Risky love

Window in the church commemorating the 25th anniversary of the paratroopers
from the 82nd Airborne Division of the US Amry's arrival in
Sante-Mary-Eglise in Normandy.
It seems to me that the stories in the Gospel of Matthew where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” cause many people to freeze up in fear. We feel accused, anxious. 

What if I do something that will cause me to be thrown into the outer darkness? Have I already done something? I was hoping there is not an outer darkness but here comes Jesus bringing it up again. Judgment. I’m doomed. I’m afraid. Is Jesus being fair? Is God fair? I don’t want to be judged. I’m sure to be found wanting. No wonder the third man says: I was afraid, and I hid your talent in the ground. 

I can relate.

Sometimes Matthew can be an angry sounding Gospel. There is an emphasis on destruction. And here’s why that is: because there is also an emphasis on power differentials. Jesus calls out those with power who are making life difficult for the oppressed - the poor, the meek, the reviled - those he calls blessed in the Sermon on the Mount. He knows that the powerful are not likely to just say, oh, ok, I’ll hand over some of my power to the have nots; I’ll share power with the peacemakers. Jesus knows we don’t give up our power without an angry fight. And those who are poor and meek and mourning see Jesus as a savior who will fight that fight for them, because they know they can’t win on their own. The odds are against them.

The thing is, Jesus isn’t always going to be there in person. Which is why he journeys through his world accompanied by his disciples. They are going to have to take up his work when he is gone, so he is teaching them. And we get to listen in. 

Today’s teaching is about our calling. It isn’t about talent, as in the ability to play the piano or paint portraits, and it’s not exactly about the money although I think resources do come into play. The three people are given resources to do the master’s work in his absence - that’s their calling, the master’s work. Two of them do that work, but one of them is afraid to take a risk, and sits on the resources, missing the opportunities to live out his calling. I was afraid, he said.

I can relate.

Not long ago someone was in my office and the world “calling” came up. That word makes me kind of nervous, this person said. That word makes me kind of nervous, too, like the Biblical word neighbor sometimes makes me nervous. God is always calling us - all of us, not just clergy or people who work in a church but all of us who are part of the family of God to love our neighbors as ourselves, but I can think up a lot of excuses for why I can’t listen or answer right now. Because when God is calling us, that calling is to make a difference with the resources we have been given - whatever they are. To do justice and love mercy and all that. 

Our calling is to do God’s work in the world around us. And all through this Gospel, Jesus makes clear that justice and righteousness are where he’s coming from. He equips us with his teachings today just as he taught his disciples then. And with this parable he challenges them: will they take up their calling to be justice and righteousness in the world? Or will their fears win out?

I have a friend, a new mother with a baby at home, who recently went to a talk by a man who had been in prison for many years and he said that during all that time, nobody had told him that God loves him, not in person and not on the phone and not in a letter. And she thought, that man is my neighbor. I can write a letter that says God loves you. I am equipped to do that. 

And once I read the story of a man in Palestine who snuck across the border into Israel during a time of particularly lethal conflict in that region in order to give blood at an Israeli hospital. He decided he was equipped to do that for his neighbor.

What is it that stokes our fears? The specter of failure? The stigma of looking stupid or naive? The distress of not measuring up? Worry about being taken advantage of?

I can relate to all of these when I think that whatever I do in the world is simply up to me, that I’m on my own - that I must strive to make things happen with my own personal power. But Jesus also said right here in the Gospel of Matthew, I am with you to the end of the age, just as God said to Moses, I will be with you when you go tell Pharaoh to let my people go. I will be with you when you stick your neck out. I will be with you when you take a risk for my sake. I will be with you when you do justice and love mercy and seek righteousness.

Our Lord has given us work to do and sometimes God calls us to work that feels risky. It is easy to let fear take hold. But we know God loves us, right? 

Jesus who loves us asks each of us, you and me, to take up our calling to be God’s love in the world, secure in the knowledge that we do not do that work alone. God has given us what we need and promised to be with us. 

So take heart. Take a risk. Take a chance on loving every neighbor you meet along your way.


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