Finding the Courage to be Faithful
Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew is one of many which speak about what we are to do in life to prepare ourselves to be part of the kingdom of God. While we are saved by the grace that God has shown us through the coming of Jesus, it is still incumbent upon us to respond to that gift of grace by living the life of a disciple to the best of our ability.
Naturally we know – and God knows – that we will have our times of testing and we will have our struggles with coming to fully understand and live according to the pattern for life revealed by God throughout time and especially as revealed through the incarnation in Jesus. But over and over again we are encouraged to make every effort.
When Jesus was with the disciples, it was no doubt easier to live as disciples. After all, the one who had called them and chosen them was right there with them and could answer any question and reveal through his words and actions how best to respond in every situation.
This passage from Matthew’s Gospel is part of a larger discourse that Jesus gave prior to his arrest in Jerusalem. He had come to the city with the disciples and he was taking the time to speak to them about many things; but everything that he was sharing with them was leading them to understand that a day is coming when he would not be with them physically and they would need to be his eyes and ears, his hands and feet from the time when he left and until his return.
How long he would be gone was unknown. A search of the Scriptures – both in the Old and New Testaments – reveal much information but ultimately nothing that can actually point to a date that can be found within the bounds of time and space as we know them.
So, Jesus had to get the disciples thinking about what they could do, how they could get on with their lives and how they could be prepared for the time when he would come again. Our belief in the word of God, our decision to accept the message from God about our life in the here and now, our decision to accept the gifts of grace, forgiveness and life eternal from God, reveals that we are a people who have determined that the ways of God are to be our ways. We dedicate ourselves to living the truth of God through the decisions we make and the ways in which we conduct ourselves in our public and private lives.
And while other parts of this long discourse are encouragements to listen to the word of God and to be ever ready for the coming of Jesus again, this passage focuses on the gifts God gives to us – the people – to help us be the people of God and to ensure that the message of God’s love, peace, forgiveness and grace are never forgotten.
Jesus describes the situation in this way. The master of the house is going on a trip. He will be away for some time but can give the servants no firm idea of when he will return. While he is absent, he entrusts some of his wealth to 3 of his servants according to their ability.
The first one receives 5 bags of gold, the second 2 and the third 1. The first two servants take what is given and make wise use of it doubling what they have been given. The third is so afraid of his master that he chooses not to take risks and instead buries the gold so that he can be sure of avoiding the master’s wrath. Of course, the way the lesson plays out, the first two are successful and the third one still incurs the wrath of his master and not only that but he loses the faith of his master who decides that he will not be given any responsibility for anything.
The parable is a way for Jesus to encourage the disciples to make good use of the gifts of the Spirit which they will receive when he departs. In his absence, the disciples will need to have the courage to step out in faith and live their lives in faithful expectation. Those who are called to teach will need to be bold and faithful in teaching. Those who are called to be prayer warriors will need to be bold and faithful in prayer. Those who are called to give leadership are to be bold and faithful in leading.
Jesus asked the disciples in that day to make the conscious decision to show themselves worthy of his trust. The arrest, crucifixion and death of Jesus will shake the faith of the disciples and cause them to wonder if they can ever truly continue to share the message Jesus shared with them. They will be challenged to be the people of God and to be bold in their living.
And while they would know fear and would dearly love to just find a place of refuge where they could just preserve what Jesus had given them, they are encouraged to not stay to themselves but to spread the message of God by whatever means they had been given. Would they experience setbacks and failures? Certainly, but they needed to be courageous and be dedicated to faithfulness.
God’s love for us and God’s forgiveness are not dependent on how successful we are in living our faith in community and in the wider world. But that love and forgiveness are what give us the courage to live that faith by making good use of whatever skills, abilities and gifts we have within us by God’s grace.
All of us want to get to the end of this life and be received by God and hear those words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I pray that each of us find the courage we need to trust God enough to make every effort possible within us to be faithful in speech, in thought and in action.