Monday, July 20, 2009

When A Parable Bites Me In The Rear End

I like parables... I'd much rather learn something as a story than as an outline. (This may go a long way to explaining why I was an English major at Baylor and had real difficulty with my systematic theology class in seminary.)

So it's no real surprise to anyone that I've been teaching & preaching the parables of Jesus for a long time. I have fond memories of doing dramatic pieces (don't call them "skits", btw - ask me to explain this pet peeve some other time) in college based on parables - the stories lend themselves to theatrical interpretation.

It's also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master's investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master's money.

After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: 'Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.'

The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master's investment. His master commended him: 'Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.'

The servant given one thousand said, 'Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.'

The master was furious. 'That's a terrible way to live! It's criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.

'Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this "play-it-safe" who won't go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.' (Matthew 25:14-30, The Message)

I've taught this parable who knows how many times. (Well, God does - the whole "hairs on my head are numbered" thing - though based on my growing forehead & the general thinning going on up top, He doesn't have as many to track as He used to.) I've used it to illustrate how we should give generously in financial ways. I've explained that the "talents" in "The Parable of the Talents" aren't the things that get you on American Idol, but still proceeded to make the point that our skills/talents/spiritual gifts can either be used or buried.

But it wasn't until a month or so ago that I re-read the story as part of my time with God and felt like I'd been hit upside the head with a two by four. This time around, I thought about the parable in a relational context - that we can bury ourselves, our hearts so deep in order to keep them safe that we never manage to invest ourselves in the lives of others.

Hence, the title of this post... because in a relational context, I'm the third servant. I'm the guy with dirt on his hands and nervous flop sweat on his brow because I've spent far too much time perfecting ways to look like I'm close to people while maintaining a safe emotional distance.

I don't know how this is going to get fixed... but I know I don't want to make another trip around the sun and find myself in the same place next year. And if it's going to change, I'm going to have to risk friendship. Jesus, help me dig up my life & invest it for You.


Unknown said...

Thanks for this. It opened my eyes too. I also am guilty of this behavoir. I, too, hope and pray that I can change and begin engaging people for Jesus more.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

I think it's easy to fall into... it's not like we spend a whole lot of time in worship services warning people about the "EE-vils of low levels of meaningful social interaction."

Jonathan said...

That was awesome! Thanks!