Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Look at God’s Gifts and God’s Forgiveness

A Look at God’s Gifts and God’s Forgiveness
Based on Matthew 25:14-30

The story of the three servants and the talents has always encouraged and discouraged me at the same time.  As I begin reading Jesus’ parable I get a sense of the blessings that come from using the gifts and talents God has giving us to help build up the Kingdom.  The land owner blesses the faithful servants and multiplies their “talents.”  All this is well and good until I continue to read about the servant who buried his one talent in the ground, I have always understood that the servant did not use his God given gifts and therefore lost them, but find it difficult to understand his being thrown into outer darkness where he was punished with the gnashing of teeth.  I am left hanging, wondering about God’s forgiveness, and the opportunity to start over and try again.  (Thank about Noah’s story).

As I was reading and reflecting on this important parable this week I came across a suggestion that there may be two ways to read this story. I considered the possibility that Jesus may even have been telling two stories at the same time, in order for us to see two possibilities of how we can use our gifts to build up God’s Kingdom.

I invite you to join me as we explore the two stories within the story. The standard interpretion, the classic focus of this story is surly the  importance of investing our gifts and talents which God has given us to become, if you will, co-creators with God in building up the Kingdom.  This will always inolve risk, but faithfulness is surely the goal.  In this version of the story, the one talent steward demonstrates a failure of faith.  He is the fool and the land owner and the other two stewards are wise.

This interpretation hooks us: if we work hard, invest our talents and use all the gifts God has given us, we receive a blessing.  If we choose, as our one talent friend did, in either fear or self-protection, to bury that talent, we lose bigtime. 

Another way to read the story, and possibly a second meaning Jesus may have had, focuses on the landowner and the “one talent” steward.  Reading the parable this way, we see a story about a tyrant, a dishonest business man, rather than a benevolent and loving land owner.  The emphasis in this story falls on a master who prophets from  illegal, dishontst activities: “you reap where you did not sow and you receive what you did not earn.”  This dishonest gain is named for what it is by the only one in the story who refused to be co-opted.

In ths reading, the master and the stewards with the five and two talents are the fools and the steward with the one talent is wise, even though he pays the price for standing up for his values. 

This reading asks, whose voices matter in a world rife with power abuse, in a world where it can be much easier, and safer, to go along with the crowd?  This reading also asks us, “what does it really look like to use our talents to build up the kingdom of God?”

In this story, living faithfully means naming the reality of the abuse of power and standing with the one who is not cowed by that power but is bold and ready to suffer the consequences of that boldness.  This may mean confronting injustice and abuse in families, board rooms and church vestries, the work place and public arenas where injustice occurs.

Both readings emphasize responsibility and accountability: we either use or squander our gifts and talents.  We use the gifts God has given us, including the gifts of wisdom and discernment which guide is in making decisions to build people up rather than tear them down.  Wisdom is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and is not to be taken lightly.

Reading Jesus’ parable through these two lenses invites us into a full and fruitbearing life in the presence of God that is open, expansive and hopeful.

The kingdom of rightly ordered power that comes near us in Jesus sets us free from tyrany and directs us to life in all its abundance.

1 comment:

  1. "Matthew 25" was a catchphrase in my family that alluded to the traditional interpretation of this passage. It was used whenever it was perceived that I wasn't living up to my "potential."

    If the passage truly is about God, then why would Jesus include the detail comparing him to the man who reaps what he did not sow? That isn't anything like the God of the New Testament. The parable doesn't make sense unless you completely ignore that part.

    I always hated this passage. Thank you for turning it around for me.