“I was afraid.” Too many times those words have been a door closing against an invitation to grow. I was afraid to love. I was afraid to let another love me. I was afraid to reach beyond the familiar, to share my faith, to raise my voice, to stand apart, to move beyond a stereotype. In the terrain of the heart, “I was afraid” is buried in a place both deep and yet highly accessible.
True love is anything but shallow. But it is not gorgeous and glamorous and perpetually young. The last servant, in this week’s reading from Matthew 25, fearing the shape-shifting dirtiness of love, paradoxically buries it in the ground to preserve it as it is. By protecting love from change and tragedy, adventure, wildness, and the sheer awe of engaging in life, this servant loses the very gift he had, through simple lack of imagination.
You have to give this third servant credit. He was only following what was, in his day, a sensible and responsible course of action. A talent was one of the largest values of currency in the Hellenistic world, a silver coinage you’d want to get help carrying home— it weighed between fifty-seven and seventy-four pounds. This is fifteen years’ wages for a day labourer, about a quarter of a million dollars when adjusted for inflation. In ancient times, the safest place on earth for something of such great worth was underground.
Josephus, a first-century historian, said that it was not unusual for people to bury their treasure during times of military conflict. Further, unexpectedly discovering underground treasure, a scenario we stumble upon in one of Jesus’ parables, was not uncommon. “If you want to secure your money,” advised a rabbi from antiquity, “bury it.”
St. John of the Cross wrote that “in the evening of life we will be judged on love alone.” The two servants in this week’s reading from Matthew 25, probably more experienced in loving, fearlessly invest their portions of love. Heedless of the sheer fool-hardiness of the project, they risk ego, rejection, derision, even death, adventurously increasing the master’s wealth of love in the world. The last servant misses the point. The poor clueless man finds himself in the outer darkness because he was clinging to the supposed safety of burying his love in the ground.
John Wesley comments, “So mere harmlessness, on which many build their hope of salvation, was the cause of his damnation!” Love begets love. The more you give the more you get, exponentially. But investing in love can seem counterintuitive, because true love can be mundane, ordinary, passionless, plodding. And love shape-shifts to fit circumstances of tragedy and necessity, loss and age and death, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.
What I pray for is that the Master of the house may find you and I adventurous in our loving.