Thursday, November 20, 2014

Don't be Afraid of What You've been Given

While people were listening to Jesus speak,
he proceeded to tell a parable because he was near Jerusalem
and they thought that the Kingdom of God
would appear there immediately.
So he said,
“A nobleman went off to a distant country
to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return.
He called ten of his servants and gave them ten gold coins
and told them, ‘Engage in trade with these until I return.’
Yesterday I heard this gospel, and it was all lit up in my ears. (You only think that's an oxymoron.)

The people were thinking Jesus was going to offer them a completely finished work, something they would simply consume like a product. They did not realize that the kingdom He embodied and was bringing was the Way they needed to come into union with, build, and live. And they certainly didn't grasp that that Way was the way of the cross. One does not consume the cross; the cross rather consumes one.

This nobleman went off to obtain his kingship, but first he entrusts gold to servants. "Engage in trade," keep what I've given you busy and growing. There is a necessity for faith here. The servants had to trust the nobleman's ability to get what he was after. They had to have a bond of trust among themselves that was stronger than the corrupting power of gold.

His fellow citizens, however, despised him
and sent a delegation after him to announce,
‘We do not want this man to be our king.’
They had quite a bit to act against, since he was rejected on a grand scale by the very people he intended to rule.

But when he returned after obtaining the kingship,
he had the servants called, to whom he had given the money,
to learn what they had gained by trading.
The first came forward and said,
‘Sir, your gold coin has earned ten additional ones.’
He replied, ‘Well done, good servant!
You have been faithful in this very small matter;
take charge of ten cities.’
Then the second came and reported,
‘Your gold coin, sir, has earned five more.’
And to this servant too he said,
‘You, take charge of five cities.’
Then the other servant came and said,
‘Sir, here is your gold coin;
I kept it stored away in a handkerchief,
for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man;
you take up what you did not lay down
and you harvest what you did not plant.’
He said to him,
‘With your own words I shall condemn you,
you wicked servant.
You knew I was a demanding man,
taking up what I did not lay down
and harvesting what I did not plant;
why did you not put my money in a bank?
Then on my return I would have collected it with interest.’
And to those standing by he said,
‘Take the gold coin from him
and give it to the servant who has ten.’
But they said to him,
‘Sir, he has ten gold coins.’
He replied, ‘I tell you,
to everyone who has, more will be given,
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king,
bring them here and slay them before me.’”

After he had said this,
he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.
 Now, I'm not sure what happened to the other seven since only three reactions are mentioned, but it is fair to say that some of the servants remained faithful, trusting that the nobleman was going to accomplish what he set out for, and they stayed busy with investing, despite the naysayers.

What dawns on me is that the investing these servants were to be busy with was a testimony to their faith in the absent nobleman. The dynamism of putting capital to work was to strengthen their own faith-resolve as well as mark them out as decidedly different from those who were actively working against the establishment of the kingdom. Who is the wicked one here? The one who wants to stay neutral. The guy who hides what the noble gave him doesn't want to put out a lot of effort or risk faith that the noble will be crowned, nor does he want to completely reject him by going with the anti-king faction. He just doesn't want to commit his life one way or the other. The fact that he has the gold coin betrays the fact that he had been in intimate enough communion with the noble to receive it. But all he wants is to give it back, sort of regretting that he ever got mixed up in this ordeal in the first place.

That guy is not just lazy, he is a coward. He is afraid of the dynamism of living, afraid of enemies, afraid of the noble, afraid of what he had been given.

And that just never can be the right answer. It seems the one who is afraid of what he has been given does not actually believe in the Giver. He does not really believe it has been given to him; he believes it is some freak accident that his own freakish nature has originated. He is proud. He does not realize he is a contingent being, that he did not make himself.

The joy of the dynamism of working and investing is that of trial and error. This works; this flops. This needs something else in order to go further. All this development process is like growing in holiness, and it is the work in building the kingdom we are called to do. We only do it with the gold we are given. The capital is not ours, but the development of it is. We have all the helps of grace we can ask for, as well as all the goads we need (like those anti-kingdom workers whose efforts spur us out of comfort). I would rather move forward by trial and error, trusting the grace of the Holy Spirit to correct, guide and inspire, than sit and fret and worry and be afraid and stew in my own juices.

Work in the kingdom is meant to combat fear and to build trust in the One who gives everything we have.

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