Being a Steward

I never read the bible until I was an adult. I never read the bible seriously until I was in my forties. I remember vividly the first time I read the story which is today’s Gospel.

It is uniformly referred to as The Parable of the Talents, and as I recalled it, I began the story with no preconceived notion of where it would lead. I read that each of the three stewards accepted the monies deposited with them and then went on to observe their actions.

My first thoughts were that the first two had risked losing the Master’s funds but had by skill or luck been able to add to the riches entrusted to them. I thought the third fellow the smart one–he had taken no chances with the money entrusted with him, but had made sure it remained safe.

What a shock when I got to the end. The third steward was treated, not with the acclaim I expected, but rather with anger and punishment. Although I have since learned the “lesson” offered, I have never really liked this story.

Quite frankly I feel utter sympathy for the poor man who hid the talent. How can one not?

He’s already been designated as the least capable of the three, he was given but one talent to protect. His lack of ability could not have been unknown to himself surely. Most people are only too aware of their limitations. We can relate to him so easily, especially those of us who have been in situations, whether in our families or in the workplace, where we were considered “incapable” in some way.

“I always get it wrong,” a small boy might lament. “Dad never praises me for anything. I’m always the screw-up.” Is it so surprising then, that the untalented one takes the safe route and merely hides the talent, so that at least, he can’t lose the Master’s wealth?

Yet, Jesus makes it so very clear that God and he are not “hard” or “demanding” as some of the texts use. And this is the crux of the issue. Jesus tells us that we are not to approach God out of fear, but rather out of love, confident and assured that we are supported. What went so terribly wrong here is that the servant lived in fear of the Master. He probably hated the fact that he had been entrusted with anything!

We learn that if we approach our faith from fear, then we are no good to ourselves, others, nor the Kingdom. We teach incorrectly, we teach falsely, we drive people from God.

It is hard, at first,  to figure out how this passage was joined with the first reading of the day, Prv: 31: 10-13, 19-20.30-31. In those passages, husbands are reminded of the value of a good wife. The good wife fears the Lord, but not in the way that makes her incapacitated with actual fear. No, her fear, is reverence and a love that pushes her to reach out:

She obtains wool and flax
and works with loving hands.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her fingers ply the spindle.
She reaches out her hands to the poor,
and extends her arms to the needy.

Her “talents” are put to good and fruitful use, and bear fruit that enhances her family and her community.

This is the lesson I believe.

Jesus is nearing the end of his time on earth. He is trying to counter the Pharisaic model of an angry and avenging God who requires adherence to every rule and law to its most picayune point. Matthew urges his community, in including this story, to go fearlessly into the night, proclaiming the message with courage, and assurance.

We too live in frightening times. It is not time to hide under the bed, but rather to stand up, proclaiming our truth.

Are you a good steward?

Amen.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 16:58:16

    Sherry, as you know from my post, I think you’re spot-on here. Fear is the villain in this story and the tragedy of the third servant springs directly from his submission to it. We’re constantly told, in both Testaments, not to be afraid. Yet every one of our battles inevitably boils down to fear. And because fear is a hard-wired biological response deeply imbedded in our natural survival instincts, being afraid of God is an easy, and easily foolish, purchase.

    The third servant shows us fear gets us nowhere. Indeed, it sets us back; we end up with less than we started with and very well could find ourselves isolated from our Lord, families, and communities because of nutty and unproductive things fear goads us to do. It blinds us to better ways so that we’re convinced a fearful approach is the only way, even when we see others succeed where we’re certain we’ll fail.

    The psychological complexity of this parable is, I think, unparalleled simply because it focuses on defying native drives that have dominated us since the dawn of time. That’s why I also think we struggle so with stewardship, as it exposes us to all sorts of possibilities, good and bad, which is counterintuitive to our obsession with self-preservation. We never know how investing our gifts in ways that please God will turn out. Sometimes things end happily, as happens in the parable. At other times, doing the right thing exacts a high price. Naturally the second outcome gives us plenty of reason to fear. But trying to prevent losses closes off any opportunities for great gain. Once again, the cosmic joke’s on us.

    One area I didn’t have time or space to explore in my post, which has nagged at me all along, is that the master promises no reward to the servants. This minor detail somehow alters the equation. Their only incentive is pleasing their master. That he lavishly rewards the two who double his money is unexpected. And yet the fact that neither says a critical word about him suggests they know him to be faithful and kind–the exact opposite of what the third guy says. Faith in him frees them from fear. His trust is their true reward. The money is just gravy.

    And that’s what I hear you saying. That God entrusts us with stewardship is more valuable than any tangible reward we can possibly possess. What a powerful idea! And what an empowering one. The gifts of giving and multiplying our gifts poise us for priceless treasures that money can never buy. Self-confidence, focus, balance, imagination, etc., and–most of all–freedom from fear.

    I’m tempted to say I could write a book on this parable. Seeing the length of my comment, it appears I already have!

    It’s such indescribable joy to spend each Sunday here with you. I’m always enriched and bedazzled by your insights and candor. You epitomize a good and trustworthy servant, and I pray your generous stewardship here, as well as in all you do for the Kingdom, will be redoubled many times over!

    Blessings beyond measure, dearest friend,
    Tim

    Reply

    • Sherry
      Nov 14, 2011 @ 12:22:36

      Oh Gosh Tim, I learned so much from your post on this. I have found that reading a couple of articles on the passage from that site I mentioned to you, is most helpful. I was happy to find that my concern for the poor third guy is not unknown among some of those who have written on this passage. And I think you pointed out so perfectly that the real gift is not the money, but the freeing from fear and all that means to us as human beings in all we do in life. The gift doesn’t just make us better stewards, but happier and more productive people in our communities and families.

      You must have realized by now that if you put together a compilation of your posts, they would make a fine fine book of reflections. You offer us so much. Blessings, dearest of friends. Sherry

      Reply

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