Last week’s parable about the 10 bridesmaids had lots of people becoming members of the Jesus Seminar ready to cast a pocket full of black beads that Jesus didn’t actually say these things. It is really hard to believe that Jesus would a) lift up the selfishness of the wise bridesmaids, b) call anyone foolish, c) declare that even his close followers who maybe didn’t quite get it would find themselves outside of his grace, and d) compare all of this to the kingdom of heaven. We think we know Jesus and how the grace of God works, and because this story doesn’t compute, we want to throw it away as an editorial decision on the part of Matthew or some later redactor.
As I began to read the Gospel lesson for this Sunday, I began to wonder if Jesus knew that this would be the reaction to his eschatological teachings, and so he told this parable to prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that what we think we know about Jesus isn’t all there is to know. The third slave, you know, the one who dug a hole and buried his single talent because he was afraid of a master who “was a harsh man, reaping where he did not sow, and gathering where he did not scatter seed,” thought he knew his master, but as with everyone whom we meet, there is always more to learn.
Remember that these parables are all coming late on Tuesday in Holy Week. It is not unreasonable to think that the Disciples are absolutely clueless as to what Thursday evening through Sunday will bring. They can sense things getting tense between Jesus and the religious authorities, but they’ve experienced that before. Whole crowds have had stones in hand, and yet Jesus walked away, unscathed. They think they know how this will end. They think they know what the Messiah will do. They think they know Jesus, but there is still much to learn.
One of the harder lessons they will learn will come when, like in the parable, Jesus departs from them. How will they respond? Will they be about the work he had given them authority to do? Will they continue to expand his ministry? Or, will they live in fear, unable to do anything but bury the ministry to which they were called? After his resurrection and ascension, the same questions will arise as they stand, slack-jawed, staring into heaven. Will they use the gifts they’ve been given to spread the Good News, or will they return, in fear, to the lives they once knew?
We think we know Jesus. We think we know what he is about. We think, but there are always surprises.