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You’ve probably heard the one about the kindergarten teacher who was observing her class during their art period. She would walk around and comment on each child’s drawing, but occasionally had to ask what it was going to be. As she came to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was.
The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.”
The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.”
Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing the girl replied, “They will in a minute.”
It is one of those remarkable questions though: what does God look like? We know that Abraham saw him as one of three men who visited him – two of which turned out to be angels. We know that when Moses was up on the mountain, he wanted to see God, but was only allowed to see his back. We know that Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord as the Lord departed from Jerusalem. We know that Elijah heard him in a whisper. And we know that Jesus said, if you have seen me, you have seen the Father. There is, however, one other characteristic of God that you may have never considered.
In the third chapter of Joshua, we read about the Israelites crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land, and the crossing began with twelve priest carrying the Ark – think Indiana Jones – walking into the Jordan River. As soon as their feet touched the water, the river stopped flowing and backed up several miles away so that the people could cross on dry land. The scripture tells us that these priest stood in the center of the dry river bed as all of Israel crossed. How many crossed? That number is hugely debated—anywhere from 100,000 up to 3.5 million. Whatever the case, even if it was only 100,000, it would have taken awhile for that many men, women, and children to cross, along with all their possessions and livestock, all the while, the twelve priest are standing there, holding the Ark.
Now the Ark itself is also described, in scripture. God gave very specific instructions on how it was to be constructed: wood, gold, etc. Given the materials and size, it is estimated that the Ark would have weighed 300 to 400 pounds. Add in the two stone tablets that God gave to Moses with the ten commandments written on them and you’ve got a rather significant load, even for twelve men. So, if someone crossing the dried up river turned to one of these twelve and asked, “So, what’s God like?” They very well may have responded, “He’s heavy!”
That is a humorous answer, but it is much closer to the truth than you would think. Heavy or weightiness in Hebrew is the word kabod. Kabod is also the same word for glory. He’s heavy. He’s glorious. And for the Israelites, where did this heaviness of God, this glory of God reside?
Back in the book of Exodus, God gave the instructions for building the Ark. The lid of the Ark was to have two cherubim of gold constructed, one on each end, with their faces facing down and their wings outstretched toward one another. It was the lid of the Ark, but it had a special name: the mercy seat. And of this mercy seat, God said to Moses, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the covenant, I will deliver to you all my commands for the Israelites.” (Exodus 25:22) The Prophet Isaiah wrote, “And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, saying: ‘O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, you are God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.’” (Isaiah 37:15-16) The presence of the Creator of the heaven and earth, the kabod of God, the heaviness, the glory of God rested upon the lid of the Ark, the mercy seat and from there God gave his law and was present to the people.
So what does this kabod, the heaviness of God have to do with today’s parable?
The master gave one slave five talents; the other, two; and the last, one. What do you think of when you think of a “talent”? We often translate it to mean a talent is a gift, a skill, something we can use for working in the Kingdom of God, but perhaps there is an even deeper meaning.
In the context of the parable, I have often considered a talent to be like a coin, maybe a silver dollar, but talent does not refer to a unit of money, it refers to a unit of weight, particularly that of precious medals, like gold and silver, and it weighed about fifty pounds. So when the master gave the first slave five talents, you should read that as, “The master gave the first slave two hundred and fifty pounds of gold.” The second, a hundred pounds and the third fifty. Biblical scholars have suggested that Jesus’ audience would not have focused so much on the gold as they would have the kabod, the weight of all that gold and in considering that kabod, they would have been immediately reminded of the mercy seat, where the kabod of God resided. With that understanding, the parable is not necessarily about God giving a gift or skill; instead, it is about God giving a part of himself – his mercy, his glory, his love… his Spirit.
Consider this: God gives a man a talent for playing the violin. He is actually very good at it, and could do a lot of good work in the Kingdom of God with this talent, playing in the church on Sunday, teaching others how to play, helping kids discover outlets other than roaming the streets, etc., but then one day the man decides he doesn’t want to play the violin anymore, so he wraps it in some cloth and buries it in a field. On the day the man dies and goes to heaven, God says, “Tell me about the violin.” The man replies, “You know, I got tired of playing, so I gave it up.” According to the parable that Jesus told, God would then say to the man, “You wicked and lazy slave! Take his violin and give it to someone who will play it like it was a Stradivarius, and then take this man and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” Now, far be it from me to question the judgments of God, but doesn’t that seem a bit severe for not wanting to play the violin? But then consider this: God gives a man a talent. God gives the man a part of his kabod, his presence, his glory, his love, his mercy, his Spirit. God gives the man a part of Himself. However, the man looks at this gift with complete indifference, he looks at the presence of God within himself, and says, “Eh!”, then he casts it in a hole and buries it. This man dies and comes before God and God says to him, “Tell me about the part of me that I gave to you.” And the man says, “I didn’t think much of it, so I buried it. Here… here it is,” and he hands God back that part of His Spirit, covered in dirt and decay. Far be it from me to tell God what to do, but that man has earned the outer darkness, the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth.
David prays in Psalm 51:
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
It is this Holy Spirit of God that is the real “talent” which is given to each of us and from it all else proceeds. Yes, we have God given talents, skills, and gifts that we are to use for the increase of the Kingdom of God and for His greater glory, but His Holy Spirit, his kabod, His self is what he has given to us, and we are not to squander it. We are to be bold and to use it, to share it: his love, mercy, glory, grace, and in doing so, that same love, mercy, glory, and grace—as with the servants who received the five talents and the two—will be increased in us. What did Jesus say in Luke’s Gospel? “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:37-38)
Be bold in the giving of this presence of God that is within you. With St. Paul, pour yourself out like a drink offering, holding nothing back, and its God’s promise that it will return to you. He will anoint your head with oil and your cup will run over. His goodness and mercy will be with you all the days of your life. And you will dwell in His house forever.
Let us pray: God, our Father, You have promised to remain forever with those who do what is just and right. Help us to live in Your presence. The loving plan of Your Wisdom was made known when Jesus, your Son, became man like us. We want to obey His commandment of love and bring Your peace and joy to others. Keep before us the wisdom and love You have made known in Your Son. Help us, through the presence of your Holy Spirit, to be like Him in word and deed. Amen