Sunday, November 16, 2014

November 16

The parable of the talents. It's so inocuous. It sounds pretty straightforward, right up until the words of the third slave: “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sew, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.”

It tells a story about the kingdom of heaven: it's a man, who is preparing for a long journey. What I often hear from commentators and preachers is that God – or the kingdom thereof – can't be like this Master.

But, ask the Canaanites, or the Gadites, or the Amalekites, or the Egyptians, what God is like, and they'll have a different opinion. God is harsh. Blood debts. Oppression of women and children. Things that are not understandable; what the Lutheran theological tradition refers to as opus alienum: the “alien work” of God, when God does not act as we imagine, or want, God to act. God does reap where God didn't sew, and gathers where God did not scatter seed.

Gentiles need to be thankful for that.

So that Master, going on a journey, gave money to each slave “according to his ability”. A talent, remember, is about 15 years' wages for a labourer. Two take unbelievably large risks. Huge risks, comparable to taking their money down to the dog track, and betting on the one they see doing its business before the race begins. These are not stable financial markets they're investing in. This is not something that should be done when your boss leaves you in charge of the books. Entrepeneurship is not always encouraged, but apparently, it is what the kingdom of heaven encourages.

So, the last slave did what may be 'traditionally' expected in his society: he buried his treasure. Farmers all over Europe and the middle East continually turn up old stashes of money – riches - hidden in odd places.

We are, after all, talking about substantial riches in a single source. One single talent was worth about $660 000. 15 years wages. But, these weren't labourers. They were slaves. Really, they were given responsibility that they didn't deserve; and weren't equipped for. A reward that they didn't earn. An amount so interstellar, it was impossible to comprehend.

So naturally, two of them gamble with it. The third does what you typically do with treasure: he protects it, for fear of losing it. Why? Maybe he didn't owe the Master 15 more years of labour. He took responsibility for the preservation of wealth; not its multiplication. But the others risked it. Perhaps they realized that, given the sheer immensity of the riches given to them, they had no way of ever paying out their debts, should they lose track of it.

And it turns out that the kingdom of heaven really likes risks.

What would our ministry look like, if we were to take risks like that? History is full of churchs which chose to bury their treasure, rather than risk it on transactions. Interactions. They are forgotten. Seven churches, written to in John's Revelation. None still exist.

We tend to double-down on our 'tradition' when we're unsure of what we should do: theologically, liturgically, or otherwise. But the gospels show us that is not an authentic witness to the kingdom of heaven. It is a strange, and alien economy, where sometimes senseless risks are rewarded more than good sense.

Remember: in the parable the Master increased his fortune reaping where he did not sew, and gathering where he did not scatter. His fortune was so immense that he regarded 8 talents as gifts. Perhaps, rather than doing as many do and criticising, or refusing to accept this vision of God's kingdom, may be spend time reflecting on how the kingdom may be increased by seeking out those risks, and perhaps finding that great reward.

May we find, then, our own risks to take, so that the treasures of the kingdom of heaven may bloom and increase here, in his place, among God's people.

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