A Noble Death Song

For Sunday, 15 November 2020: Matthew 25:14-30

[Jesus told this story to his followers:]14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 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.’ 21 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.’ 22 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.’ 23 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.’ 24 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; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 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? 27 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. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 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. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

There is an old saying that “the gospel comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” Today’s parable is definitely in the afflicting-the-comfortable genre in that the lazy servant has his entrusted treasure taken away and himself thrown into the outer darkness. Jumping ahead to the end, the moral of the story is that we are to avoid at all costs becoming wicked and lazy servants. Jesus certainly has our attention!

According to the parable, there was a master of a household who was to be away from home for a while. In anticipation of his absence he entrusted incredible amounts of money to the stewardship of his servants. Think millions of dollars by today’s standards. After a long time, the master returned and, of course, was interested in his assets. To his great joy, the master found that two of his brokers had invested his money wisely and presented to him wonderful returns. To the master’s great disappointment, however, he found that one had played it too safe and, while not losing any of the initial investment, could not provide an increase. The master is angered by the servant’s laziness and lack of creativity.

In the Scriptures we are taught that Jesus has been away for a long while but that one day he will return. “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” is our proclamation of the mystery of faith (BCP 363). The question raised for us in today’s Gospel is about what we are doing with those things God has entrusted to us between the time of Christ’s ascension into heaven and his return in glory to judge the living and the dead. How are we doing as stewards of all that God has given us? How are we to live while awaiting the fulfillment of history or at least the end of our mortal lives?

Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee Nation, born in the eighteenth century, offered this wisdom from Native America: “So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. … Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. … Show respect to all people. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.”

We, too, will one day be called upon to give an account of how we lived our lives, an explanation about what we have done with what God has given us. It has been said that “what we are is God's gift to us and what we become is our gift to God.” What will be our gift to God?  What are we becoming? Preparing a noble death song, far from being morbid, allows us the opportunity to commit to live the kind of life we desire to be living when we are called to “appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). At that time, may all of us hear these words: “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of your master.”


The Rt. Rev. Michael Smith is an Assistant Bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, an Assisting Bishop in Navajoland and a former bishop of North Dakota. He is in an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.