‘I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven’ (Matthew 16:19 NLT).
This is what His Church says about Christ, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8 NLT).
The unchanging Message of the gospel, the evangélion, the good news that Christ has appeared among us and remains with us to the end of time, that He gave Himself up for us, exchanging our human mortality for His divine immortality, that He descended and emptied Hades of its dead, that ascended in person to the Father to prepare a place for us in the Holy Trinity.
Holy apostle Paul emphasizes (in his letter to the church at Rome) that in Christ authentic righteousness has been revealed from heaven, righteousness not earned by following laws, but bestowed as a gift upon all who have faith.
What is it, then, that is unchanging, and what is it that is unchangeable? Surely, everything that we know about Jesus from the four gospels and the apocalypse. Surely, that His Church has authority from Him to utterly remake the human world. Remembering also His ‘go therefore’ (Matthew 28:19), that we are given not only authority to remake human society, but are also commanded to remake it. And, that the remaking, remodeling, and restoring of the human race is itself the work of none other than Christ, that inaugurates inevitably the Messianic age.
Is it going too far to assert such things? Has the Church not known these things from the beginning? Has it not believed and practiced them? Is this not what is called the Church age? I leave it to you, brethren, to answer such questions for yourselves. As for me, this parable of Christ has burdened my heart for the Church, the parable of the ‘minas’ or talents.
For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Matthew 25:14-30 ESV
We have always heard this parable applied to our personal gifts, our ‘talents,’ which we can choose to bury (not use them for our good and the good of others), or to invest (use them, put them to work, for ourselves, for others, and ultimately for the Lord). Of course, this interpretation is valid, but it is also valid in another frame of reference, and I am not sure that it wasn’t always meant primarily to be applied to the Church.
In this interpretation, the ‘man going on a journey’ is Jesus Christ, ascending ‘to prepare a place’ for us. He calls His servants and entrusts to them His ‘property.’ What property? ‘The keys of the Kingdom’ which He earlier promised and at His leave-taking distributes to His apostles, including their successors. And what are these ‘keys’ if not the authority, yes, even the power, bestowed on ransomed humankind to bind and to loose, to forbid and to permit?
On the holy mountain of Sinai the Uncreated Creator carved on stone tablets the Ten Commandments, the unchanging, the unchangeable Law that would cradle the messianic nation of Israel, even after that nation was enlarged until the whole world, by faith in the Messiah, was grafted in.
As for the ‘laws of Moses,’ those six hundred and counting legislations replete with rewards and punishments—mostly the latter—these never had any power to transform humanity, only to condemn it, human constructs allowed by God ‘because of the hardness of your hearts’ (cf. Mark 10:5).
Human laws, not divine, unable to heal, unable to save, unable to transform, they were and still are caretakers of mankind in its childhood, custodians and guardians first of the race of Israel till it should bring forth the God-Man who was, is, and always shall be Messiah, King, and Christ.
These never were, are not now, and never could be the talents which the Lord Jesus Christ entrusted to His holy apostles at His ascension. No, what He handed over to them was ‘the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,’ instructing them, ‘Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.’ These same keys He hands over to the Church today.
He knew that His Church, though One, must be splintered, ‘Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat’ (Luke 22:31). So He hands over as much of ‘the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven’ to each of His servants, ‘to each according to his ability’ to see what they will do.
So I ask again, what are these ‘keys’ if not the authority, yes, even the power, bestowed on ransomed humankind to bind and to loose, to forbid and to permit? Are we afraid of the infinite power that Christ-God has entrusted to us, His Church? Have we buried what He handed over to us, hoping we would use it to accomplish His redemption? Do we cling out of fear to the laws of Moses, separating not foods and fabrics, but real people into ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ as if we were under the old, man-made laws? Have we excused ourselves, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ What can we expect, then, when the Master returns?
Orthodoxy, real and living Orthodoxy, is the Kingdom of Heaven, it ‘is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field’ (Matthew 13:44). Well, we have accomplished the first part, now haven’t we? We’ve sold all we had, all our vain pomp and glory, our filthy-rag righteousness and our paper crowns, and bought the field of ‘holy tradition’ wherein the treasure is buried.
Is it too late to unearth that single talent? Could it be, that ours is not the single, but the two, or even the five? Have we looked at it closely enough to notice? Have we used it? Are we proud of the fact that we have mastered the art of waiting? Perhaps we feel secure in our possession of the Truth, but ‘the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God’ (Romans 8:19), and it shall not wait forever. This is why we are called into Christ, to lead as He leads, and the universe will be renewed.
‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’