Saturday, February 10, 2024

If We Do Not Invest Ourselves In the Life of the Kingdom, We Risk Losing Our Souls: Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost & Sixteenth Sunday of Matthew in the Orthodox Church


2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Matthew 25:14-30

          It is easy to overlook how often the Lord used money and possessions to convey a spiritual message.  Perhaps that is because almost everyone struggles with being overly attached to material things, for they can meet our basic physical needs and provide comfort and a sense of security.  Due to our self-centered desires, however, they so easily become false gods as we make them the measure of our lives.  As Christ taught, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also….You cannot serve both God and mammon.” (Matt. 6: 21, 24)

Today’s gospel reading uses precisely such imagery.   Three servants received large sums of money, called talents, from their master when he went away on a long journey.   He was a shrewd businessman and expected them to make the most of what he had entrusted to them.  One invested so wisely that his five talents turned into ten.  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 third servant, who had only one talent to invest, was not such a good steward.  Out of fear that he might lose what little he had, he simply buried the money in the ground and produced nothing at all. The master scolded him for not even putting the money in the bank and earning interest.  Then he took away his talent and gave it to the first servant. Near the end of the parable, we read 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.”

The Lord used this story about investing money as a way to convey the importance of being a faithful steward of all our blessings.  Life itself and all our abilities and possessions come from the Lord.  Ever since He created us in His image and likeness, He has called us to invest ourselves in ways that enable us to flourish as His sons and daughters as we share more fully in His life. He calls us to an abundant life that bears fruit for the Kingdom, blesses others, and radiates the light of holiness throughout the world.

Before such a high calling, we may feel as inadequate as the servant who buried his one talent in the ground out of fear.  Like him, we do not want to lose what we have, and it is usually less stressful to guard against loss than to take the risk of investing for gain.  So we choose to remain as we have been, perhaps thinking that whatever we do will never amount to much anyway.  Maybe we imagine that only people whose circumstances and experiences are not as broken as our own could ever really invest themselves in the service of the Kingdom in ways that would bear good fruit.  Perhaps we have tried and failed so many times that we have given up. 

If we see ourselves in the cowardly servant who buried his one talent in the ground, we must recognize that what he did led to the very opposite of what he had hope for.  He brought only further weakness and loss upon himself, losing even the one talent and being cast out into the darkness.  A person who is unable to move physically for a long period of time loses muscle mass and strength, knowing only greater weakness and pain.  The same is true of our life in Christ.  Trying to play it safe by being spiritually stagnant never works.  If we are not actively offering our gifts and abilities to the Lord, we will diminish ourselves to the point that we lose what little spiritual strength we had.

What St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians in today’s epistle reading applies to each of us, regardless of whether we have one or ten talents, regardless of whether we think that our present situation is especially conducive to becoming a channel of blessing to anybody.  As St. Paul put it, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2) If we are going to be faithful stewards, we have to begin with our lives as they are now.  To wait until all problems have been resolved and we have time, energy, and resources to spare is to accept an illusion, for our lives will never be without challenges.  Cowardly servants will always find reasons to be afraid and to bury their talents in the ground.  The more that we weaken ourselves by doing that, the harder it will be ever to invest ourselves in ways that bear fruit for the Kingdom.  It is nothing but a lie and a delusion to think otherwise.

St. Paul endured beatings, imprisonment, attempts on his life, shipwreck, and so many other difficulties before he died as a martyr.  He did not wait until life was completely peaceful and calm before serving God and blessing his neighbors.  He describes the life of the apostles “as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor. 6:10)

Though the details are different, our calling is ultimately the same as his.  No matter how sad, sick, frustrated, deprived, or conflicted we may be, the Lord calls us all to invest our lives in the service of His Kingdom.  We will not do that with the prominence of St. Paul, but that is beside the point.  The servant with only one talent was still called to be as faithful with what he had as the one who had ten.  Like it or not, we have the lives in this world that we have and we can change nothing about the past.  What we can do is to refuse to be paralyzed by fear and insecurity as we offer ourselves to become more faithful stewards of God’s blessings. 

We must never diminish the importance of even the seemingly smallest investments of ourselves that we make for the Kingdom.  Everyone can devote a few minutes daily to cultivating the habits of prayer and reading the Scriptures.  By taking even small steps to follow the fasting guidelines of the Church or to endure illness or other difficult trials patiently, we can all embrace self-denial in ways appropriate to our spiritual health and life circumstances.  Everyone has opportunities to refuse to harbor hateful thoughts about their enemies and to pray for them.  Our lives are filled with opportunities to repent as we purify the desires of our hearts and reorient ourselves toward the love of God and neighbor.

We should never refuse to do what we can today to become better stewards of our talents because they seem so small or because we have failed to do so in the past.  As the parable shows, the way to gain greater spiritual strength is to be “faithful over a little,” making the most of what God has entrusted to us.  As St. Paul wrote, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”  No matter what we think of our gifts and limitations, we all face the same question of whether we are going to offer ourselves as best we can for growth in union with the Lord, becoming like the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  They do not look like much on their own, but when transformed by the Holy Spirit they become the Body and Blood of Christ, our true participation in the Heavenly Banquet.

We do not have to be spiritual superheroes in order be faithful stewards of our talents and play our role in fulfilling God’s purposes for the world.  We simply have to offer in obedience what only we can offer to the Lord—namely, ourselves-- and let Him do the rest.  Then we will receive back infinitely more than what we had offered in the first place.  And our life in this world, no matter how humble, will then produce fruit for the Kingdom even “thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:8) Surely, there is no better investment than that.





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