Monday, September 23, 2013

Parabolic Point of View

There once was a master who did such unusual things, and said such strange things, that the people who heard him were easily confused. This Master was in command of everything he could see.  From one horizon all the way to the other, everything from the dirt in the ground to the leaves on the trees, everything was his. This master was full of love for everything on his estate.  Yet as much as he loved it, he could not care for it all by himself.  So he invited his friends to help him take care of the estate. One day a child came to him and whispered in his ear, “Master, your friend is wasting the estate.”  The master panicked.  He got upset.  He got angry.  And he himself, he became confused. 

When his friend found out that the master was unhappy, this friend, he did not panic. He went to all the other friends on the estate, who may, or may not, have been also wasting the estate, and said,” What do you owe our master..5? Lets make it 3.  You owe 8?  Let’s make it 4”.  He gave away the master's stuff'; this friend he kept giving it all away. When the master found out about what his friend was doing, what did he do?  The Master did not get mad.  He celebrated.  The Master remembered how much he loved his estate, and how much he wanted to share it with his friends. The Master who said such confusing things and did such surprising things, he celebrated with all his friends who may have been giving his estate away.  And the people have been confused ever since.

Greed, love, passion, want: these feelings make us want to clutch and grab and hold and lock things up.  Greed and passion and want: These feelings lead us into the sins that our friend Amos today was yelling about.  Greed and grab and clutch and panic.  That is not how Jesus lived, and not how he calls his disciples, how he calls you and me to live.  Blessed the bread, broke the bread and he did what?  He shared it with his friends. The gifts of God are for the people of God. 

Some of us have a hard time with metaphor.  Perhaps you felt more than a bit uncomfortable when you heard today’s parable.  You may have been uncomfortable, perhaps because Jesus said these strange words.  Or maybe, you felt prickly because we are in church and you expected to hear about safe values and blessed security.  Perhaps you felt distressed because he was talking about valuable, earthly, material stuff.  A popular translation says this guy was ‘Wasting the estate’.  Some of us, for nearly two millennia, have had a hard time with the parables, the living metaphors Jesus offers.  Stories  like today’s where the neither servant, nor master, seem to be ‘properly’ managing the estate.  Good stories, the ones we remember, they rarely are centered in moderation and propriety or meek and mild behavior.  A parable is a story, a created fiction, an imagined verbal skit.  A story within a story.  Parables tell the kinds of truth that facts simply cannot explain.   Jesus is not offering us a peer reviewed study suggesting that fraud is a better for life expectancy.  Nope.  Because it is a metaphor, a parable.

Whatever Jesus said, it was a good story.  And perhaps Luke doesn’t do the story justice.  However it is hard to forget.  Yet only the Lukan community dared to write it down. Luke who is heartily focused on the outcast and the oppressed, Luke who dives into subject of the challenges of wealth like no other gospel.  However most scholars agree that the end of the reading today, the part after the parable, probably was not the original ending.  It seems that almost as soon as this parable was put onto parchment, someone, probably multiple well meaning, inspired someone’s, got so caught in clutch and grab that they inserted the rather confusing interpretations on the end of the confusing parable.  It may be an example of 1st century spin.  Trying to walk back what the superstar said,  even if what the superstar said wasn't wrong. 

Jesus isn't endorsing employee fraud.  It doesn’t take an interpretive somersault to get there.  How?  Because it is a parable!  A holy bit of fiction! Did you enjoy the story of Robin Hood?  or what about Oceans 11?  Did you finish the film and think: stealing millions from a casino looks safe, fun and plausible?  Gosh I hope not.  You seem smarter than that.   Yet clever people have been bent out of shape by this parable, even long, long ago in a region far, far away. 

Over the last few weeks we have watched homes and lives destroyed by astonishing rains.  I watch the status updates of old friends in Colorado and New Mexico with awe and alarm.   Old neighbors who have soaked floors and wet computer cpu’s, and their neighbors who no longer have houses to call home.  In that context what matters is generosity and compassion; self sacrifice and the blessing of life itself.   When push comes to shove, will you leave it all behind and live, or die trying to stay with your estate?   This parable is about what are you going to do,         when everything else is pushed out of view.  This is a kingdom parable; a reign of God parable, a radical invitation to the last things.  There are formal church seasons, like Advent and Easter.  They get colors and festivals. Then there are the informal church fall.  Through which we always hear more lessons about property and stewardship      About what we own and what owns us.  We also hear more about the reign of God, about God’s time that is already, but also not yet.  This will only escalate as the nights lengthen and the baseball season wraps up.  The commercial world is counting the days till Christmas, and so to our lessons, but in a rather oppositional tone.  The jing aling will tell you that you need more stuff,          but God demands that we have turned away from his and his people when we let our stuff be the masters of our lives. 

We are being called by the master to account for how we have taken care of his estate.  It is there in the plain text of the Greek.   This ridiculously wealthy landowner, this fella is called Lord by the servant.  Called master….in the Greek kyrios; in the Greek text of the New Testament this word is used over 700 times!  ‘My soul magnifies the Lord’, the Master, the kyrios.  ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that the Lord (Master, kyrios) has made known to us.’  It is the end of the line for the steward, and his master wants to know how he lived.  What if wasting the estate, what if the squandering was that the steward didn't share enough?  What if the waste is hungry neighbors and sick children on the street?

At the end of our days, the master, the Lord, the kyrios, wants to know how we lived.  The true stories about how we lived,  He wants to hear of our passion for his estate, our generosity to his people and he wants to know of our love for the Master in the testimony of how we lived.  It seems like a crooked story about crooked people and crooked lives.  It isn't a real story.  Except when it is our story, told from the Master's point of view.  Our crooked stories from our crooked lives.  What amazing thing has he said for us to do?   Invest in relationships.  Commit to people loving people and the whole creation abundantly.  There once was a master who did such unusual things and said such strange things,  that the people who heard him were easily confused. Don’t be those peopleBe smart. Even be sassy.  Be awesome.  Live our life together in holiness and righteousness, from the Master’s point of view.

Parabolic Point of View
September 22, 2013

Proper 20, Year C, RCL Track2

Jane Alice Gober
St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Walla Walla , Washington

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