Investing Ourselves Fully In Christ: Homily for the 16th Sunday After Pentecost, the 16th Sunday of Matthew, and the After-Feast of the Presentation (Meeting) of Christ in the Temple

2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Matthew 25:14-30

            Today we continue to celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, when the Theotokos and St. Joseph the Betrothed took the forty-day old Savior to the Temple in obedience to the requirements of the Old Testament law.  This is a feast in which we celebrate how the Child born at Christmas has fulfilled the hopes of the children of Abraham and extended them to all people with faith in Him.  He is the Light shining in the midst of a darkened world.  Righteous Simeon held Christ in his arms and proclaimed: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”  The elderly Prophetess Anna also “spoke of Him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”  The Old Testament temple and priesthood were preparatory signs of the coming of the Great High Priest Who offers Himself as the Lamb of God for the salvation of the world.  Our crucified and risen Lord is “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the Sanctuary of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected…” (Heb. 8: 1-2). Through His great Self-Offering, our Lord enables all people to become participants in eternal life and partakers of the divine nature by grace.

In order for us to do so, we must make every dimension of our life a point of entrance into the blessedness of the Kingdom.  We must obey St. Paul’s instruction: “We entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain…Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”  The past is gone and we have no idea what the future will hold.  We must be good stewards of the opportunities for growth in holiness that are available to us right now, if we want to find the healing of our souls.  If we are not offering ourselves to the Lord today, then we are refusing the only opportunity we have to share more fully in His life.

As the parable in today’s gospel reading makes clear, we must invest ourselves fully in the life of Christ. The point is not what particular blessings or burdens we have on a daily basis, but whether we are responding to them in a way that manifests the accomplishment of God’s gracious purposes for us, our neighbors, and our world. The servants who invested their talents in order to produce more were exalted.  The servant who, out of fear, buried his talent in the ground and produced nothing ended up losing what he had and found only misery.  The key issue was not how much the servants began with, but what they did with what they had.  Regardless of the circumstances of our lives, we all receive the same calling to enter more fully into the joy of the Kingdom.  “Now is the day of salvation” for us all because the ultimate question is whether we are uniting ourselves to Christ in the present reality of our lives.  If we are doing so, then through the eternal ministry of our Great High Priest we are becoming more fully the people God created us to be in His image and likeness.  If we are not, we are refusing to accept our Lord’s gracious invitation. That is a path that leads only to greater spiritual weakness and ultimately to despair.

In the parable, the man with one talent hid it in the ground because he was afraid of his master. He did not even put the talent in a bank in order to earn a little bit of interest.   If we are like him, then perhaps we are afraid that the Lord will not accept the small offerings of our lives.  We may have a false sense of humility that nothing we do could ever really have much importance. We may think that, because of past failures and present weaknesses, we will fail yet again and make ourselves look foolish.  We may have unrealistic assumptions about the life of faith which lead us to think that there is no point in even trying to find the healing of our souls.

Remember, however, that the master in the parable would have accepted even a small amount of interest from only one talent put in the bank.  He wanted the fearful servant to do something that was productive, even if in very small ways.  That could have happened, had the servant not allowed himself to become paralyzed by fear, anxiety, and shame.  It can be painful to confess our sins, acknowledge the truth about our own brokenness, and offer our meager selves to Christ in humble faith.  Since God is infinitely holy and we are certainly not, the temptation not to open ourselves to Him is powerful.  In the moment, it often seems much easier to keep the Lord and the truth at arm’s length.  But doing so amounts to refusing to offer ourselves to Christ in the only way that is true and real.  It amounts to burying our one talent in the ground and refusing to embrace our unique role in manifesting the fulfillment of God’s gracious purposes for the world as a sign of His Kingdom.

The assumptions underlying the fears that keep us from being good stewards of our talents ultimately have no basis in reality.  The Master Who calls us to offer our lives to Him is Jesus Christ, Who endured crucifixion, death, burial, and descent into Hades for our salvation.  Purely out of love for us, He offered up Himself in order to conquer the grave in His glorious resurrection on the third day.  In His earthly ministry, the Savior had mercy on every repentant sinner who came to Him, including St. Peter who denied Him three times before His crucifixion.  He healed diseases of all kinds, cast out demons, and even raised the dead.  We must not let fear of rejection deter us from offering ourselves to Him for forgiveness, healing, and growth in faithfulness.  Instead, we must simply trust in His love.

Saint Paul wrote of serving Christ “through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors…[and] hunger…”  We must follow his example by being good stewards even of our responses to our most painful challenges and sorrows.  God is never the author of evil and the Lord Who has made death a pathway to eternal life never abandons us; instead, He makes it possible for us to know His healing and strength even when we are sorely tempted to despair.  Widowed at a young age, the Prophetess Anna devoted herself to prayer and fasting for decades, which surely enabled her to gain the spiritual clarity to recognize and proclaim the Savior as an infant.  She “spoke of Him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” The Righteous Simeon stated prophetically to the Theotokos that “a sword shall pierce through your own soul also,” for she would see her Son and God die on the Cross.  She and Joseph the Betrothed risked their lives to protect the young Christ from Herod’s wrath when they escaped by night to Egypt as refugees.  How these holy people responded to such profound challenges both revealed and strengthened the health of their souls.

Being good stewards of our lives is certainly not an easy path.  It is, however, the only way for us truly to offer ourselves to the One Who offered up Himself for the salvation of the world. Let us unite ourselves to Him as our Great High Priest by making each moment of our lives a point of entrance into the eternal liturgy of the Kingdom of Heaven.  He will not reject us, but with infinitely humble love will accept even the tiny bit of interest that our small talents yield for the advancement of the Kingdom.  Regardless of how pleased or disappointed we are about how things are going for us today, let us overcome our fears and invest ourselves in Him.

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