Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Joy of the Master

Are you good at taking risks?  Some people are and others are so cautious you wonder how they even get to work every day.

The world we live in is one that is almost obsessed with risk mitigation.  Even the slightest risk – once made public is something we must avoid no matter how miniscule the risk.  And so our children aren’t allowed to play in the streets or climb trees or ride their bikes wherever they want to go.  Something might happen to them.  They might meet a stranger who will abuse them.

Some parents are so afraid of the risk their children will have an adverse reaction to a vaccination that they would prefer to expose their children to the risk of catching the diseases they could be vaccinated against.

And then on the other hand we have those people who seem to poke their tongues out at the risks they deliberately take on – such as climbing up rock faces without ropes to secure themselves against a fall; or base jumping; or ay of a whole range of extreme sports.  And what about those people who have no fear about putting up $40,000 to borrow $400,000 to buy an investment of some sort, and soon after take out another loan on the strength of what they bought before, and all the time they seem to be making one capital gain after another.

These are the issues that seem to be at stake in the parable of Jesus that Matthew tells us here right near the end of his Gospel.  It is clear from the context of the story that a key issue in it is the unexpected return of Jesus – some time, like a thief in the night.

But I think it is fair to say that most of us, when we read this story get stuck on what seems to be the unfair treatment of the man who got just 1000 silver coins.  To do this is to run the risk of missing the important thing we have to notice in the story.

There is something strange in the economy of God that many of us in the church have not understood again and again.  That is, that if you want real security you have to risk it.  Remember when Jesus said that if you want to save your life you have to be willing to lose it.  This parable is an example of this principle at work.

Now it is not talking about money.  It is talking about an attitude of mind and heart.  It is an attitude in which we understand that everything we have has been given to us and that the economy of God needs it to be working in Kingdom ways. 

The emotion that drives security is fear.  Listen to how the man with his 1000 silver coins described the Master:

‘Sir, I know you are a hard man; you reap harvests where you did not plant, and you gather crops where you did not scatter seed.  25 I was afraid, so I went off and hid your money in the ground.’

And that fear is what prevented him from doing anything in the economy of God.  He thought his primary task was to preserve the capital, as we might say today.  He thought all he had to do was protect what the Master had given him.

What he found out was that the Master really wanted him to do was use it.  Take a risk with it.  See what might happen if you dared to venture it in some risky enterprise.

I think it is very easy for us in the church to be like this.  We get caught up in the fear of losing what we have so much that we become paralysed and nothing happens.

Whereas the two who invested the money seemed to have much more freedom, and certainly joy when it came to facing up to the Master when he came back.  I find it interesting that the two faithful ones don’t get higher salaries or gold watches or plaques for their walls as some kind of reward for their faithfulness.  It seems that they get just two things:

1.     They get more responsibility.  In Jesus words “Because you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things.”  In a sense the reward for taking such risks is the encouragement – the responsibility – to take even more risks.
2.     But with the responsibility came a second reward: the joy of the Master’s presence.  The attitude of mind of the first servant towards the master would have found no joy in the master’s presence, and while his banishment is seen as a punishment, in some senses it was a natural consequence, rather than a direct action of the Master.

So, this parable clarifies for us the two alternative ways of being part of this Kingdom of Heaven. 

To the one choosing security over risk, the Lord remains a hard master, one who seems to reap where he does not sow and gather where he has not planted.  Fearfulness breeds more fear.  The prospect of joy and the freedom of response are gone.

But those who risk discover a Lord ready to share the delight of his presence and participation in his mission.  They discover the joy of an abundance mentality in which there is more than enough for everyone – and some to share beyond.  The Kingdom of Heaven knows no boundaries.  And they discover they have a link with the teller of this story, who knows all about risks and whose love is neither prudent nor calculating; indeed it is prodigal.

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