Back to the series on dealing with common aversions and excuses regarding our wealth, the next one is based in the following of Jesus’ parables:
For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. (Matthew 25:14-29, NRSV)
I find it interesting that it just so happens that the English word for a certain amount of money (actually a weight of metal) is “talent.” It’s not uncommon for Christians to simply use this passage as a reference to natural abilities (talents; get it?) like leadership, working with one’s hands, etc., and not use it to refer to money. On the one hand this is an unsophisticated association of the coincidental word “talent.” On the other hand, some Christians use this passage as one which actually is speaking about money, and here is the irony because in my opinion the parable is indeed metaphorical, speaking not of money necessarily, but all sorts of things including… well, talents. I tend to think that Jesus’ point here is that no matter what we have that has been granted to us, we are to use it to bring forth some sort of increase on behalf of the Grantor. We are supposed to be serious, wise, and diligent in making something more out of whatever we have been given. Certainly we aren’t to waste what we have been given. We aren’t even supposed to protect it with no hope of increase. We’re supposed to nourish it in some way; even risk it with a calculated chance of gain for the sake of God. There is an implication of willful responsibility being exercised. The buzzword often assigned to this is stewardship, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with the word or the concept it signifies. Take care of what God gives you, utilize it wisely, and do so in a way that God has more from your labor than when he started with you. This is pretty much axiomatic, I tend to think, and it is a lesson we should take to heart.
The other day a reader of this blog sent me an email that went something like this:
[For a good many years I worked off and on with an anthropologist who worked with us in staff training activities to help overcome some of the cultural barriers we faced in working with Indian communities. Her contention was that folks will usually part with money before they will give of their time. Also that most of us are pretty selfish when it comes to giving of our time. Guess I wonder how this fits into the total giving equation. Visiting the sick, sitting with the dying, or comforting the grieving is not a highly visible act, or at least I don’t think it should be, but it can take a part of the soul, if that terminology works. It also means the giver probably has other uses for the time. I know money is always welcome and hopefully put to good use but on a general societal basis money may not be what is needed . Maybe just a bucket of chicken. A large tin of coffee at a wake, or a tender touch and a kind word is worth more.]
These of course are good points. I’ll probably return to them toward the conclusion of this series of posts, but for the moment point out that we can and should be using whatever it is that we each, uniquely, have been given. Maybe it’s money. Maybe it’s time. Maybe it’s an ability. Maybe it’s a personality trait (or even a quirk) that is useful in helping other people. Maybe it’s simply being another human being in the right place at the right time. Making our very selves available to others is a use of the life we have been given. Don’t sit on your butt watching television, when there are people who could use your help dealing with a problem. Certainly all of these fit, and fit very importantly, into the idea of this parable. Everything I have in this very moment is in my possession for the purpose of furthering God’s kingdom. I mustn’t waste it. I mustn’t let it lay dormant. I must use it, even if using it puts it at risk.
And this is really the point I’ve been hovering around in these posts; that what we have, including but not limited to our money, is in our hands so that it may be used for the kingdom (I plan to speak more about “the kingdom” when I close this series), not for ourselves. But, it is far too easy and far too common for us to take the idea of stewardship and use it to justify the way we protect what we have so that it will remain ours. Being a good steward comes to mean that we polish our fishing boat once a month and protect it from the elements. Being a good steward comes to mean watching my investment portfolio so I’m sure to have more money for myself in ten years than I have now. And from the outside looking in, if we have done little for the kingdom, what have we really done but protect ourselves by placing all of our resources under a rock?
To the point of aversions and excuses, I’ll say it briefly and simply. Being a good steward is a poor excuse for spending a Saturday polishing a boat and buying a new cover to protect it from the elements; being a good steward is more about what we could have done instead of buying a new toy and taking care of it. Being a good steward is a poor excuse for investing money so that it will bring more wealth and luxury to ourselves; being a good steward is more about who we could have helped with that money yesterday. Being a good steward is a poor excuse for keeping resources for myself while I think, “that family over there is suffering because they’re irresponsible, so I’m not giving them something they would already have for themselves if they were good stewards like I am.” Being a good steward is about figuring out how to relieve their situation using whatever I’ve been given. This is the kingdom view, which is almost certainly the view Jesus intended by his parable.
“Being a good steward” is about bringing forth increases in the kingdom, not about protecting our own wealth, time, energy and luxury. Come to think of it, using the idea of “being a good steward” to justify our selfishness is about like using the idea of “loving my neighbor” to justify having sex with the mailman.