Counting Infinities

Matthew 25:14-30

Jesus said, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

When you are young, some things seem to stretch on forever—the last hour of the school day before the bell rings, the wait for the sun to rise on Christmas morning, or the length of a summer day. For me, it was riding in the car, whether my parents were out running errands or we were on a road trip from Virginia to Michigan to visit my grandparents. In the days before cell phones and tablets to distract and entertain, there were afternoons where I spent an entire lifetime in the car.

To pass the time, I would look out the window and daydream, or get lost in thought. One of the things I would find myself coming back to from time to time was trying to wrap my head around the concept of infinity. I would sit in the backseat of the family minivan trying to imagine the infinite.

But of course, I couldn’t. I was only eight. While now I am more likely to feel like I don’t have enough time rather than too much and things that once seemed far too long now strike me as not long enough, I have maintained a passing curiosity regarding infinity.

Dealing with infinities is quite counterintuitive. For example, most infinities are equal, even when they seem that they shouldn’t be. An illustration: imagine an infinite population of people. Now take a subset of that infinite population, say the percent of people who go to church. You might think that this subset of churchgoers would be smaller than the infinite population of people. But they are equal.

Now, take another subset of those infinite number of churchgoers, this time containing only those people who go to church to hear the preacher talk about maths. You might reasonably assume that that would be a pretty select group of people. But once again, they are equal in size! It is provable that for every person who goes to church, there is a direct, one-to-one correlation with a person who goes to church to hear about maths.

That’s why this illustration works so well!

There is, of course, an exception to this, and a big one, an infinity that is infinitely larger than these others we have talked about. I won’t go into it, don’t worry, but if you have ever experienced a sermon that was only ten minutes long, yet seemed to last forever, then you have glimpsed it.

Now that I have sated your rabid desire for math content, I’ll tell you why this is important. When we hear the Parable of the Talents, we often get caught up in trying to make sense of why some servants got more than others. But that is a red herring, a misdirection of our attention. A talent was a vast quantity of money. Trying to focus on who got more is a bit like counting infinities, because at the end of the day they are all enormous amounts of money. The master has bestowed a vast abundance on each one of the three servants.

This is important for us to remember because this parable is not about stewardship. It is an understandable association for us to make, given that we often hear this parable around the same time that churches are running annual stewardship campaigns, and there are rich metaphors to be found. We are also quick to latch on to the investment outcomes, but doubling an infinity is still an infinity.

Jesus is not speaking about fundraising or budgets, though. We encounter this parable in the middle of his foretelling of the second coming as the crucifixion looms large ahead of him. No, this is not a parable about money, it is a parable about the second coming, the eschaton, the fulfillment of creation. It is a parable about how we are to live between our present age and the completion of God’s creation.

In the face of the great abundance Christ has bestowed upon us, will we live in timidity and fear? Standing before the abundant salvation we have received, are we afraid that there won’t be enough? Do we exclude others from sharing in it? Because we have! At various points in our history, and even to this day, the church, or groups within the church, have excluded people for their sexuality, for their gender identity, for being women, for being people of colour, or for being Indigenous.

Before the forgiveness we have received, are we afraid that it will run out? Because we seem quite quick to identify those who are beyond forgiveness. Surely not, you might say! Yet, if you watch the news or listen to public discourse, you will be confronted with this very mindset. We as a society are quick to identify criminals who we should lock up and throw away the key, of drug users we should simply let die of overdoses, of political opponents who are irredeemable in their viewpoints and evil in their beliefs. As a people, we are quick to anger and slow to forgive and the grace we offer is meager and paltry.

Before the abundant Good News we have found, do we tell ourselves that it isn’t really that vast, or that good, or that abundant? Because we are so afraid to tell others about what we have found, what we have experienced, what we have come to know in Christ. It is as if it isn’t something of infinite value, so the good news is silenced in our mouths and our hearts.

In the fullness of time, in the completion of creation, will we have squandered, hidden it, and otherwise made what is vast and infinite into something that is small and kept only for ourselves?

Or will we be like the other servants? In the face of the great abundance God has bestowed upon us, will we choose instead to live in trust? In the grace we have received, can we trust in God enough to offer that grace abundantly to others? Will we make room at the table for the immigrant and stranger, the homeless and the sick, the outcast and even the mathematician, knowing that with God there is always more?

In the forgiveness we have received, do we offer forgiveness to those the world tells us are unforgiveable? Do we offer forgiveness to those we do not want to forgive? And in the Good News we have found in Christ, do we share it and offer it to everyone we meet? Do we offer it especially to those who hunger and thirst for the Good News, knowing that it only gets better the more it is shared?

Christ is calling us, my friends. There is still a vision for creation, it will be fulfilled, even if it seems to tarry. As we live in this time, between now and then, do not be afraid. Live in trust of God’s vast abundance. Standing before the infinite, do not shrink down, lest you become nothingness and emptiness. Reach, my friends, and stretch toward the divine, and find that you grow into the vastness of God instead.

Preached by the Rev. Adam Yates