The LORD has assignments for each one of us. By mid-life most of us have some sense of what we’re called to do. Maybe it's teaching, maybe building a family life, maybe giving joy as a performer, maybe being the squeaky wheel. Katie told me Catholic Sister SImone Campbell once described praying for guidance on what role she should play in the body of Christ - head? arm and energy? Healer? Eventually, she said, she was given the answer that her role was to be stomach acid. And so she worked as a social justice activist.
The LORD gives us guidance to find our role, and he helps even more directly by answering if we ask. We’ve all got a job to do. Each of us has some specific part to play in the divine plan. We usually don’t know what divine purpose we’re serving. We may have no more idea of how our task fits in the divine plan than a worker ant does lugging his load to the anthill. Everybody has an assignment, we need to know what, not why. What matters is we seek out our assignment, we ask for guidance finding it, and once given our task - the task of loving and serving God - we do it with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our might.
As an aside, in Luke, Jesus adds “with all your mind” to this exhortation from Deuteronomy. I’ve always wondered if that was the Greek writers and translators butting in to insert human understanding into the divine commandment. I think we’re called not to understand, but to hear and commit. When we have a good sense of what our assignment is, we’re instructed to not hold back. Don’t be fearful. Take it on with full faith. Do your job. The LORD has vast resources of power available to those who have faith. Knock, and the door to the power-house will be opened.
And, This is a lesson of our reading this morning Deborah was judge in Israel, meaning ruler. Have you noticed that when we let God govern, he often puts women in charge? Deborah summoned Barak, an Israeli warrior, and informed him the Lord commands him to draw up an army to defeat Sisera and his Canaanite army with their 900 chariots of iron. Now, Sisera had oppressed the Israelis for twenty years. The Lord decided Israel had enough. Through Deborah, Barak was handed the LORD’s assignment to end the oppression. Barak agreed. Sort of. Barak would go only if Deborah would accompany him into the battle. He was fearful. He laid conditions before accepting his assignment. He held back.
Barak was timid, he didn’t really believe God was with him Deborah warned him. He would succeed in his task, but because of his timidity and lack of commitment the glory, the lasting benefit, would now pass to women. And so it happened. Barak defeated Sisera’s army. The Lord helped out by sending a torrential rainfall and flash flood causing the 900 iron chariots to get stuck in the mud. General Sisera escaped the field in the chaos, and found shelter in the tent of Jael, a local tribeswoman. Jael fed him warm milk, tucked him in a blanket and when he was fast asleep she took a mallet and drove a tent peg through his skull. No holding back there!
Barak didn’t take his shot. Back on the battlefield, Barak had gotten the job done, but his fear, his lack of trust denied him his reward. The triumphant Song of Deborah mentions Barak, but gives the praise and glory for the Lord’s victory to Jael. God had a job he wanted done. Barak knew the command was from God. He heard it straight from Deborah, the Lord’s anointed judge and prophet. But Barak whined “Why me? why now? I can’t do it. I have a better idea.” Barak was a reluctant participant. He held back. The Lord of course won the battle. The Lord will always get the job done. The LORD has vast resources of power available to us who faithfully commit.
How do we get the message? Barak did pay attention when the messenger came from Deborah. He took the meeting. So let’s give Barak credit for having his eyes open. Our Psalm today tells us why: To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until he has mercy upon us. As the eyes of a maiden look to the hand of her mistress. We are servants of the LORD. Our service isn’t with words. We are servants. Our service is to first look to the will of our master. We don’t like the words, ‘master’ or ‘mistress.’ We humans are a very independent people. If we take on a job or a task we do it of our own free will. We do it because we want to be of service, and we look for opportunities to do good works for others. But turn it into a compulsory task, and we’re politely, “outta here.” We like to choose what to do, to be in charge.
But, sometimes the LORD needs something to be done we really don’t want to do. Remember Jonah? He really, really didn’t want to preach in Nineveh. Instead of heading inland and north to carry out his assignment, he grabbed a boat headed south. We know how that turned out for Jonah. The Lord may give us more gentle corrections than Jonah’s interlude. But it’s probably better to accept the assignment early and willingly.
Were you called to do something you didn’t want to do? We’ve all had times in our own lives when we were called to do something we really didn’t want to do. Maybe we were overwhelmed with fear. “I know it’s the right thing to do, but I can’t, I really can’t do that.” Excuses come easy, there’s always something. It’s just not the right time. Things are going just fine right now, why rock the boat? My plate is full.
Is every call on your time and treasure to be answered? Of course there are many times when your plate is full. And not every call on your time is from the LORD. How do we sort this out? The Christian has help. Among the vast resources of power available to us who have faith, we have prayer and the gift of discernment. But we have to exercise it. If we ask for discernment, the spirit helps us sort out a clamor for attention from the cry of need.
What’s treasure for some, is a burden for others Sometimes, like Barak or Jonah, we may be authentically called to take on a worthwhile task, but it is a task we really do not want to do! Each of us has been given as much or as little as the LORD deems we can handle. In our gospel lesson today, Jesus, Christ the King teaches us: the LORD of the estate “gifts” each of his three servants with treasure. One receives five, another two and a third, one. Well it’s not a gift, although they got something free of charge. It was an assignment, given with the expectation the servants would put their treasure to work. Our translation calls the gifts “talents” which are bars of precious metal with a money value. But, this is a parable, so we know the talents stand for something else: maybe energy, maybe wisdom, maybe strength, maybe compassion. The servants received an assignment from their master.
Two of the servants accept their assignments joyfully and get to work. They had faith in their master, they tapped the vast resources their master handed them. The Lord’s message is clear: here are some assets, now get to work on my plan. The two servants use their talents and their assignments well, in a manner pleasing to their LORD, and when the LORD returns, they receive enormous rewards of incalculable value — whole cities.
The third servant makes a poor decision. The assignment was clear but he backed away, he ducked. He was too frightened of his master to open his eyes to the resources that came along with his assignment. He dug a hole and buried the talent and the assignment. Out of sight, out of mind. Maybe he thought this was a no-risk solution, but it was a clear “NO THANKS.”
We get only as much as we can handle - no more, and if we are lucky, no less Jesus tells us each servant received talents commensurate with what the LORD knew each servant was capable of handling. Those with great gifts accepted their gift and put it to work with all their skill and energy - with all their heart, soul and strength. The third servant had his shot to show his LORD he was ready, he’d been given his own talent, his assignment. He was teed up and armed to take the first steps towards spiritual maturity. But he ducked. He buried his talent. He threw away his shot.
Those who have will receive yet more, those who have not, will lose even what they do have
Life is risky, but the Christian has an infallible safety net. The Lord knows our limits even as he asks us to play our role. If we try and fail, he rewards our intent. And as He promised, He will never leave us or forsake us. The two willing servants extended themselves, accepted the risks of life, and as a reward were invited to enter into the Joy of their Master. We have absolutely nothing to say or do about receiving the gifts. God gives us the talent, the capability and the opportunity. If we use it, it grows. If we bury it, even the little we have is finally taken away.
It’s not about you
God wants us to succeed. God not only wants us to succeed at the tasks he assigns, he provides vast resources of power to help those with faith. But we have to ask. God wants us all to be part of His divine plan. God has a big universe on his hands. A lot of moving pieces. He knows how all the pieces will work together; we don’t. That’s ‘way past our pay grade But we aren’t alone and God is handing out the powers we need.
As Paul reminds us this morning in our reading from 1 Thessalonians For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 4But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
The talents are given to us. The tasks are assigned. The purpose, the goal, the greater outcome, that’s up to God. Our tasks may appear small; they may look large. We have no idea what God’s larger purposes are. All that’s required is we accept our assignment and commit to doing it with all our might. We each do our part, as the spirit directs. Some plant the seed, some water, but God brings the increase. We may never see the impact of even the smallest task we do with all our skill. Maybe just that friendly word spoken to someone grieving, or the hand extended to help someone stuck in the snow, a sweater knitted for someone in hospital, or showing restraint when slandered by a rival. A teacher encourages a depressed student. A boss delivers an unexpected thank you or a bonus to an employee. A worker pitches in unasked to help out in a difficult situation. We will never understand the rippling impact of what we do or say, or the divine purpose served by our service. Our reward is putting on the mind of Christ.
Once we know our assignment, the important thing is to turn our hand to the job with all our might.
The job of our job is to turn to the task willingly, with full commitment, with love and a good attitude and above all, with perseverance. The LORD has vast resources of power available to us who have faith. The Lord will bring the increase. It’s not about us. It’s about doing our part in realizing God’s Kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Don’t throw away your shot.