Risky business

There is no real justice in this parable. Those who have much are given more – those who have little wind up with nothing; not to mention the dismissal into the darkness “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”1, and too often, this parable is explained to us as an example of stewardship. Take the gifts you are given and use them to advantage (and to the glory of God, of course) – this is how the kingdom comes; this is what the king of kings wants. But there is no justice in that expanation, either – and God’s kingdom is not a kingdom without justice.

So what do you make of this story? Lots of good suggestions have come from the idea that we must be pro-active with the bounty entrusted to us; it is a reasonable way to live – even a faithful way to live – but is that enough?

If there is someone willing to trust us with a treasure, what would that mean? It says as much about the slaves as it does about the master. It suggests that the slave has earned the master’s trust. It suggests that the master is either exceedingly generous, or so wealthy that he is indifferent to great loss. There is an element of risk here that is not always our first way into the story, and it is the risk that makes it interesting.

We don’t often think of faith as a risky business. We advertise faith as the great comfort; religion has ben described as ‘the opiate of the people’, and whether or not you accept Marx’s premise, we understand religion as something that offers safety, security and some measure of certainty. Risk is for something else, not for faith – not for us…

The problem is that the things that we long for – the things that faith in Christ demand of us – these are not safe, comfortable things. We want peace – we wait for the peace that passes understanding – and we are called to work for that peace; loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. Risky business that, because it means speaking up when reason tells us that silence would be safer. Risk is for teenagers and rebels – for people who would test the boundaries of authority and possibility – and that is what Jesus does; eating with the outcast, marching on the spiritual capital and challenging the order of the day. The risk was incalculable; the punishment was execution…but the reward for his faithful risk-taking was resurrection – and a lasting legacy among those who call themselves faithful.

Put aside the notion that those who work hardest or those who are most obedient will receive greatest reward in the heavenly kingdom – and those who fail to “grow the kingdom” will be shunned – that is a misreading of this parable. Instead, consider the idea that those who were brave enough (or foolish enough) to risk what was not theirs are “welcomed into the joy of their master.” And the one who wanted only to keep what he had been given – taking no chances and treating the gift as a threat (or a curse) – that slave is shown the door. It’s not that the master expected a doubling of his investment – the rate of return is what we usually remember in this story. The master took a chance – putting power / wealth / his “fortune” (whatever it may be) in the hands of his slaves. Those who took the same risk as the master – the two who sent those gifts out (and as a result, multiplied them) – they were welcomed as equals; they joined the company as partners (to extend the metaphor). The risk brings the reward.

So when was the last time we took a risk in faith? I’ll be honest, my list is fairly long – having left one occupation to start on a new path – following the call into ordained ministry – risky business. But what does risk look like for you? For this congregation? For the People of God?

The slaves who earned praise from the master did not – could not – expect reward of any kind; certaily not to be welcomed into the master’s inner circle. Neither can we operate on the expectation of “doubling our investment” every time we take a chance. Failure is much more likely than success (that’s what makes it risky) but risk is what made us who we are; risk built the Church of Christ; risk is at the heart of grace, forgiveness and the mercy of God.

Can we live faithful lives without taking a chance? I, for one, can’t imagine how. There is no certainty in tradition; the lessons of history teach us that risk is essential to progress; our sense of security (as an institution crucial to the well being of society) has been taken hostage, and there is no negotiations that will restore our position. It’s time to take a chance with the gifts God has given us.

There are no guarantees; no way of calculating the ‘rate of return’ – there is only the promise that those who take a chance for their faith will be welcomed into the joy of our Master.

Amen

1Matthew 25: 30

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