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In the news this week was a story about Francesca Albanese, the UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories.  She was meeting with Australian Federal Government ministers.  What interested me about the article was her demand, her judgement, her prophetic views on the consequences of people seeking to limit their actions simply to being bystanders rather than active participants engaged as peace-makers, in what is happening at the moment in Gaza.  Clearly the context and reasons for her visit are important, but I found her message to be relevant more broadly in the world and in what Jesus is saying to us today.

This coming week, I’m chairing our regular Diocesan meeting on Domestic and Family Violence, reporting back to Diocesan Council, and we are exploring the work, practice, training and education, in becoming and being active bystanders, not passive onlookers, disconnected and neutral; in other words, not looking away, and pleading ignorance or fear but becoming active peace-makers.  

In the story we have just heard from Jesus about the parable of the Talents, we are once again thrust headlong into a complicated and powerful story which calls out the need for all of us to take a stand, to trust, be responsible, take action, push back, reject all violence in all forms and to be active peace-makers. 

Let us remember, Matthew 25:14-30 is a parable Jesus tells in his last week of life in Jerusalem.  He was being hounded, watched and betrayed.  He was a victim of human cruelty and the abusive use of oppressive power in an occupied land. He experienced studied neutrality. He saw people taking sides and people swayed by violence.  Jesus’ parable is about many things, including justice, grace, trust and obedience.  Jesus’ parable is also about the dangers of doing nothing, reflecting with sadness on the reasons why we are brought to inaction, silence and collusion. 

It is important to resist the temptation to see the master of the vast estate in Jesus’ parable, as God.  Let me be clear, this is not God, nor God’s love recounted in twisted action, appalling us with cruelty, judgement and fear.  Jesus says plainly, the master is a wealthy landowner with substantial property, slaves and money who is going on a prolonged journey.  The allocation of significant sums of money to three slaves affirms a judgement by their master of ‘each according to his ability’.  The master has assessed their capacity and looks for a commercial return. It sounds like venture capital first century style.  While the first two slaves react as the master had intended, the third slave is different.  I can hear his voice speaking clearly, audaciously, dangerously speaking truth to power.

His master mimics his slave. You can hear him, can’t you, cruelly repeating his slave’s critique: 

‘You knew did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?’  (Matt. 25:26). 

The slave has labelled his master a harsh man, implicitly labelling him as unethical and unjust.  In speaking this truth, the story was always going to end badly for the third slave.   The slave knew how a wealthy landowner operated – he extracted land and produce from poor farmers and labourers without doing any of the work himself. 

The master’s sarcasm is deadly, just as it was for Jesus in his trial by the religious and political authorities.  The master fires the slave, and his words underpin the reality of the poor farmer, ‘from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away’. (Matt. 25:30) For refusing to play along with the system, for rejecting the worldview given to him, the third slave is thrown into the outer darkness with those who own no land, those who are on their way to extinction. 

In following this line of thinking, Jesus too is thrown onto the scrapheap, into the outer darkness.  He is taken outside the city, as darkness covers the whole land and he is killed, for not playing the game.  I think Jesus in this story is with the third slave who is likely hanging on the cross next to him.  Later in the week, Jesus will directly experience first-hand, what this parable is all about.   But we must remember, Jesus deliberately chose to reject violence in all its worldly ways to save his own life at the expense of others. In so doing he saves the world

So where does that leave us as we reflect on this complicated story, told by a man knowingly heading towards his death.  What was Francesca Albanese saying about each of us taking up a position with the broken and outcast, those without hope or life, and calling more urgently, for love, peace and hope for everyone?  There are no winners in this world’s way of working systemically through violence, the parable reinforces this painful lesson for the master’s slaves.   Just as the religious and military authorities did with Jesus. 

We can choose to listen to God, seeing and experiencing God’s love, accepting such love knows and sees everyone as a child of God.  Our passive by-standing, our unwillingness to get involved, our lack of judgement about who’s right or wrong, or our willingness to align with the violent powers and principalities of this world will leave us as the master’s slaves, trying to earn merit, wealth and power while forgetting God’s love in all aspects of our lives.  In this parable, our choice might be instead to stand with the third slave alongside Jesus; and, I expect as a consequence, Jesus will take us to unexpected places and probably with an ending that may take us to the outer darkness, but it is there we will meet Jesus in resurrected glory. 

Finally, as we step back from the intricacies of the story, our choice at the moment is to think about how we accept God’s gifts to each of us. I hope it is with faith, trust and obedience, with gratitude and action, not wasting them or being greedy, sharing them generously as we know God’s love is shared with everyone. Or, we can choose to see God and the world with fear if we choose instead a God of vengeance, judgement and punishment and death.

The Lord be with you.

Reference: 

Jarvis, C. A., Johnson, E.E. [Eds]. 2013.  Feasting on the Gospels Matthew, Vol.2 Chapters 14-28.  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/nov/16/australia-must-stop-giving-leeway-to-israels-continued-assault-on-gaza-un-expert-says?CMP=share_btn_link
Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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