Shoes

11/17/96
Pent. 25
Matt.25:14-29

My parents were born in l901 and l903, Dad being the older. They were fine people. Their lives were marked severely by the Great Depression, and by a major illness in l940. As a result of these experiences they were very careful with their money. Whenever they made a “serious purchase,” they did it together. When my mother bought a dress, Dad went with her. When he bought shoes, or a suit, she went with him. I joined the family business when they were in their late 60’s. One day my father went into my mother’s office and said, “Helen, I need a new pair of shoes. These have holes, are worn, and just aren’t good for the office.” Mother said, “Fine, my arthritis is so bad I can’t go up and down the stairs again. Take Bart with you and go across the street and get a pair.” “What size do I take?” he asked. “You have a very narrow foot. You have always taken a 10A,” she replied.

So I helped my father, age 72, through the traffic on Bedford Street to Foot Form, where we had bought shoes since l949. “I want a pair of brown Oxfords, size l0A,” my father announced. “You don’t want l0A; you take a 10 1/2-11B,” the salesman replied. “No I don’t,” Dad protested. “I’ve always taken a 10A!” “I’ll prove it to you,” said the salesman. He got his foot ruler out, and sure enough Dad was a 10 1/2B. Skeptcially he put on the l0 1/2, but the 11 felt even better. Dad bought the shoes and as we left the store, turned to me and said, “You know, I’ve always wondered why my feet hurt so much!” We went up to the office and Dad showed the shoes to my mother. She said, “But these are a 10 1/2B. You take a l0A.” “But Helen,” Dad replied, “the man measured my foot, and I take a 10 1/2-11B.” Without looking up, Mom said, “Oh.” The next day Dad came into the office in his new shoes. He had a big smile on his face and lots of spring in his step. Neither of us pointed that out to my mother.

Now this is not just a funny family story about a loving couple on their journey into old age. It connects, I think, to the Parable of the Talents. Before pointing out the connection, I want to say a couple of things about the parable. You have to understand that a talent is a measure of weight of precious metal, usually silver. A talent is probably about $1,000. It is very valuable. Jesus is saying that each of the servants is given something of great worth.

Some scholars read this parable as a critique of the Sadducees and Pharisees. What was it that was of great value to them? Answer: the Torah and the community. It was often said that the job of a rabbis was to “build a fence around the Law and the community,” to protect and to resist change. The servant who buried his talent and returned it to the master, then, is a criticism of the Jewish leaders who refuse to see the coming of the Messiah and a new covenant.

Other scholars say that this parable refers to the experience of the early Church and the conflict between the mission to the Gentiles and the position of the Jerusalem Jewish Christians. The servant who buries his treasure, according to these scholars, refers to the desire of the Church in Jerusalem to keep the faith to itself and to exclude the Gentile churches.

Well, there may be some truth in each of those positions. But I think there are more fundamental, universal, dominant human connections. Therefore I ask the question, “What is it that is of infinite value for both the Jew and Gentile of Jesus’ audience, and for you and me today?” Answer: that which is of incredible value is the gift of the Gospel and God’s incarnate love. The priceless “talents” which you and I bear are not our abilities and personal attributes, although they are surely important. Rather the talents, the measures of weighty value, which the master gives us are the priceless gifts of the Gospel and the incarnate love of His Son.

Look, you and I are pilgrims on a journey of faith. Some of us have a greater realization of the Gospel and God’s love than others. But what really matters is what we do with it, or how we run the race. My father did a pretty good job. He preferred his old shoes. They were comfortable, familiar, and they bore his stamp. But they really didn’t get him anywhere. He couldn’t wear them to work. The hymns of his youth, and the message of the Methodist tent revivals were dear to him. But the forms of evangelical fundamentalism were tired and inappropriate. They could not carry the Gospel of God’s love during the decades of WWI, WWII and the decade of putting a man on the moon. They couldn’t support the whole panoply of issues which address the human heart. Dad learned to put on a sturdy Oxford, at the University of Chicago Divinity School in the 20’s. He loved listening to Harry Emerson Fosdick and Ralph Sockman. Even so, he was pinched by events and circumstances and inclinations. He was unable to “glory” in the cross and in the Gospel. For whatever reasons, he missed the joy of the Gospel and the freedom to share the abundance of God’s love. In his last years (when his shoes fit) he was much more at peace with his faith, expansive, and loving.

What I am saying to you this morning is this, for God’s sake, for Christ’s sake, for your own sake, face the fact that you carry with you every day the greatest treasure the world has ever known Ü the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Each day, as you go about your appointed tasks, you carry with you salvation and God’s love. Do something with that Gospel and that love. Can I tell you something about love? Keep it bottled up and it dies. Put it in old shoes, where it goes no where but the easy chair, and it disappears. Carry it around with pursed lips, pinched attitude, and an anxious mind, and it evaporates. Give it freedom and support and room for bounce and it flourishes. That is true for babies. That is true for marriage. That is true for the community and the Church. And you can bet your life it is true for the Gospel. You see, ours is a go-for-broke religion. We live under all sorts of constraints: earning a living, taking care of the elderly, dealing with demanding children, pleasing a difficult boss. What is important is to adopt a style of life which enables us to have some freedom to enjoy God’s love and to witness to the Gospel. Our doctrines and creeds give us some arch support, but it is up to you and me to find wiggle room.

Now here are some practical suggestions: spend some extra time with your grandchildren. Sit down and write a letter to your brother or sister and tell them that you love them and that you love Jesus. Tell your parent(s) that they did a good job rearing you and you wouldn’t trade them for anyone. Take your wife or husband by the hand and say, ” I love Jesus, but you are the most immediately available.” Stop walking around in “I feel sorry for myself” too tight shoes. Reach out to a stranger in church or across the fence to a neighbor at home. Make a real pledge. Enjoy the freedom of a tithe. Use our “Wish List Book.” Bring folks to our Christmas Show, Family Fun Night, to Bag Lunches, to Mid Night Christmas Mass. Be hospitable to new comers. Praise rather than criticize. Have you got the drift?

Don’t carry the precious gift of God’s Gospel and God’s love around with you, in too tight shoes. Don’t wait until the last three years of your life, or the last three months, to invest His Gospel and love with others. Jesus Christ gives you the Gospel and His love so that you can share it and have a smile on your face and a spring in your step. Love flourishes when set free. Share the joy! Amen.