Our first scripture was an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Proverbs.
The Book of Proverbs is from a section of the Bible called Wisdom Literature, and this section of the Bible presents the revelation of God, not so much in a story or a law or a history, but in carefully considered reflections on the great questions that human beings face- is there a God and if so what does he want? What is the difference between right and wrong? What is the meaning and purpose of life?
The Wisdom Literature of the Bible considers answers these kinds of questions in relation to what God reveals to be true and good and beautiful, and from the answers God gives us, the Wisdom Literature of the Bible proposes a way of life.
Today’s excerpt from the Book of Proverbs gives details concerning the ideal wife, and the qualities that are described give high value to a wife’s fidelity to her husband, her mastery of practical tasks, willingness to serve, her generosity to those in need, and in the integrity of her character, which the Bible cites as a more important quality for a wife than physical appearance. In all these ways, a husband’s desire for his wife is supported and the covenant of husband and wife reaches its fulfillment.
Might the text mean more?
Indeed it does.
The wife being described in this excerpt from the Book of Proverbs is not just any wife, but God’s wife. God has a wife?
Yes, God’s relationship with his people, Israel is likened to that of a husband and wife. The covenant that God makes with his people is likened to marriage vows and as such it is right to say that God has a wife.
Israel comes to its fulfillment in the Church. In fact, what the Church is, biblically speaking, is the new Israel. The Bible describes the Church as the Bride of Christ, and in fact, the whole of the Bible comes to its completion with a dramatic scene described in the Book of Revelation that is the wedding celebration of Christ and his Church.
All this is signaling to us that the best way to understand the Church is NOT as an institution, but a relationship and the kind of relationship that best presents what the Church is is the relationship of husband and wife.
It’s beautiful and its mystical, and not without very practical consequences.
What is the relationship of this Church to Christ? By this I mean you, me, this parish, this diocese- what is our relationship with Christ? What does that marriage look like? What kind of wife are we?
Does the good wife described in the Book of Proverbs describe us, this parish, this diocese?
Let’s not be content with wishful thinking or mere appearances- for today’s scripture from the Book of Proverbs testifies that “charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting”. What matters is not perception or appearances, but truth and reality.
If those qualities that the Book of Proverbs describes, do not describe us, then the mission of the Church will falter and it will fail.
Our relationship with Jesus Christ is best understood as a marriage covenant- are we keeping our promises? That marriage covenant, those promises are our mission. Are we living as loving husband to loving wife?
Our second scripture is from the New Testament, an excerpt from St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.
In this excerpt Saint Paul addresses concerns that the end of the world is imminent, a concern that has proved to be a neuralgic concern throughout the history of the Church.
Saint Paul insists that Christians not get caught up in speculation, conspiracies and fantastic scenarios in regards to the end of the world. If the end comes, it will not be on our terms and it will be an act of God that is inescapable.
Given that, the Christian should live with a sense of urgency in regards to their mission as disciples. Now is not the time to be caught up in pettiness, trivial distractions, or needless worries. Now is the time to repent of our sins, seek to set your life right and live in accord with Christ’s commandments. The demand of the Gospel is not to be deferred until later- now is the time to live for Christ.
Wait too long and you will miss the opportunity and missing the opportunity to live for Christ now might impose on us a situation even worse than the end of the world.
The urgency of discipleship and the warning of what happens should we defer responsibility for the mission Christ gives us until it is too late is also the concern of Christ’s Gospel.
The Lord Jesus offers to us a parable, known as the parable of the talents, in which a wealthy man, going on a journey, entrusts his wealth to his servants and upon his return judges them in regards to how they managed the wealth that he entrusted to their care.
Now I know that preachers usually create an association between the talents in the Gospel and the talents which we understand as our particular gifts and abilities, but this is not what the Gospel really intends.
A talent, as it is referred to in the Gospel, is a unit of measurement. Think of how the monetary system used to be supported by the gold standard and you are closer to what this Gospel is referring to when Christ speaks about talents.
A talent was not only a unit of measurement, it was literally the blocks or bricks of gold or silver. What the wealthy man is doing is transferring his enormous wealth into gold and silver and then entrusting those gold and silver bricks to his servants.
Understood this way, you can better understand what is at stake in the parable. Christ is describing a financial transaction which, by our standards would be the equivalent of billions of dollars.
That’s the literal meaning of the talents in the parable, what does it mean on the spiritual level.
Not our gifts and abilities, but the mercy of God in Christ- the talents represent everything God gives to us in Christ, and by this is meant our relationship with him through which we receive adoption as the children of God, the forgiveness of our sins, participation in his divine life through the Sacraments and our mission as servants of his Kingdom here on earth.
This is what is represented by the enormous value and weight of the gold and silver bricks the wealthy man gives to his servants.
God in Christ gives us the wealth and weight of his mercy and what are we willing to do with this responsibility? Christ entrusts us with great responsibility as his servants, as stewards of his mercy, and what, if anything do we do about that responsibility?
Each of us should examine our consciences and ask ourselves which servant in the parable best describes our relationship with Jesus Christ.
If the best we can do is accept the gift of God’s mercy in Christ and then bury it away somewhere out of fear or stupidity or apathy, then pay heed to the Gospel- there are consequences.
Receiving the mercy of God, one receives, not just helpful ideas or positive feelings, but a mission. Our relationship with God in Christ becomes what it is supposed to be when we are willing to take action, conform our will to Christ’s will, and do what he tells us to do. Christ will not broker our refusals or excuses.
There is an absolute urgency in terms of the mission Christ gives us and the stakes are very high indeed.
Any attempts to evade responsibility for our mission will not go unnoticed by the Lord who has entrusted us with the riches of his Kingdom.
What kind of servants are we? Better to come to terms with the answer to that question now, than to wait until we come face to face with our Lord and Master.