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A Tale of Three Treasures
by DGBradley

It is a well-known fact that many people today feel insecure. People are anxious and fearful about those things that affect us that we cannot control. We fear crime. We fear loss of economic security, loss of a job, loss of income. We fear loss of health, loss of sanity, loss of love, loss of those we love. We fear failure and we fear success. We fear death and we fear life. We fear that life, our life, has no meaning. The usual answer one expects to hear, at least in a church, is that the answer to our insecurity is faith and Jesus. There is much truth in this because Jesus does comfort the afflicted and our faith does bring a security that no lock can provide.

Doesn't that sound like a good conclusion to a sermon? And it came in the first minute! Well, can we go home? Jesus brings us security and comforts the afflicted. A good point and we can go eat early. This is where we would really like to leave the message of the church because it offers what we think we want, except that it would not be the whole truth of the Gospel. I have said many times, and will continue to say many times, that a problem about proclaiming the Gospel is that it is both easy and a mistake, if not a deliberate sin, to whittle the Gospel down to our wants, our understanding, or our preference. After all, if Jesus proclaimed only a "feel good" message of universal acceptance and forgiveness, then why was Jesus crucified between two bandits or revolutionaries? Was Jesus crucified because He was so weak, the target of sadistic bullies, or was Jesus hung with robbers out of fear that Jesus was a threat to the established order?

It was Søren Kiekegaard, the Christian philosopher and founder of existentialism, who commented about the crucifixion that the greatest thief was on the center cross. Kiekegaard was saying that Jesus is a thief, the greatest thief. This view is contrary to the usual assertion that Jesus was the innocent executed with the guilty, but I think Kiekegaard had enough irony that I cannot dismiss his comments as blasphemy, but as an acknowledgment that Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

Jesus did heal and forgive and welcome sinners, outsiders, and sufferers, those who were uncomfortable with their status in the world and with God; but Jesus also confronted, challenged, and exposed those who were comfortable with their status in the world and with God. In other words, Jesus challenged those who considered themselves to be religious and righteous, including Jesus' own followers.

Consider the parable Jesus told about the three servants who were each given a treasure to manage, each according to ability. The first was given five talents, the second two and the third one. A talent is an immense sum of money. Some Bible commentators say one talent is equivalent to thirty-eight years of wages for a worker. So we cannot feel sorry for the last servant who was given "only" one talent because that would be like being sorry for one who was given only one million dollars instead of two or five.

The servants with the greater sums went forth to trade and invest the sums given into their care. The one with the lesser sum buried it. Why did he do this? In insecure times of war and economic uncertainty, it was considered prudent to hide money in order to save it. It was also considered risky and reckless to invest and trade with what was not one's own. In addition, there was a tradition to refer to the Torah, the Holy Scriptures, as a treasure to be protected and not lost or diminished. What Jesus proposed was that mere preservation of holiness and righteousness was not enough. One was expected to take the gifts that God gave and increase the Kingdom of Heaven, not to hide them.

The people of Jesus had been through some tough times. They had been led into exile. They had fought and died to preserve the laws and commandments and faith of God. This was a remarkable accomplishment. It made sense to be cautious. It made sense to be prudent. Jesus now afflicts the comfortable by saying that faithfulness to God is not a private affair. We are stewards of what has been given to us. God has given us the earth. God has given us faith and direction and hope. Faith is not a private and personal matter, to be hidden and dug up only when needed or wanted. Jesus challenges His followers to increase the faith in the world, to remember that we do not actually own anything; we only hold it for a while until God comes to settle accounts.

I think I can see why Kiekegaard called Christ the greatest thief, because Jesus threatens our security, our comfort. If we try to not risk our comfort with God, then we will surely lose it. We will be asked what we have done with our faith. We will be asked if we have buried our faith. We will be asked what difference we made.

We do have much to answer for. We have been given the earth. Have we been good stewards? We have been given much in opportunity and material goods? Have we been good stewards? We have been given the truth of the Gospel, of the liberation from the bondage of sin and death by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Have we been good stewards?

This is good news. Those who took risks for their faith were rewarded. We are given great treasure, not to bury and worry over, but to take into the world that it might increase. How many people have never heard the liberating word that God wants us to take what is given to us and use it for good. There is an old saying that one should never tell a child that something is impossible because God may have that child to make the impossible possible.

We have good news in a day when we told that we cannot do anything to save the planet from our greed and destruction, that we cannot stop the hardening of the spirit that is so prevalent, that we cannot stop stagnation of the soul, that we cannot banish hatred with love. What the Gospel tells us is that we have power in the treasure God gives us, and that it is from God. Yes, Christ will return like a thief in the night, and we do not know how or when or where, but we do know that we are to strive to increase Christ's kingdom always, for He has entrusted His kingdom to us.

Amen and Amen.