Oh No, Now What Am I Supposed to Do?
Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - Year A
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost - Year A
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Let us pray:† Extravagant, loving God, your grace saves, your compassion gives life, your justice restores. Investing God, call us to risky adventures, to touch the lives of neighbours and strangers. O God, may these words be ones which tell of your way. Amen.
†† †Have you ever had comments come back to haunt you? Hereís the way I began my reflection about a month ago:
†† †You may recall the original parable of the talents. Itís the one where Jesus tells a story about a master and three servants - each of whom are given a sum of money. The master asks each of the servants to look after† the talents (ie the money). Two of the servants take a risk and are able to double the investment the owner made with them. The third servant, a cautious one, saved the money and showed the master that he had not lost a cent. The owner is not at all pleased and he asks the third servant to give his money to the first servant and is sent packing because he was not willing to take a risk.
†† ††† †Well, Iím glad that wasnít the reading from Matthew this morning. Recent economic times certainly would cast a shadow on any interpretation of that particular story of Jesus.
†† †Given that, perhaps you can see why I titled this weekís reflection the way I did! Economic times certainly havenít improved much. If anything, there is more confusion, but if there is any clarity to the situation we find ourselves in, it is heavily weighted on the negative side and it seems that we are in for hard times economically over the next little while.
†† †So, as much as I was glad a month ago that I didnít have to preach on the parable of the talents, I should have looked ahead to see that I wasnít going to be able to escape for too long.
†† †I could cop out and choose one of the other passages to speak about, but it wouldnít work. Who among us could hear the parable of the talents in the current economic context and not spend time trying to figure out what itís supposed to mean? In other words, if I had chosen the passage from Judges or Thessalonians you would all be thinking about the parable of the talents anyway.
†† †At first glance, and when the markets are surging, the parable of the talents could be understood as a promo for equities trading. Invest wisely, but aggressively and show how willing you are to take a risk. Succeed and you will be rewarded. I mean what other way would come to mind as a way of doubling an investment over a period of time? At least that might have been the case about six months ago.
†† †But that interpretation of the parable has always bothered me. It was hard to refute in times when the TSE and Down Jones indices were on a steady rise. But I could never figure out why Jesus would use a market metaphor to tell about Godís community. Especially if you look at other messages from Jesus - he wasnít adverse to stories and examples that had economic themes to them, but this parable always stood out for me as one that didnít quite fit the mold. I could understand the parable from the point of view of being willing to take a risk, but the market aspect had me confused. After all, the third servantís choice to bury the money doesnít seem quite so bad in a situation where stock indices are two thirds of what they were a few months ago. Even the savings account idea suggested by the master could be interpreted as a little too risky in a context where some banks are teetering on the edge of collapse. And in fact, the third servant confirms some suspicions. He has seen how his master reaps where he doesnít sow - a thinly veiled reference to the fact that the master has been seen to steal from neighbours by harvesting from their crops. So, why would it be that Jesus would condemn this whistle blower. Well, some scholars have interpreted the story subversively, saying that the third servant is cast as an anti-hero because he refused to oppress anyone by simply holding on to the money and thus avoiding the exploitation of others through interest or by making a profit on the work of others.
†† †Thatís the beauty of the parables - the many layers of interpretation that they offer. What if the third servant is the real hero of the story? What if market conditions make the story much less plausible? What if market conditions help us to think about investment in vastly different ways than we might have thought when rates of return and dividend payments were on an ever increasing upward trend?
†† †You know, one of the problems in the past, was it was just too easy to interpret the parable as a simple backing of wise investment. Double your money - not an easy thing to do, but not impossible with the help of a good financial planner, the right amount of time and bull market. But, as Iíve said before, context is everything and certainly the current context is one which leads us to think about the story in much less simple terms. What kind of investment would succeed in doubling our money in these days?
†† †Let me suggest to you that the parable was never really ever about that. Itís a story about faithfulness. All of Jesusí stories are about faithfulness. And faithfulness for Jesus was summed up in two ways: love for God and love for neighbour, and if you want to sum it up even more - love for neighbour, because love for neighbour was an expression of love for God. If you are not keen on the subversive reading of the parable, then the real issue with the third servant was that he didnít use the money to help share Godís way of love and justice. If the subversive reading does appeal to you, then it would be because the third servant pointed out to the master that the masterís way was not one of love and justice - exploiting and stealing in order to turn a bigger profit.
†† †I really believe that this parable like the rest and like the main message that is always the one Jesus wants to give - take a risk and follow Godís way - a way of love and justice - a way that turns the world upside down in so many ways - economically, who is important, what is important.
†† †In the promises that are made in the sacrament of baptism, there are these words: Do you covenant to bring your child into the life of the Christian community to worship, to hear the story of the roots of our faith, to be called into response to the Gospel, and to be in relationship with other believers as they grow into their own choice of faith in God?
†† †I think the words of that promise sum up the point of the parable of the talents. Worship is important - thanking God and hearing our faith story is important - but itís only part of the journey if thatís all we do - the story has to become our story and we make it so by responding to the story with our own acts of faithfulness, and we do it together in community as followers of the way. Let me say it again - worship, hear our story, respond to the story with action. Does it sound familiar - well it should - for it is also the form our worship takes. Gather in praise - listen to the story and then respond. Take a quick glance at your worship bulletin and youíll see those three parts there.
†† †Invest in Godís way, with your lives and your talents. Live faithfully and your faith will increase. Amen.