Sunday, November 16, 2008


Memo to the 'wicked and slothful'

Heard a different take on the Parable of the Talents today:

Jesus was talking to Pharisees, who took their inherited religion, the Law, and buried it, to protect it, rather that hearing Jesus and investing, extending God's Grace to gentiles -- which is everybody.

Like the Pharisees of our own day, they stood in God's way, and in their own fear and judgment they slammed doors in the faces of those who sought God. They made no investment; they gained no return; and the Master called them "wicked and slothful."


Lord of Life, we ask for courage and confidence to live the days which lie ahead. We are entering into a time of scarcity, and limits, and living with less, and this will tempt us to be fearful and to lose hope. Help us to see the benefits that can come with simplicity, and then help us to look forward to a future in which the world's resources are more humanely distributed. In the meantime, we will not stop taking risks for the things we believe in. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, our Teacher and Lord, we pray. Amen.


Very similar service to our own, last Sunday of Stewardship campaign (Lisa just loves those, especially this year). She preached from Malachi and Luke's Gospel, the parable of the rich man who planned to build barns, only to die that night. She also recognized people's fears in the opening call to worship.
The Lectionary rulz. For one who did not grow up with it, it's cool to know others in other churches are pondering the same things.
Same thing at our church.

The fun thing about parables is that they aren't allegories. We're supposed to see ourselves in all of the characters. (vs. the old fashioned and bizarre notion that the Master is a vengeful God.)
You can get a lot more Bible teaching from a church that follows the lectionary, than, for example, a "a Bible church" where Brother Billy Bob just relies on what the Lord has laid on his heart that day. (Which is usually from one of a few favorite passages that allign with his personal theology).

Kinda ironic, don'tcha think?
I agree GP. I think the lectionary is a good discipline for Pastors and Congregations to really wrestle with the entirety of Scripture, even those parts they might wish weren't in there.

It's also interesting, if you're the type that pays attention to such things, to see how your thinking (and your pastor's, perhaps) since 3 years ago when you last read a particular passage.
Funny enough, Lisa has moved away from the Lectionary over the past two years, doing worship series instead. Personally, I would prefer a return to the Lectionary for precisely the reasons you outline, Alan, but I think that Lisa was tired of it. She was entering her fifth go-round and wanted a change. She has also done some interesting, provocative stuff with it as well.
I though Jesus was a socialist. What's with the investment and return?

How would we interpret the parable if we did not live in a capitalist based economy; say feudalism?
Well, my point was that the interpretation I heard this morning was one that did not hinge on "investment" in the literal sense, not even for comparison's sake.

A better question, I think, Feodor, is what parable might Jesus have told were HE not in a market situation at the time he told it. The words of the parable are pretty clear, to me, that he *was* talking about investment-and-return as we understand it.
Maybe Jesus was the original venture philanthropist.
While the Pharisees did indeed bury their religion and law to protect it, I also wonder what the church has done since, investment-wise. Sometimes it appears closer to multi-level marketing...

To take your thoughts seriously, as I find your serious thoughts always demand, I think Jesus was not setting up the parable of talents as risk-reward like means-ends. It seems to me that this can be suggested in how you present the issue in brief.

I don't think Jesus had much focus on "ends" at all in the Gospels which always present communion in love with God the Father as the only end.

I think the parable's emphasis is rightly on that part that otherwise is seen as the means. Not the reward, but the style of living. LIve boldly, live prodigally, live externally, don't hide resources. Resources are the meat on which life lives, no matter the earthly reward. In this sense the means are not means.

Rather the investment was always first given by God and are like the dollar from Mom in first grade: go live it up. Some kids got more fun out of their dollar than I did. But i sure as hell got something better than Martha Riley. She was too scared to do anything with her dollar.

The investment is life in love and ought to be used up. The reward on this earth may be great. Or you come to tragic ends. Or likely something in the middle.

But this is not, of course, the real reward.
I agree totally. Jesus tended to use the situation at hand, whatever it happened to be, to make his point. Very sagey. With this parable, he appears to be using the mechanisms of a marketplace, investments, and slaves sent on tasks by a master, to make that very point:

Take chances. Live fully. Love wastefully. Etc., etc.
The John Templeton Foundation asked several experts the following question:

"Does the free market corrode moral character?"

Their answers can be found here:
Rick Santorum?!? MY EYES! MY EYES!

My short answer: Yes.

It's based on self-interest, which is a polite way of saying selfishness. If self-denial is a Christian mandate, and one's morality is supposedly based on Christianity, then I don't see how it could be any other way.

Spong sees self-preservation as a natural expression of evolution. Whatever the source, whatever the rational, practical or even arguably necessary-for-life-as-we-know-it explanation, the radical admonition of Our Lord flies in the face of them.

And I fail to follow His admonition, for the most part.
...self-preservation as a natural expression of evolution..."

If evolution can be personified, it would not give a damn about any of the "self"s in its systems. Evolution has always sacrificed the individual to the group. It is the preservation of the "species" not the "self" that is natural. Only the individual not mature enough to have bred will function to save the self first.

Capitalism and free markets are based in self interest combined with surplus. No surplus, just scarcity and want, then capitalistic behavior, good behavior in good times, becomes a parasitic activity to the detriment of the survival of the species.
So where does the so-called "survival instinct" come from?
"Preservation of the species" is not an instinctual behavior; it is a description of instinctual behavior.

And the balance between individually expressed instinctual behavior and socially-owned expressions differ among species. Ants, bees, and what not express a great deal of "group" interest. They cannot survive individually. Polar bears and platypusses, not so much with the group think.

An individual has an interest in passing on its DNA signature. The more that signature seems singular (to the bear or platypus "self"), the greater the interest, by and large.

Competition between individuals and groups is the gasoline the engine of capitalism runs on. The steering wheel is the wobbly interests of freedom driving with an invisible hand.

I'm with ER and Michael Walzer on this.
i.e.: The more gasoline, the wobblier... the worse the damage done.
Ah ha, a sound bite challenge!

"So where does the so-called "survival instinct" come from?"

The "survival of what" instinct?


Would you not sacrifice youself to save Bird's life?

Would you sacrifice yourself to save a school bus load of children?

Would you sacrifice yourself to save a bus load of yankees?

Would you risk certain death to let a hundred ponies out of a burning barn?

The "self's" survival is a means to an end for evolution, not the end in itself. Survival of the species is most important, survival of "Life" is the ultimate importance.
Bird? Larry Bird?
Oooh. Good, scary self-revealing questions.

But. When I said Spong said -- and I might have mischaracterized what he meant -- "self-preservation as a natural expression of evolution," I meant no more than "human eyesight as a natural expression of evolution," or, "hearing as a natural expression of evolution," or, "ER has small earlobes as a natural expression of evolution."

In other words, self-preservation, therefore, selfishness, is a natural human trait.

Call it sin. Call it sense. Whatever it is, it is. In any case, the Lord's call to selflessness is a radical call.
Feodor; Bird is what I call my now-22-year-old stepdaughter. Short for Baby Bird. :-)
I'd go a little way to save Larry Bird's life.

I'd go a little furhter to save ER's. After all, Larry had a great run. ER? I've no idea, though it looks like a great run, I don't think millions of dollars are involved. I could be wrong. This could be a matter of less envy of ER than Larry Bird.

But also, ER lets me speak. And Larry's never even said hello. Which raises the question whether I would save ER out of other/species concern or because I get something out of him.

Altruism has a useful evolutionary role in human communities. But only in so far as it is a community that impacts me. I have not sought out suffering communities I've never heard of before in order to help the species. Suffering communities I hear in the news or see on screens I help, but am I helping because guilt gets in my selfish way and by helping I can get rid of it?

In emergencies, like a bus full of kids, the answer evolutionary psychology gives is that in moments of duress, we act as if those kids were our kids. I guess your answer would be that they are, species speaking. But another answer finds the psychology involved to be more of an introjected attachment formed at the moment of danger to make them as important as my kids. My answer to you may be that survival of the species has to tap into survival of the individual at such moments in order to protect itself. Group and self.

The more that globalization brings far off others into what I feel are communities that impact me, the more that a greater percentage of humanity becomes "my group."
Ah! I have a ten-year old "Turtle." She did not look like a bird on the changing table. Unless one pictures a turkey, thawed out and wings akimbo.
Ha! Baby Bird earned the moniker because she is slim and trim but has alwaus had the metabolism of a baby bird and was always hungry. :-)

"Was," only because, sniff, she's off livin' with a hairy-legged biy she's engaged to. She is 22. They are buying a house. My mind boggles.
As if you'd approve of a smooth skinned boy.
He's a good guy. For a Yankee. Kidding. He's a good guy, period, But gen-yoo-wine Yankee. From fricking Dracut, Mass. It don't get much more Yankee than that. :-)

YB, you out there?

(His rare appearances here he goes by YB, short for YankeeBeau.)
"Does the free market corrode moral character?"

But it does attract those of lax moral character and concentrates them in one enterprize:)

But then again, I do loves my WalMart.
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