Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Let’s start the day with a thought provoking question. Is Christianity relevant in today’s increasingly secular world and does it have anything to offer society in the 21st century?
The world today seems consumed in a headlong rush for material wealth, with greed, avarice, sexual misconduct, a lust for power and the desperate clinging on to it, whilst a look beyond the comfort of our own homes reveals a scene of depression, despair, hunger, strife, with whole populations around the world living in desperate poverty without access to food, water, or medicine, the things we take for granted. Indeed, there are millions in the world who do not have access to the many “luxuries” we in the Western world enjoy, although often we may prefer not to look too closely. It seems to be a place where the great god Mammon, the god of evil, Satan as the old books name him, is very much in charge. Yet as St Paul wrote to the young church in Rome, Jesus Christ is Lord of All (Romans 10:12). Now, clearly if Jesus Christ is Lord of All then Mammon is not, and therefore there is a good case for us, as Christians, to do what we can to change the status quo; to show the world that there is a better way. In other words, that Christianity really does have something to offer the 21st century world.
Since, as St Teresa of Avilla reminds us: ‘Christ has no hands on earth but yours….’ the question becomes what can we do? Do we wring our hands in despair saying “Yes, of course, I agree and they should do something”? Or perhaps, “I am too old to do anything. It’s up to the younger generation.” Or maybe “Me? What can I do? I am not qualified to do anything!”
Today is the Second Sunday before Advent. Advent is a time of preparation; preparation for the coming of Our Lord and in today’s reading from St Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 25 v14-30 we are reminded that we have been given talents. Talents that do qualify us to make the world a better place. In the reading Jesus explains the Kingdom of Heaven to his followers. To do so He uses the allegorical example of the master leaving on a journey, giving care of some of his money to his servants. To the first he gives five talents, to the second two and to the third one. The first two servants invest their money and return a profit to their master, whilst the third does nothing with his; he simply buries it. On his return, the master is naturally pleased with the first two and rewards them accordingly, whilst the third is punished and thrown out.
Now let us look at the parable in a bit more detail. The master was obviously a wealthy man, an important man since in New Testament times the talent was a gold Greek coin equivalent to a whole year’s wages for an ordinary working man. Yet he was willing to leave eight of them in the hands of his servants whilst he was away. Notice that the servants expected him to return as two of them worked with the valuable resources they had been given for the benefit of their master. On his return he rewarded those who had used the talents wisely to make a profit for him by promoting them to a higher status, whilst dismissing the servant who did nothing with his.
Of course, the word talent has a different meaning in English today; one which the Jews of Jesus’ time would not have recognised as so would have understood a different message. And maybe you see a different message in this parable, so be it. Anyway, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word talent as: ‘Power or ability of mind or body viewed as something divinely entrusted to a person for use and improvement; considered either as one organic whole or as consisting of a number of distinct faculties; (with plural) any one of such faculties.’ ‘Divinely entrusted’? That’s interesting. Let us look at the parable again since perhaps this is a clue as to its meaning for us today. The master must be Jesus whose death and resurrection caused him to leave this mortal world to go to His Father. But as Christians we believe that He will return to this earth at some point to unite it with heaven in a glorious Kingdom where all His Creation will live with him in peace for ever. In the meantime He has entrusted us with something valuable, talents, which like the servants in the parable we must use to prepare the world for that great and glorious day of His return. Here we must remember that no one knows when that day will come, and that is a vitally important point – no one knows when that day will come. When it does those who have used their talents for His purpose will be rewarded with a crown of life. (Rev 2:10), whilst those who haven’t will be cast into the outer darkness.
So, how are you using the talent(s) God has given to you? Are you using it to improve your neighbourhood, your society, your world, to make it a better place, ready for the coming of the Kingdom? Or are you using it for your own benefit? Of course you will not change things overnight. Indeed you may feel there is very little you can do. But, whatever it is, you are called to use your God given talent, to do what you can for your neighbour and thereby serve God. That the task will not be easy since it will turn the present state of affairs upside down for, as we have seen, God’s Kingdom is diametrically opposed to the habits, manners and customs of today’s society. It may well involve getting out of your comfort zone and perhaps going places you would rather not go. As Rowan Williams once said: “You don’t go down into the waters of the Jordan without stirring up a great deal of mud”. But perhaps this advice I read the other day may help: ‘Breathe deeply and know that you are in the presence of God who is with you as you continue your ministry.’ Thus we have the reassurance God gave to the Israelites in the desert that is just as valid today: It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. Deuteronomy 31:8 (ESV) Indeed, apart from our talents, the greatest gift that God has given us is the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Make no mistake this is your ministry, to start now in helping to build the Kingdom of heaven that is to come, to make the world a better place today by demonstrating the love God has for all his Creation. As Christians we are the Body of Christ, each having been given his or her own distinctive talents. Together as a community of believers we can, with God’s help move mountains – and let’s face it there are a great number of them to move!
So, yes, Christianity is relevant in today’s world and it does have a great deal to offer to society. It offers a completely new world, a world of peace, love and justice for all. And since we have been given talents to use for that purpose it is up to you, and me, to do something about it. (DV)
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years