The Prelate’s Sermon, December 26, 2021
Today, on the fifth Sunday of Advent, the Gospel reading is from St. Luke 19:12-28. Jesus tells the parable of a nobleman who goes to a distant country to obtain royal power for himself and then return. Before leaving, he entrusts the equivalent of one dollar to each of his ten servants and instructs them to put the money to work. After he leaves, those of his citizens who hated him sent a delegation saying that they do not want him to rule over them. The noble man, after receiving his royal power and returning home, calls each of his servants for their accountability. The first says, “With the dollar that you have given to me, I have been able to produce ten dollars.” In return, the nobleman appoints him governor of ten cities. The second servant say, “With the dollar that you have given to me, I have been able to produce five dollars.” In return, the nobleman appoints him governor of five cities. But the third servant approaches and holds the single dollar wrapped in a cloth. The servant then says, “I know that you are an austere man, and that you reap where you have not sown. For that reason, I took the dollar and hid it inside of the napkin.” The noble man says, “By your own mouth you have determined your judgment for it is true that I reap where I have not sown. But you should have at least taken the dollar to the bank and deposited so that when I returned, you would have presented me with the interest earned.” Turning to the other, the noble man commands, “Take that dollar away from him and give it to the man who was able to make ten dollars out of one.” The noble man says, “To those who have, more will be given; but to those who do not make, from them even the last will be taken away.” And then he orders that those who opposed his royal authority should be slaughtered.
Parables, as much as they are figurative examples, contain powerful messages. This is one of the rare parables where reward and punishment go together, most especially with a harsh verdict for those who deny the sovereignty of the master. I would like to share a few thoughts derived from this parable.
- In order fully to capture the message of this deep parable, it is necessary to review the chronology of events. Soon after Jesus tells this parable, He heads toward Bethpage and Bethany, and finally to Jerusalem, paving the way of His victorious entry into the City of Peace. Once we have the historical background, I assume that it will be clear to each and every reader or listener to understand the characters with their specific roles.
- The noble man who went to a distant country to obtain royal power is Jesus Himself who descended to Hades after His crucifixion and following His return, i.e. His resurrection,as He was ascending into heaven He announced, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt 28:18). Does this mean that He was not a king? Of course He was. The three Magi came to worship the newborn king (Mt 2:2). Pilates asked if He was a king; Jesus answered, “You say so” (Lk 23:3). His kingship was of Love and Humility shown on the Cross, and not the worldly understanding of power. St. Nerses, Archbishop of Lambron, says, “Jesus crushed the power of the Evil one, not with His Divine power, but with righteousness, with His obedience to death, thus liberating those who were enslaved by deception” (Commentary on Psalms).
- All the servants were offered an equal amount of initial gifts. It means that regardless of our physical, intellectual, social, material, and other differences, Jesus, through His sacrificial love on the Cross, offered the Gift of Life to all, without exception. Once we lose this understanding, we condemn ourselves in endless, pitiful, and futile arguments and excuses, which eventually lead to our own damnation.
- The servant who earned ten dollars represents those who, following our Lord’s command, were able to drink of the cup that He drank and were baptized with the baptism that He was baptized” (Mk 10:38). In the footsteps of our Lord, they offered the fullness of their lives for the sake of the Lord of lords. Nothing could separate them from the love of Christ (Rom 8:38)։
- The servant who earned five dollars represents those who, even though they did not literally sacrifice their lives, yet as the hearers and doers of the Word (Lk 11:28) they became fruitful using their talents and, accordingly, were rewarded.
- The case of the servant who, out of his fear, lost the trust of his master stands for all those who forget the unconditional love and trust of the Master, par excellence. Through their own poor decisions, their efforts are futile, and they forget that the Lord appreciates even the most insignificant actions. For example, He says: “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of disciple, truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward” (Mt 10:42).
- It is true that only three categories of return are mentioned in the parable, yet there is no doubt that each and every one who makes positive use of the dollar entrusted to them will be rewarded, as St. Paul very eloquently explains the different rewards by saying, “The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another, and the stars another, and even one star differs from another star in splendor” (I Cor 15:41).
- Finally, those citizens who denied the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus are actually His own people, who prefer to stay dead in their sinfulness, and on the Day of Judgment will be sent harshly from earthly punishment to eternal damnation.
- The most difficult part of the parable to understand is the noble man’s statement: “To all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” The final answer of course is clear to the Lord. The benefit which we shall derive from this Divine lesson, even with our poor judgment, is that all those who walk in God will be blessed and more rewarded. However, for those who do not follow the Lord, whatever was given to them will be taken from them, just as from Esau was taken his birth right, from Saul his royal right, from the chosen people the privilege of the Promise, and instead, it shall be given “to all who received Him who believed in His name” (Jn 1:12).
With this rich message on the last Sunday of the year which precedes the final stage of the ascent through Advent to Theophany, let us all thank the Almighty Lord “from whom comes every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17), and let us seriously use every talent entrusted to us by the noble Master and praise the All-Holy Trinity. Amen.