1 Thessalonians 5.1-11, Psalm 90.1-8, Matthew 25.14-30 (Yr A)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You may be wondering why today image’s is of Leonardo da Vinci’s great work, The Last Supper. This is clearly a Eucharistic painting, so what has it to do with the Parable of the Talents as told by St Matthew?
Well, because the Parable of the Talents can feel, to be put it bluntly, harsh, even a little frightening, I’m going to use this piece of art to explore its themes.
If you are ever in Milan, I seriously encourage you to go and see this painting for yourselves. It’s much bigger than you think – just under 9m long and 5 metres high, taking up the whole end of the refectory of the monastery in which it is situated. It’s such a famous image that like, many passages of the Gospels, we skip over the surface of it, thinking we already know what it has to tell us.
So yes, this is the Last Supper of Jesus, however da Vinci has captured one fleeting moment of the night. And it is this: Jesus has just told the disciples that one of them will betray him, and every other figure present is showing different responses of shock, anger and fear.
If we think about the Parable of the Talents, imagine the group of slaves all standing about waiting to tell their master what they’ve done in his absence, and what their faces would have been like when he started to rage against the last slave.
This is where the Parable becomes extremely challenging. As Christians we believe that we will stand before Jesus and give an account of ourselves, of the way we have lived our lives. In the Creed, which we will say together in a few moments, we say ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.’ What will I say to my Master, when he asks me, ‘What have you done with the talents, the gifts, the treasures that I entrusted to you?’
If we look at the reactions of the disciples in The Last Supper, perhaps we see our own thoughts about this question.
Moving from left to right, Bartholomew, James and Andrew (the 1st three figures) all look utterly surprised, hands raised in shock.
Judas is next, clutching a bag of money and knocking over a salt cellar, which means to betray one’s master; he alone knows the truth of Christ’s judgement. Leaning over Judas is an angry Peter, who holds a knife, perhaps foreshadowing his response in Gethsemene. John, the youngest, faints away from Jesus, the opposite of when he leant his head on Christ’s chest and heard the heartbeat of God.
On the other side of Christ, Thomas is clearly upset; his raised index finger foreshadows his incredulity of the Resurrection, the hand he would ask to plunge into Christ’s wounds. James the Greater looks stunned, with his arms in the air, and alongside him Philip appears to be requesting some explanation. Do I demand more proof of God?
Finally, Jude or Thaddeus and Matthew are turned away from Jesus toward Simon the Zealot, perhaps to find out if he has the answer, or to seek reassurance in their disbelief.
When we are challenged by Jesus, how do we each respond?
And today’s challenge about our use of the gifts that God gives us is a really important one, because Jesus makes it clear in the parable that God gives us talents in order for us to use them for good and for God.
If we then draw in the words of St Paul in his letter to the Church in Thessalonica, we are reminded that as the Body of Christ we are called to work together and encourage one another. Paul had been forced to leave Thessalonica in a rush, and the fledging church that he left behind had to find their way in the dark. His letter tells them not to be scared, rather to trust, “for God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation” and that they should “encourage one another and build up each other.”
Just think how differently the Parable of the Talents would have been if when the master returned and asked what had gone on, together the slaves had said they had discussed what to do, and Slave C had said they were a bit unsure about investing it, but Slave A had encouraged them, so they’d been bold, and worked together, and behold – lots of talents.
Let’s not be the slave of Christ who says ‘I went and hid your talent in the ground’. Let’s be imaginative and bold, and together who knows what works to the glory of God we will make.
(Artwork: ‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci)