactly as they are and never to grow in love is simply to weaken our relationships and ourselves.  If we are not advancing in the Christian life, we are actually losing ground.  Staying put is like burying our talents in the dirt, where they do not even earn the tiny bit of interest that they would in a bank.
            St. Paul reminded St. Timothy to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”  He compared his calling to that of a soldier who endures hardship and has to stay clear of anything that distracts him from dedicated service.  St. Paul also used an athletic example, for athletes must compete according to the rules in order to win a competition.  The farmer has to work in hard and disciplined ways in order to enjoy the fruits of his labors.  And St. Paul himself endured imprisonment and ultimately a martyr’s death for the sake of Christ and His Church.
            The Apostle was certainly a good steward of his talents, literally pouring out his life for the Lord and for his spiritual children.  He pressed on until he finished the race and joined that great cloud of witnesses that inspires and encourages us to follow their example of holiness.  He had to be as dedicated as a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer, for success in those occupations requires constant vigilance and dedication to improve.  We could say the same about any important endeavor, for we have to pay attention, discipline ourselves, and do what it takes to do a better job. 
            The same is true for each of us every day as we seek to live as followers of Jesus Christ.  We have all received a great gift simply by being made in God’s image and likeness, by being alive as human beings.  As Orthodox Christians, we have been born again in the waters of baptism, filled with the Holy Spirit in chrismation, and nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist.  We have benefited from the teaching, examples, and prayers of all the holy people who have gone before us.  In so many areas of our lives, a great many people have helped us in some way.  Indeed, it would be impossible to list fully all the ways we have been blessed or all the capabilities that even one human being has. God sustains our life in ways too numerous and wonderful to count.
            The question that we all face, however, is what will we do with our blessings and ourselves.  Too often, we refuse to open our eyes to the great dignity that is ours in Christ.  Instead of recognizing that we are stewards of magnificent gifts, we rest content with being slaves to our own bad habits and distorted relationships.  We define ourselves as victims at the mercy of this or that personal weakness or of the bad deeds of others or of impersonal forces in the world over which we have no control.  There is some truth in those descriptions, for we remain shackled and weakened in important ways by our diseases of body and soul, as well as by the various forms that corruption takes in our world.  
            Nevertheless, the most fundamental truth of what it means to be a human being in God’s image and likeness remains unchanged.  Jesus Christ is the Second Adam and in Him we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1 Pet. 2:9)  Despite our weaknesses of body, soul, and spirit, despite all the problems of the world, we are truly members of His Body and called to grow into the full stature of Christ.  No, that is not really easy calling.  Yes, there are obstacles of all kinds that will get in our way.  But to allow those dangers to keep us from investing our lives fully in the way that Christ has made available to us is nothing put a path to destruction, weakness, and despair.  Remember that the fearful servant buried his talent in the ground and ended up losing it anyway.  That same will be true of our lives if we refuse to offer them to the Lord, if we refuse to invest them in the life of the Kingdom.
            We may think that our talents are small and unimportant.  We may feel so overwhelmed by this or that issue in our lives we do not see how we could have the time or energy to take on a new spiritual struggle.  But let’s not let ourselves off the hook so easily.  For the real question is not what’s easier at the moment, but what kind of life do we want to lead, what kind of people do we want to be.  Some things are worth the effort, the sacrifice, and the self-discipline.  Do we want the abundant life in Christ that triumphs even over the grave, that leads martyrs to lay down their lives with joy, and that enables countless perfectly ordinary people to endure the daily struggles, pains, and frustrations of life in the world as we know it with confident hope for God’s presence, mercy, and strength?
            If so, then we should do what we already know we should do; there’s nothing secret about it at all.  We invest our lives in the Kingdom by prayer, fasting, generosity to the needy, repentance, forgiveness, reading the Scriptures, the lives of the Saints, and other spiritually beneficial writings, and doing whatever we are able to do in the service of the Church, our neighbors, and anyone who is in need in any way.  Being a good steward does not require heroics or extraordinary feats of asceticism, but it does require offering our blessings back to God, the One who gave them to us in the first place, for the fulfillment of His purposes.  As hard as it is to believe, our good stewardship of our talents is part of the salvation of the world, the edification of the Church, and the coming of the Kingdom. By being faithful in small things each day, we will find an abundant life that overflows with blessings and brings us into the joy of the Lord.     


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