One way to approach the Sunday lessons is to see how the two can be connected. Today we have an epistle about spiritual gifts and a gospel about God’s judgment on Jerusalem. Is there some way the two combine to give us a unified message?
The gospel and judgment
First, the gospel. There was an ancient heresy called “Marcionism”—that’s Marcion (with a c) not “Martian” (with a t). Marcion taught that the Old Testament God was different than the New Testament God. The Old Testament God was about judgment, while Jesus taught about love. The heresy of Marcion is still popular today.
The distinction between the God of the Old and New Testaments has always been exaggerated beyond the biblical evidence. There is plenty of love and grace in the Old Testament—as when God tells Israel, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3) and more than a little judgment in the New Testament—as when Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Mathew 23:33).
Many people miss the overarching theme of judgment in the New Testament because they are unaware that the New Testament era ended with God’s judgment on Israel—the same way the Old Testament era ended. Jesus refers to this act of judgment in our gospel.
For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation (Luke19:43-44).
The enemy that would surround Jerusalem and level the city to the ground was the Romans. In the year A.D. 70, the Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem and killed most of its inhabitants. The historian Josephus says that over a million people died. Jesus said that this would happen because Jerusalem did not know the things that bring genuine peace; they did accept Jesus as Son of God and Messiah; they did not know the time of their visitation.
When we understand what happened in A.D. 70, we discover an exact parallel between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament came to a climactic and catastrophic end in the year 586 B.C. when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. The Old Testament prophets, most particularly Jeremiah and Ezekiel, tell us that this happened because Israel was unfaithful and did not repent at the preaching of the prophets. Jesus came to Israel as a prophet calling the nation to repent just as in the Old Testament. When the nation did not, there was a similar catastrophic judgment.
Jesus wept over the city as he prophesied this catastrophe. He did not want it to happen, but it was the natural consequence of his people rejecting him and seeking salvation on their own terms. To reject the salvation God’s offers is to choose instead the judgment that is natural consequence for sin. Jesus came to save Israel from judgment—from the natural consequence of rejecting God. When God’s people reject God’s salvation, they is only one other alternative.
The epistle and spiritual gifts
How does this connect with what the epistle has to say about spiritual gifts? In baptism, God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. When the Bishop lays his hands on us in Confirmation, he prays that we will be filled with the gifts of the Spirit. The epistle tells us that we have each been given some manifestation of the Holy Spirit to be used for the greater good of the Body of Christ. Our gifts are part of our vocation and calling. God, the ultimate giver, gives us his own Spirit. We are called to give to others with the grace we have been given.
The secret of fulfilling our vocation and being fulfilled ourselves is realizing that we were made to give. We were made to give ourselves, our souls and our bodies to God in worship and service, and we were made to give to each other through the mutual use of our gifts. Human misery, what we can call either the consequence of sin or God’s judgment on sin, results when we live selfishly, when we do not live for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor.
The world hinders our use of our gifts because it teaches us that life is a zero-sum game. The world teaches us that one person’s gain is another person’s loss. If I give to you, I lose and you gain. That’s the devil’s math. Jesus teaches us the math of the kingdom in Luke 6:38: “Give and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
A pattern can be observed in discontented people. God freely gives them gifts; they take the gifts and claim them for their own. God gives them abilities and influence and puts them in a position to help others. They choose instead to use and manipulate other people to fulfill their own desires. God gives them money and possessions and, rather than tithing and being generous, they become concerned only about protecting and increasing their own wealth. As selfishness and hoarding increase, they become all the more discontented. Is such discontentment God’s judgment, or is it the natural consequence of sin?
Jesus told the Parable of the Talents to illustrate how we ought to view our gifts. The “talent” in the parable is a measure of money. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.” The servants who received five and two talents traded with them and doubled their lord’s money. However the servant who received only one talent buried it in the ground and did not use it.
The parable tells us, “After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.” The servants who had been give five and two talents reported their gain. Their lord said to each of them, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’”
The parable tells us that when the servant with one talent reported that he buried his talent because he was afraid of his lord, the lord said to him, “You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.”
The lord took the talent away from that man and gave it to the man who now had ten, saying, “To everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” What the two servants who used their talents had that the other servant lacked was faith. At the end of the parable, the kind loving, New Testament Jesus has the lord say, “Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:14-29).
The talents represent gifts given to us by God. Jesus told the Parable of the Talents at the end of Matthew’s gospel to instruct the church. Jesus would return to his Father in the Ascension. He would send the Holy Spirit to be with his church until the end of time. The Spirit would give gifts to each member of his Body. We are called to freely and faithfully use and multiply the gifts we have been given—and we will be held accountable for our faithfulness. As Jesus said, “The Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” (Matthew 16:27).
God continually gives us gifts. We come to the altar of God each week to receive again the bread of life and medicine of immortality. Every time we ask, God freely gives to us. He forgives us our sins and gives us new strength. He gives us wisdom and guidance for the challenges we face. He gives us other people in the Body who help us with their gifts. He makes us heirs of his kingdom and fills us with hope.
It is our vocation to be faithful stewards of these gifts God has given his Son to die for us. We are called to respond by offering ourselves in worship. We have received grace. We are called to administer grace to others. We have been forgiven. We are called to forgive. We have been given spiritual gifts. We are called to serve others with those gifts—“to do all such good works as thou has prepared for us to walk in.”
Do we know the things that make for peace? Do we know the time of our visitation?