Parable of the Talents

There’s the long sequence in Matthew where Jesus is trying to give the disciples metaphors and information that they will need later, after Jesus has been killed. The parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30, is pretty confusing. My pastor preached that one way to look at it, is the master that goes away is Jesus/God and he is good, despite the harsh words to the slave with 1 talent. Or another way is to say that the master that goes away is the world/a bad boss, and the slave with 1 talent is being brave and bold and speaking truth to power — and getting killed for it. Who is who here?

I wrote him my thoughts — I spent a month nearly day working this parable. I think there’s a third way. He was quite liked it. So here goes:

In living with this parable, I came to think that Jesus was trying to prepare the disciples for when he would be gone; and one of the big things, one of the things that the disciples could not seem to be learning, was that Jesus wasn’t offering a political, worldly, warrior-type revolution. He was trying to teach a completely new thing, I think, and among other messages “God is not “you” writ large.” No one is evil in their own sight. Every villain in fiction (and real life I suspect) is doing it for a reason, however misguided it clearly is to audience. So we can take what are merely our motivations and turn that into God’s will.

So to “enter into the joy of the master” — to have God’s will truly on Earth as it is in Heaven — is what we should seek: community, fellowship, but even more so. Christ in us. And this is only possible by understanding that God has already given us this gift (represented by the gift of the talents), each in our own way (“according to their abilities”) (through Grace and the cross).

So the slave with 1 talent buried it in the ground — he did nothing because he was afraid of harsh judgment. Yet the master he sees is himself — himself writ large. The master is “harsh”, judgmental (says this slave); yet the slave is being harsh and judgmental himself. The master doesn’t grow his own profit. The slave buried a coin in the ground — a coin does not grow into a tree or a crop.  The slave, too, had nothing to reap or to gather. The slave was blinded to the possibility of “entering into the joy” of the master because he had created a self-fulfilling belief of what the world was like.

(Note the slave  “went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid…” and describes it nearly exactly that way to the master “I went and hid your talent in the ground”. The slave describes the master as both reaping what he did not sow and as gathering what he did not plant. These doubles must be an emphasis, I think, a pointer to look carefully. And both doubles are from the slave with 1 talent, who cannot break free of who he is long enough to see clearly the Master and the possibility of a new story entirely — a world with abundance and joy and communion.)

In fact, a God that is God (not “me”): the awe of that is amazing and terrifying and hope. Jesus lets us get a glimpse of that while giving us the hand of a human person to hold. And the Holy Spirit was there was first of all, giving us gifts to treasure before we even knew we needed them.

In fact, I think the weeping and gnashing of teeth is actually God’s broken heart that someone is “cast into the outer darkness” and there is no way seemingly to break into that darkness and free that person…..? This may be a bit too far (after all the story says “As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness…but what point of view are we in at that point? It may still be the master talking but is it the view point of the slave who is listening?).

In terms of my life, it is lovely and a blessing to slowly slowly, maybe, be entering a phase of life where things don’t feel quite so delicately balanced, not yet enough to test the weight, but enough to hope for a future where “fear not” makes sense….and to wonder if perhaps at least some of ones fears have been merely a prison of one’s own making? Since my life has presently given me a glimmer of hope and blessings, am I indeed merely interpreting the parable of the 10 talents from “me-ness” and not from “God”?

Perhaps the parable works in many ways, and that is all good too?

whew! Your thoughts welcome!


Interrupted by ancient Greeks

I recently read in Smithsonian magazine about Bryan Doerries’, “Theater of War productions” bare-bones readings of ancient Greek tragedies that have helped vets and their families come to terms with the multiple and ongoing tragedies of war. His production of Antigone in Ferguson, Mo., helped connect black and white, police and non-police. The power of ancient tragedies still works.

Googling, there was a similar story about a year ago in The New Yorker that I missed.

There is so much similar — that I never had words for before — about my experience of “telling” the Bible versus just reading or studying it.

*The connection with history. We are not isolated in time from humanity before us, there is a connection to make and feel.

*Understanding the historical context of these Greek tragedy plays — an era of war, an era of huge bloodshed, and the context that the plays were written, performed, by and for and to soldiers. What is the comfort in tragedy?

*Truth telling builds trust and connection. Storytelling connects people, and perhaps heals people.

In the Smithsonian article, writer Jeff MacGregor says “What did Sophocles know that we don’t? That drama, live theater, can be a machine for creating empathy and community.”  Further, he writes “…there is something profoundly lonely in modernity, something isolating and dislocation. Maybe sitting in the same room with other humans who suffer and speak is comfort enough. Maybe enough to save us.”

And that is what I seek in church. That is what my soul longs for, to connect, and for church to be that conduit. And Scripture to be the narrative text and context for that connection and that meaning — and the healing.

From the website of Theater of War, it says “Each reading has been followed by a town-hall style audience discussion, which has been facilitated with the help of military community members. These have been arresting, emotionally charged events, in which service members have spoken openly about their experiences in combat and at home. To date, over 80,000 service members, veterans, and their families have attended and participated in Theater of War performances and discussions.”

Church, yes? “For while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”

Let’s pray for peace.

Back to Matthew 20:1-16

So back to Matthew 20:1-16 — time to look at what comes before and after. And time to confess that I am a little bored with this passage. What is up with that? I’m also “stuck”. I have it pretty much by heart, which is good because I tell it on the 24th. So I have time to keep polishing and to find some guinea pigs to let me practice. Yet, I’m feeling a little stuck, as if there is some vitality to this parable that I am not getting. May be that’s what the feeling of boredom is about as well. This parable isn’t zinging with me.

So what comes just before it, in 19:27-30 is Peter saying, “hey we’ve given up everything for you, what are we going to get?” And Jesus gets mysterious yet again. “Peter, you and the other 12 are going to get thrones! At the renewal of all things — the end? the beginning? — you will be a judge! And everyone who has left their home and their people to follow me, will receive hundredfold — and eternal life. But maybe not everyone, maybe some of the first will actually be last.”

This sort of seems very concrete, but also very — “do x and you get y” — which almost sounds like a bribe or a payment. I reject any notion that God is a vending machine in the sky or Santa Claus. So this passage makes me feel uncomfortable. I myself do not love Jesus in order to gain something after this life. In fact, loving Jesus and worshiping God and studying the bible enrich my life right now, can bring me feelings of joy and gratefulness. So far, even in the storms of life or when I’m angry at God for the suffering I see around me, so far anyway, I can feel deep down that certainty of being held in his hands. Of being beloved. I don’t need to be promised more in the after; certainly not a throne.

I mean actually — a throne!? Judging? I wonder if this is really a reward for Peter and the others! Maybe it is a warning. “Stick with me, and eventually you will have a lot of work to do.” Yikes!

What has prompted Peter to even ask about what’s in it for him? (And don’t you love the honesty and human-ness of Peter to be recorded saying this!) It is story of the Rich Young Man, and Jesus saying about camels and eyes of needles and the rich. Since back then, being rich was (as I am told), considered a sign that God favored you, the disciples were astonished. If the rich — those favored and blessed by God already — would not be able to enter the kingdom of heaven, then who could?

“For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible,” said Jesus.

I hear an echo of Sarah here, a hint of laughter in the air. I like the idea of the disciples not asking these questions out of greed or whining or fear but maybe out of confusion, out of a need for hope maybe. I like the idea that this conversation is taking place with Jesus with laughter in the air — maybe laughter of like “thrones, ha, he’s going to put us on thrones” or maybe laughter like “I’m so embarrassed to be in this conversation” or maybe laughter like “what crazy thing can we get Jesus to say now.”

And besides laughter, perhaps we and the disciples are also hearing more than a hint of the power and glory and grace of God. Not our will or our doings, but God’s grace and mercy.

Well good news, I’m not bored with this anymore. I am feeling some zing! I love finding something unexpected in the Bible.





Interrupting with thoughts of the Reformation

So the Reformation is about 500 years old; dating from when Luther nailed his 95 thesis on the church door. It has been written by, I think, Phylis Tickle that every 500 years the church has a rummage sale. Takes things out of the attic and up from the basement and sorts things out, cleans things up, sometimes tosses bad ideas right on the bonfire. And so, us, today — churches in turmoil and people sleeping in on Sunday morning. How do we “save” church?

What if that is too narrow a focus? What if “society” cleans things up about every 500 years? Or messes things up, depending. Without the Renaissance would the Reformation have happened? What ideas need to go — forever — to keep a civil world, a world alive and not just riot and anarchy?

The world and the church are entwined. Yet none of this is anything planned; it will be an organic process and after we are but dust the people will shake their heads and say, goodness that was a lot of turmoil for changes that were so obvious and needed and proper. We won’t know and cannot prophesy what that world and church will be.

In fact, is the great popularity (me too!) of “superheros” a longing for the power of good and order? Or is it some lazy desire or “fall back” to wanting someone else to fix our mess? Perhaps “the” factor in shaping tomorrow is that today the rich get richer and the middle class is shrinking — will that be what the future sees as the perfectly obviously factor? Perhaps the end of work is the big coming change — when there are so few jobs because machines and androids do all the work — so what will people do? How might they create meaning? The “economy” would mean something entirely different to those of that future. Would they shake their heads in disbelief that I didn’t get to spend all day writing? Or will they be tremendously jealous that I got to work each day, and know I was needed, at the sense of worth that creates and how it pushes me to keep learning stuff I don’t think I can learn. Perhaps climate change will so reshape the world in ways we can’t imagine at all.

I hope however, I hope, I hope the future of the world and the future of the church has room for all, and reknits us together, in beauty and in quiet, in storm and justice, in greeness and sweetness and sorrow and sharing. In loud music and in soft, in gentle nights and in storm preparations. Pockets perhaps of “being alike” and pockets of wild and fascinating diversity and joy in both, sharing in both. Dear God, knit us together, in the hope and renewal of the cross, in the love, in the deep down rich mysterious aliveness of being alive.

Reading Matthew 20:1-16

Trying to write and study Matthew 20:1-16 today, with an ear-ache and a head-ache, and not getting far. But the last are on my mind. Today with an ear-ache, squinting if the light is too bright, and just feeling not very good, today I might be one of the last hired in the marketplace. I’d be found leaning on a wall, or slumped down on the ground. I might not be noticed earlier in the day, if I had even managed to get there earlier. “The last” were that day’s unfortunate. Maybe there were a lot of them. Maybe some were always the last and not just having a bad day. Maybe some were never hired, creeping out at the end of the day hoping for some charity from one of the first, so that they might eat. At the end of the day the marketplace might be nearly empty of goods to sell, might be quiet. Were the last a community? Did they ask after each other? Or were their pain and suffering from whatever their situation was that made them “the last” then keep them separate and alone? Did shame keep them alone? Today I can well imagine that physical pain alone would keep them isolated from each other. Did they smell? Where they thin and worried? Did they send glances around at the bread stalls, longing for even the stale bread? Was water available for them, or were their tongues swollen with need?

In biblical times it is unlikely (to me anyway) that “race” separated them into first and last; I suspect it was more able-bodied versus disabled, or class or gender. In our world today, the world has institutionalized the wrongs of race. Perhaps not as bad as the past. Perhaps just as bad. That something as false as race could separate and isolate us from each other…. That there seems little one person can do? Today with pain — everything is colored in very little hope, just a pale shade of yellow with a muddle of blue here and there.

How amazed might the last have been going into the vineyard, feeling welcome and useful? Perhaps they picked up sticks, helped to clean the tools, or brought water to the first still working in the hot sun? In the vineyard, unlike the marketplace, perhaps all people were used and cherished and given a sense of worth.

Let me pray to look at my daily walking around life for a chance be a vineyard owner of welcome, instead of a marketplace economy of firsts and lasts.




Luke 2:21-40 — and sadness

At the recent wonderful Network of Biblical Storytellers yearly Festival Gathering — worship and lectures and workshops and stories, stories, stories for 4 days! — one of the featured stories was Luke 2:21-40. This is the one about Simeon, a righteous man, and Anna, a prophetess and how they greeted the baby Jesus as the savior. Reading the story, Simeon did not resonate with me. I just thought it was a story…. at the gathering, well, it brought me to tears.

One piece of why I reacted that way may be, when Simeon (who is holding baby Jesus), says to God, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people, Israel.”

Simeon was told he would die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Now he can die and, moreover, he can die happy and full of hope and trust.

How beautiful that seems to me. What a blessing!

The news headlines today, and personal sorrows in family and friends, swirl about me: everything looks dark and hope flickers at best. Yet the thing is, we do not know the “end of the story”.

And that is what Simeon thinks he has, “the end of the story” — God through this baby’s life is going to bring salvation, light, glory to Israel and to the Gentiles. It’s all going to be good.

What, I wonder did Simeon think the next day? And the next week? Did he live another year or more? Did he keep track of the baby since (as we learn in the next story) his parents came every year to Jerusalem for Passover? Did his peace stay with him?

See in your mind’s eye the picture of Simeon holding baby Jesus (imagine holding baby Jesus!) and feeling — knowing in his bones — that this was the one, this was the Messiah. That picture just rips my heart in two with some strange combination of love and hope and pain. May we all feel “dismissed in peace” and not the bitterness and regret of old age.


Futher thoughts on Elijah and the sound of silence

In Kings 19:9-14 or so, is a very strange story. Elijah — the greatest prophet — is on the lam from Jezebel, in fear of his life and hiding in a cave. And yet he asks God to just let him die because he’s failed and is left alone of all the Israelites.

So God says, Go and look for I am going to pass by.

At the mouth of the cave, Elijah experiences a great wind, an earthquake, a fire and God was not in any of them. Then he experiences a sound of sheer silence.

Or perhaps, say the footnotes in my bible, a gentle little breeze. Or the sound of a light whisper. Or a “still small voice”. Did he hear something or not? Was the silence all or not? Was God in the silence or the whisperings? Where was God if he was passing by?

Recently, I had an experience of complete terror.

And it wasn’t a great wind, earthquake, or fire.

We were on a trip to Glacier National Park. The guide took us off path and had us sit and listen. For 10 minutes. It was completely quiet.

The silence was full of rustles, and the wind pushing the tops of the tall tall trees around, and the rustle of squirrels, and the call of birds. Branches would crack. We were not that far from other people. The silence was quietly alive, brimming with it, yet still silence.

I was completely terrified. I can’t truly explain it.  I could not have stayed quiet and still another second. I could feel my heart. The silence was as real as my heart, full of threat and mystery.

God says to Elijah (again): “What are you doing here?”

In my ten minutes of quiet in the midst of a wilderness, what would I have to say if God had said to me “What are you doing here?”

“I love you God and I think I am dying.”

I survived the silence. Was God in the silence? Would you have enjoyed it? How would you respond if God asked you “What are you doing here?”


Mountains in Matt 28:16-20

So as a storyteller, this passage sort of “gelled” when I realized it was on a mountain — not in the temple, or a locked room, or around a table — it was on a mountain. And Jesus is saying to “Go, therefore, to all nations” — from a mountain you can see (at least on a clear day) a long way. You have a feeling of seeing the whole world and far more, anyway, than your normal daily paths. I got a sort of picture in my mind of Jesus sweeping his arms out to the whole world. Or maybe even he pointed to Phillip and pointed in the direction of India and so on.

And then this verse — “And Jesus came and said to them…” Where did he come from? Wasn’t he there on the mountaintop? What’s going on?

“When they saw him, they worshiped him….

And Jesus came and said….”

I visualize that Jesus was floating in the air, descending down to the mountaintop. All could see him. And while some doubted — maybe something is wrong with my eyes — they all worshiped him. If we saw someone floating down to a mountaintop, clearly worship is a fine reaction!

So in giving the Tell, I tried looked up at “When they saw him…” and I swept my arms out and a little down, at “Go, therefore” to all nations…”

Just a tiny bit of movement to expand the story. I think it did anyway!

Plus there’s more.

I think.

What mountain near Galilee would this be? Perhaps the mountain where the sermon on the Mount took place?

Or perhaps being on a mountain is to free the disciples from temple-worship — God is everywhere?

Moses went up to a Mountain and came back down with the Ten Commandments. Mountains are important imagery in Matthew.

So — may we have a chance to get to a high place and breath in the view and feel the air. And worship God!



Interrupted by surprises

I was sinking down into a depression-sized hole. I don’t think I am quite crawling out of it yet. But several surprising things happened.

(1) At Awesome Con, the wonderful Wil Wheaton talked about depression/mental health and… he said (more or less), “If any of you have not been touched by depression/anxiety/other mental health challenge or someone you love or know has not been — if it hasn’t affected you at all, then please clap.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

My eyes, personally, were pretty wet for some reason. It was a profound moment of both stillness and connection, silence and witness.

(2) While there are lots of reasons for my down cycle one involves a mistake I made. In making amends, I talked to a person who said, “Well, it’s a pain of course. But we all make mistakes. It is unlikely to be the last mistake or the worst mistake — you’ve got a lot more mistakes to make before life is over, right?”

For the first time in a while, I laughed.

Yep, I’m not now going to be perfect. There’s going to be more mistakes. The world will keep spinning.

(3) And for the first time, I recognized my pattern — when I am depressed (or whatever this is), when I am over-stressed, my go-to reaction is to not talk. Just when I need to reach out and talk to people, I literally have no words.

My parents used to tell stories of me as a little thing, before school. “You would only talk to us,” they would say. These days parents would rather panic, don’t you think? Mine thought it was kind of cute. And while I started talking in Kindergarten to lots of people, it isn’t my first response. My first response — not even on a conscious level — is to choke on my words. I almost think it cycles.

So I’m tipping a toe in the water of just — talking.

And trying not to think of how dumb it is to talk about the weather, trying not to think of all the wrong things I could say or more mistakes I could make, trying not to talk myself out of talking.