We hear today another parable of the kingdom—it follows directly on the parable of the ten bridesmaids from last Sunday. A parable is, of course, open to interpretation. It’s often hard to know exactly what Jesus had in mind, but the effect of a parable is to draw the listener in, to engage the imagination and intellect and moral sensibilities. But the parables of Jesus often leave us scratching our heads a bit.
Those who have get more and those who have nothing lose even what they have? We may find ourselves in a kind of wrestling match to sort it all out. Jesus being the consummate teacher, I suspect the wrestling match, even some indignation, is what he desires. The personal engagement with the Living Word, even if it’s arguing, is better than spineless passivity. So, as Jacob wrestled mightily with the angel of God, we often wrestle with the Living Word as he comes to us by means of texts, sometimes confusing or obscure texts.
This parable is worth a very close read (especially that part about those having nothing losing what they have—read that very closely sometime), but I’d like to focus on just one character in the story: the one entrusted with one talent. One talent was actually a lot of money: the equivalent of fifteen years’ pay for a laborer. The one talent slave was actually entrusted with a great deal. But the man is afraid. He’s so afraid he begins to imagine the master as a harsh man, reaping where he did not sow. And then he buries fifteen years’ worth of paychecks in the ground.
This is a parable about fear. Fear is, needless to say, very much part of the human experience, a powerful motivating force. But in the Kingdom of God fear itself will be cast into outer darkness. “Perfect love casts out fear…” it says in 1 John 4: 18—to do a little cross-referencing. In the Kingdom of God, fear is something to be cast into outer darkness; in the Kingdom of God, fear is an abomination. The real villain in the parable is not the poor risk-aversive wretch with the overactive imagination; it is the fear that binds him.
In the Kingdom of God fear is cast into outer darkness. It has no place in the Kingdom. If Jesus Christ is Love, Love himself, fear is his opposite. Fear is the adversary of our nature, the adversary of our new life in Christ. Whether the adversary is an “it” or a “he” or both is a question I’ll leave for another day, another wrestling match. It’s enough to say that we human beings have an adversarial relationship with fear and the struggle with it is not only emotional but spiritual.
We are offered a new life in Christ, a new identity in Christ, a life of transformation. It takes courage to claim this new life. It takes courage to live into this new identity in Christ. It takes courage to engage a life of transformation in Christ. It takes courage, and fear is our adversary.
There’s good fear and bad fear, of course. It’s good to be afraid of rattlesnakes and large trucks coming down the road fast. But the poor soul in the parable is afraid of goblins and spooks raised by his own imagination. Many of our fears are imaginary—or if not completely fabricated, gross distortions of what we might call “reasonable fears”. Fear of failure. Fear of loss of status or power or position. Fear of rejection, or not being loved. Fear of loneliness. Fear of abandonment or separation. There is a component of reasonableness in these fears, but they become greatly magnified in our imaginations. Magnified to levels of terrible toxicity.
Fear is toxic when it when it withers the soul, or when the soul begins to feel buried in the ground like in the parable. Fear is toxic when it inhibits our giving ourselves up to our new identity in Christ. As Christians we give ourselves over to love, to be animated by love, to embody love—to embody the grace and truth of Christ. Fear is toxic when it inhibits what love would do, when it inhibits what love would say, when in inhibits what love would embody in our lives. Fear is toxic when it inhibits truth. And, so, the struggle with fear is a spiritual battle.
1 John 4: 16b-18 “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the Day of Judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”
In the Kingdom of God fear itself is cast out and love is perfected in us. Jesus tells parables of the Kingdom not only to describe the future, but to invite us into that future, even now. The parable isn’t really about financial investments, of course. It’s about another kind of investment: it’s about investing ourselves in a new identity. Instead of burying ourselves in the ground, we invest our very selves in a new enterprise. We are vested, invested, clothed in a new identity in Christ. The new being in us is fearless—at least in the fullness of time and eternity.
We have in our tradition a number of what we call spiritual practices or spiritual disciplines. Different kinds of prayer and meditation. Study. Journaling. Fasting. Corporate prayer and private devotion. Works of mercy and generosity. Examen of conscience. Sacramental confession and reconciliation. Retreats and spiritual direction. And so on.
I’d like to propose another spiritual discipline: the spiritual discipline of spitting—spitting in the eye of the Adversary. It’s a crude metaphor, I know, but appropriate. Fear is an abomination, fear is the adversary of our true nature. Fear, our Adversary and mortal enemy, is worthy of our deepest scorn and contempt.
I suggest staying out of the way of rattlesnakes and big trucks moving fast—unless a child’s life is in danger (in which case you may have to do something about that snake or truck). Instead, consider the more insidious fears and inhibitions of our daily existence, the fears that wither the soul. Each day, as a kind of inoculation against fear, spit in his eye.
One way to do that: speak up at that meeting. Speak the truth as you understand it, not just what you think others want to hear. Organizations become corrupt when people do not speak up for fear of whatever. Penn State, for example.
Another way to spit in fear’s eye today: Stand up to a bully. Bullies can corrupt organizations, too, by threatening to get very angry, or threatening to leave, or even threatening to be very hurt. As Christians we are to embody the grace and truth of Christ—speaking the truth in love.
Another way: give a little more to that charity—or a lot more. We can be overly anxious about having enough for ourselves. But uninhibited generosity is a mark of the Kingdom (and the adversary hates generosity).
Or, begin that process of reconciliation that you’ve been putting off (the adversary loathes reconciliations). Or, have the courage to admit you were wrong about something (the adversary hates humility). Or, acknowledge your own vulnerability (the adversary hates honesty). Or, challenge a racist or ethnic joke (the adversary thrives on divisiveness). Or, tell someone you love them (the adversary hates tenderness). Stand up for the oppressed (the adversary hates justice). Do something that feels a little risky every day as a kind of inoculation against fear (the adversary shrinks in the face of courage).
Let the adversary know you are not his slave. Let the adversary know you are not burying your silver or yourself in the ground. Let the adversary know you are claiming your new life, your true life in Christ now, today. Let the adversary know that the Kingdom of God is already here—that, as far as you are concerned, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Love, the Kingdom of courage and valiant deeds is already here.
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