“God forgive me for seeking a place at a table you would have overthrown.”
-Mikayla Bates, viral post accessed August 2023.*
Since the pandemic, I have been drawn to stories that, for better or worse, have shaped me. Seeking a sense of myself in the midst of uncertainty, I wanted to find meaning between the words and hope in the story arcs. I asked myself what were 3 books that significantly impacted the way I viewed myself or the world that I read as a youth. I’ve spent the last few months rereading them. In the midst of so much grief and change, I wanted to tap not into nostalgia or memory. Rather, I wanted to remember who I was, what I cared about, and who I wanted to be. In the lines I remembered how characters became, albeit imperfect and rather one-sided, mentors. These stories were powerful; they shaped life.
At the same time, an online congregation I am a part of entered a time of learning about the power of story through the lens of the parables. Parables are powerful; in their interpretation we find layers of wisdom and purpose. Psychologists talk about how we translate new information and fit it to align with our internal narratives. It’s how a single event, say a conversation, can leave individuals with very different recollections.
When hearing parables, we can often feel bound by our own narratives. Often our first readings are the ones that stick. They shape how we hear it moving forward and the complicated truths are lost. While it does the work of rooting one’s identity, it also can tie us to problematic narratives that keep us from receiving the liberating love of God.
It was in this context that I prepared for the upcoming parable of the talents in the lectionary:
Jesus said, “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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Fall is coming, and with it will come many a story of how Time, Talent and Treasure are used.
With fall will come a season of exploring what we believe about money and…what we believe God thinks about money.
How do we unpack or release narratives that prevent us from receiving the liberating love of God?
Often, when this text is interpreted, it is thought that God is embodied by that of the master and we are to learn something about our own gifts and abilities. Used as a stewardship sermon, I`ve been exhorted to use my talents to grow other gifts for the benefit of the Christian community.
However, in this recent reading I began to ask myself, why would Jesus ever compare the Divine in such a way as “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 where else does the Divine say such things as “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.”
I believe this story was not told for modern-day Christians to determine how best to get a return on investments. Jesus did not come into the world to form a kingdom built on acquisitions and bottom lines. Rather, this powerful parable was once again a commentary on those in power who would use a person’s fear to intimidate others into production and profits.
Jesus, formed in the way of covenantal relationships, sought to build a kingdom that upends our narratives and shifts our understanding about money. The parable of the talents then would become a commentary at large about an economy that uses people and values things rather than values people and uses things.
As we enter the fall together, I invite you to share in considering these questions:
- What would it mean if Jesus tells stories like the parable of the talents as a way to highlight the corruption in power?
- What if Jesus tells stories of stewardship to show us, in contrast, a new—and yet ancient—way of sharing and caring for people? A way of reminding each other how to be with and for each other.
- What if Jesus is giving witness to the injustice of his day and proclaiming a new way of being? What would that mean for us today?
As we enter the fall together, I invite us all to return to the stories, either internal or external that shape us.
May we repent of seeking to join tables that need to be overturned and seek to uplift the worth of people rather than profits.
*=This article was first published on August 28, 2023 at Church Anew, a partner of Faith+Lead in creating Stewardship in a Box, a ready-made resource that helps congregations lead effective stewardship appeals.