All week long, I’ve been wrestling with the parable we just heard. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t much like a God that judges like that, a God who casts people out into utter darkness. It makes me think of a God who has a clipboard in his hand, watching, checking, marking down the times that I do right and the times that I do wrong. I flat out do not believe that God is in the business of casting people out into utter darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. That is not the God I know in Jesus and that is not the God I know from my own life experience.
So what is the deal with this utter darkness? What’s that weeping and gnashing of teeth all about?
When you stop and think about it, we live in a world full of utter darkness. We live in world where people do gnash their teeth. We live in a world where people weep. I see it all the time—people cast out into utter darkness, people who have lost their jobs, their marriages, their homes, and even their health. Veterans who return home to find no job available, women and children fleeing abusive families and having no place to turn, men unable to raise enough money to pay rent and child support. People like you and me cast out into utter darkness. People like you and me weeping and gnashing their teeth when they think about their future. The people I meet at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center—the day shelter where I work and worship on Sunday mornings.
But you don’t have to go that far to find folks cast out into utter darkness, folks weeping and gnashing their teeth. Most of us at one time or another in our lives find ourselves in utter darkness—the darkness of a loss, a grief, a hurt, a deep sadness. People whose church has said to them, “You don’t belong here.” People whose country has said you can serve but you can’t tell. But today, I find myself thinking about the children and their parents caught up in that whole Penn State mess. The utter darkness those kids have faced. Their parents weeping and gnashing their teeth.
Jesus says, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one….” The first two double his investments, the third buries it and hence opts out of the system. This is a parable told to a people who already lived in utter darkness; this is a parable told to people who daily gnashed their teeth as they tried to find enough bread to eat. This is a story told to people who had lost their land to greedy landlords. One talent was the equivalent of fifteen years of wages. That slave who buried his talent opted out of the system of his day. He chose not to go along and not to get along and not to play the game. No wonder the “Man” was furious. No wonder he cast that third slave out into utter darkness.
I wonder why that third slave did it. I wonder why he buried the wad of cash entrusted to him. Surely he must have known that the Man would be furious. Surely he must have suspected he’d be cast out. Had he taken leave of his senses? Or had he, like the Prodigal Son, come to his senses? What is Jesus saying with this parable? Where is he asking us to stand?
Though I don’t think God casts folks out in utter darkness, I do believe God cares deeply where we stand and that we stand up for others who cannot stand up or speak for themselves. Remember where this chapter of Matthew ends—it ends with the Son of Man coming in his glory and saying to those on his right hand: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36)
God doesn’t need to cast people out into utter darkness. We do a good enough job of that ourselves. But God does invite us into that utter darkness where we can stand with and support those already there. Isn’t that where Jesus goes? Isn’t that the way of the Cross? Isn’t that the way of discipleship?