The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (25:14-30)
One of the great early fathers of the Holy Orthodox Church is St. Irenaeus of Lyons, he was known to be a disciple of St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who himself was a disciple of St. John the Theologian and disciple whom Jesus loved. I would like to share with you, one of St. Irenaeus’s quotes, and it is one of the most beautiful quotes that I have ever heard or read. St. Irenaeus writes “The glory of God is man, fully alive.” Do we understand the profound nature of this saying? The Lord of glory who has created all things visible and invisible is most glorified when the pinnacle of His creation, mankind, is fully alive.
Everything that happens in the life of the Christian is to be geared towards making this goal a reality. All of the commandments of God and the teachings of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, are given to us not in order to make us slaves or to burden us or to take away our thirst for life. They are given to us in order to help us come to a real knowledge of what life is meant to be. Every aspect of our faith in Jesus Christ, even our participation in the services of the Church, is meant to facilitate our freedom, to remove the shackles of death and corruption that have taken hold of our souls through sin. Every aspect of life in Christ is meant to resurrect the believer from the dead. When man breaks free of sin by entering into the life that Jesus Christ offers, he does what he was powerless to do on his own. He really comes to life. He is not partially alive and partially dead. He is as St. Irenaeus puts it “fully alive.”
In today’s gospel reading, Our Lord tells us the parable about a man who is preparing to leave for a journey. This man entrusts his property to some of his servants. To each servant he gave a different amount, then he went away. We are told that after a long time, the master returned and began to settle the accounts with his servants. This is how the master greeted the servants who were faithful with what they had been given, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.”
However the reaction that the master had to one of the servants was not positive at all. This particular servant did not do anything with what the master had given him. He did not invest it. He did not leverage it. He simply hid it and gave it back to the master unchanged. Here is what the master said to this man “You wicked and slothful servant!” He continues further on saying “Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”
Those are terrible, frightening words. But they are part of the reality given to us by Our Lord Jesus. The Lord loves us too much to give us only soft words. He wants to alert us, to wake us from the sleep of delusion. St. Gregory the great of Rome says this about the wicked and lazy servant
“He said that he was afraid to invest the talent for interest, when he should have been afraid only of bringing it back to his master without interest. For many people in the church resemble that servant. They are afraid to attempt a better way of life but not of resting in idleness. When they (admit)to the fact that they are sinners, the prospect of grasping the ways of holiness alarms them, but they feel no fear at remaining in their wickedness. Peter is a good example. When he was still weak, he saw the miracle of the fishes and said, “Depart from me, O Lord, because I am a sinful man.” [Luk 5:8.]If you regard yourself as a sinner, it is only right that you not drive God away from you! But those who see that they are weak and are for this reason unwilling to improve their habits or way of life are like people admitting that they are sinners and at the same time banishing God. They flee him whom they ought to hallow in themselves; even in the agony of death they do not know where to turn and cling to life.”Forty Gospel Homilies 9.3.
According to St. Gregory the Great, the Lord expects much more than merely what he has given us to trade with. He gives us the treasure of the Holy Spirit so that we might work with this and multiply the gift within us, through some work of our own. So that we might bear abundant fruit. So that we might even share of this fruit with others and feed them and nourish them. He has given us these treasured divine gifts so that we might do what we could not do without Him, that is, to become fully alive. In our understanding that is not understood as merely referring to life here and now but to becoming immortal and share in the divine nature by God’s grace.
What is better my friends, to be called “good and faithful servant” or to be called a “wicked and lazy servant?” Which words would we rather hear from our boss at work, or our parents? Which words do we desire to hear our Lord Jesus Christ say to us?
St. Gregory continues saying
“Whoever has love receives other gifts as well. Whoever does not have love loses even the gifts he appeared to have received. Hence it is necessary, my friends, that in everything you do, you be vigilant about guarding love. True love is to love your friend in God and your enemy for the sake of God. Whoever does not have this loses every good that he possesses; he is deprived of the talent he received, and according to the Lord’s sentence he is cast into external darkness. External darkness comes as a punishment to one who has fallen voluntarily into internal darkness through his own sin.
St. John Chrysostom had this to say about the parable,
“Let us therefore, knowing these things, contribute whatever we have—wealth, diligence or care giving—for our neighbor’s advantage. For the talents here are each person’s abilities, whether in the way of protection, or in money, or in teaching or in whatever thing you have been given. Let no one say, “I have but one talent and can do nothing with it.” You are not poorer than the widow. You are not more uninstructed than Peter and John, who were both “unlearned and ignorant men.” [Act 4:13.]Nevertheless, since they demonstrated zeal and did all things for the common good, they were received into heaven. For nothing is so pleasing to God as to live for the common advantage. For this end God gave us speech, and hands, and feet, and strength of body and mind and understanding, that we might use all these things both for our own salvation and for our neighbor’s advantage. Our speech not only is useful for hymns and thanksgiving, but it is profitable also for instruction and admonition. And if indeed we used it to this end, we should be imitating our Master; but if for the opposite ends, the devil.”
God is generous with His grace and the things He has given us, just as the master was generous with his servants. How will we respond? What words will we hear from the blessed lips of our Master? You must decide by your response to His love. May we become men and women who are fully alive, to the glory of God. AMEN.