January 26, 2019 • Life for Leaders
“Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”
One of my favorite classic comedies is the TV show Frasier. In one episode, the main character, Dr. Frasier Crane, makes a deal with God about his brother, Niles, who is having heart bypass surgery. Frasier promises God that if God will take care of Niles during surgery, Frasier will never fight with Niles again. Given their intense sibling competitiveness, that turns out to be a bargain that Frasier later regrets. After the successful surgery, Frasier’s frustration builds as he reluctantly acquiesces to Niles in every successive verbal conflict. He finally confides to his producer and friend, Roz Doyle, that he wants to break his agreement with God but is afraid to do so. When Roz asks him why, Frasier says, “Haven’t you read the Old Testament? God can be ruthless!”
What is God like? That’s not just an academic question for philosophers and theologians. What we each think about God has implications for our everyday work. What we “know” about God shapes how we act and what we do (or do not do) in the world. And that’s not just a matter of our morals or ethics. As our text today suggests, what we believe about God materially affects our work. A distorted view of God results in a distorted view of our work in the world.
Today’s text comes from Jesus’s Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). There’s much in the parable which helps us understand our work in this life. Jesus tells the story of a rich man who goes away on a long journey. In his absence, he entrusts his servants with significant financial resources. The word, “talent”, used in the NRSV translation, is suggestive because it hints at the non-financial implications of the story. Nevertheless, that word can obscure the significance of the servants’ stewardship. One “talent” in Jesus’s day was equivalent to more than 15 years of a laborer’s wages. In the parable, two of the servants are commended for multiplying (doubling) their endowment. The last servant, which is the focus of today’s text, is reprimanded for doing nothing with his stewardship. What interests me is why.
Matthew’s telling of this story is intriguing because of its deep resonance with the Genesis story of the Fall. Something has fundamentally distorted the servant’s view of his master. The result is a defective and deceptive description of the master (“Master, I knew that you were a harsh man”) and an accompanying narrative (“reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed”) that the hearer of the Parable knows to be untrue. Consequently, like Adam in the Garden, the servant’s rightful relationship with his master is broken—with similar results: “I was afraid . . . and I hid” (See Genesis 3:10). In this parable, the story of that broken relationship focuses on the consequences of the servant’s work. “I went and hid your talent in the ground.” In an ironic phrase that suggests a reversal of the Creator’s intent for human beings (i.e. bringing forth fruit by tending “the ground”), the servant buries his stewardship “in the ground.” His distorted view of his master causes him to do what is not good, and to not do what is good—he has become, in his master’s apt phrase, “wicked and lazy” (25:26).
One of the challenging parts of the Christian journey is to undo our misconceptions of God. However we accumulate such conceptions, it’s important that we replace them with a biblically rooted vision of what God is like. In this series of reflections, we will look more carefully at some biblical texts to that end. Without it, we are at risk, as this parable reminds us, of missing out on our God-intended purpose as human beings. Becoming a “good and trustworthy” servant (25:21, 23) requires each of us to do the intentional work of understanding rightly who this Master is, who our God is.
Something to Think About:
In what ways do you see God as a harsh master? How did you come to that view of God? What experiences have you had that suggest it might be true?
Something to Do:
Make a list of the gifts God has entrusted to you, in your life and in your work. How might you use those gifts this week for the common good of those you serve?
Lord Jesus Christ, we are grateful that you are the image of the invisible God. In you we see what God is like: compassionate and gracious, full of steadfast love and truth.
Thank you that you have given each of us, in our life and our work, an endowment for us to steward. Help us to multiply that which you have sown in our lives and the seeds you have scattered in our work. We ask in your name and for your glory, Amen.
During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
Click here to view Uli’s profile.