Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Difficult God

Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
November 16, 2008
Matthew 25:14-30

The First Commandment says it all: You shall have no other gods. The fact that God has to say that to us shows us that we do, in fact, have other gods. We put all kinds of things before God, including ourselves. God also says that His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways. It stands to reason that we are not going to view God the way we ought to. That our sinful minds cloud a true understanding of who He is. It’s no wonder that we may say and believe things about Him that are offensive. We have to be careful, we want to believe and say what is true about Him.

The first two servants didn’t state anything about why they did what they did. They just said, Here you go, Master, you gave me so much and I made this much more. It was the third one that felt compelled to explain what he thought of his master in order to explain why he did what he did. We assume that what he said is wrong.

But what happens when the master agrees? What happens when, when Jesus is telling us a parable and teaching us about who God is, and that He obviously is the master of the parable, the master himself agrees with the assessment of the unfaithful servant? He is a man who reaps where he has not sown and gathers where he has scattered no seed. The third servant was bold, or perhaps foolish, to tell his master what he thought of him. But the master isn’t angry at the servant for speaking in such a way about him, he’s angry precisely because the servant did know that his master was that way! Since you knew I’m this way, why did you do nothing?!

The servant knew what kind of master he had. But that’s not the kind of master he wanted. Better not to take a risk and face his wrath than to take a risk and possibly fail, and, who knows what kind of reaction he’ll get then?! The servant is not dealing with a patsy here, but a difficult master. One who has expectations, one who makes demands. And one who does not let one off easy if those expectations and demands are not met. He’s a difficult master, because there’s always that warning hanging over your head when he entrusts you with what is his.

If you want an easy god, you’ll have to look outside the Bible. The Bible famously says that God is love. And it’s true, God is love. But God is also difficult. You think love is easy? Love is difficult. You think it’s easy for God to love us? Not because it’s hard for Him to love us, but because we try so hard to go against Him that it makes it tough for Him to shower His love upon us. So what does He do? He goes into stealth mode. As Isaiah says, He does His alien work, His work that doesn’t come naturally to Him. But nothing will stop Him from loving us, reaching out to us.

When the Bible gives an endless list of the characteristics of God—His love, His mercy, His grace, His patience—we can be thankful for the great God we have. But what do we do with the God who is difficult? What should we expect from the God who reaps where He has not sown, and gathers where He has scattered no seed?

With God the way is never easy. It’s always difficult. Why did God bring about salvation in the way He did? Why was there humility and weakness and suffering and difficulty marking the action of Jesus in saving mankind? Why didn’t He make it a lot easier on Himself? Why did He go through all that? Why is it that He places expectations and makes demands on us knowing that we can’t meet them?

The parable describes the difficulty involved here. The first two address him as “Master.” And that’s it. Master, you gave me this, here’s what I turned it into, and here you have it back. The third one also addresses him as “Master,” but then goes into an explanation of how he views him. Who does God want to be to us and for us? He wants to be our Master. A master who gives. A master who entrusts to us His possessions. What about when it gets difficult, when He reaps where He has not sown and gathers where He has not scattered? There are many He spreads His gifts to that we may balk at. You mean, them? He wants to love them, those that do in public what is shameful to do in secret? He wants us to go to those people over there who want nothing to do with God and tell them that He loves them?

Our society is rapidly normalizing certain things. It has long been going the path of relativism. I’m okay, you’re okay. Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you. Let’s be tolerant of others. Can’t we all just get along? And so things that aren’t part of the natural order become normalized and then even good. As Christians we see that relativism is the slippery slope not to tolerance but to decay.

But what’s difficult is the Gospel. It’s difficult to see everyone the way God sees them. To rejoice that God loves them in the same way He loves us. In the way in which He sends His own Son as the one who delivers them from their sin even as He does us. In a way in which we are humbled by the fact that we are as undeserving of God’s unconditional love as they are. That we are just as heinous in our thoughts, words, and deeds as they are. God shows no partiality. We have fallen all short of the glory of God, and the soul that sins will surely die.

When the master gives, He gives. True, to some servants he gives more and to some he gives less. But when the two return with what has been entrusted to them and that more was produced, he didn’t give different rewards. It was the same: you have been faithful over a little, I will set you up over much. Enter into the joy of your master! There is no partiality, only joy! They each receive of the abundance of the master.

The third servant receives the opposite of reward, punishment. The first two servants realized that they in no way deserved what had been entrusted to them. When what they had been given bore fruit, they likewise believed that they in no way deserved it or owned it. It was still, as it always had been, the property of their master. The third servant, on the other hand, wanted to have nothing to do with a difficult master, who reaps where he hasn’t sown and gathers where he hasn’t scattered.

What about you? Who do you want God to be? Do you begrudge the grace of God for all? Does it not seem right to you that God pours out His grace upon everyone, no matter who they are or what they have done? If so, then you have met the God who is difficult. He will never forsake His own. He has created everyone in His image and will do everything to redeem us. Even the difficult path of giving over His only-begotten Son. Even placing Him on the altar of Calvary. Even forsaking His own Son so that we may enter into the joy of our Master.

There is nothing more difficult than the Gospel. It is the one thing that truly causes offense. That God would say to sinners—you, me, and everyone—there is nothing you can do to be saved. But not just because you don’t have that ability. Because it has already been accomplished. When your Lord and Master returns on the Last Day to settle accounts, you will simply offer to Him what you have. It is what He has given you in your Baptism, His own righteousness. Here, Lord, what is yours, and look at the fruit it has born! He will in joy welcome you into His eternal joy! Amen!


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