Sunday, 16 November 2014

God or Godfather?

Image: Aggiorna via Wikimedia Commons
"I'm gonna make you an offer you can't refuse ... here's five talents ..."

I don't know why it took me so long to notice that Jesus teaches more often by contrast than by comparison. Plenty of his parables begin "The kingdom of heaven is like ..." but then proceed to tell some disreputable story - about a corrupt judge, or a swindling fund manager, or fathers who give their sons stones instead of bread. We quite like stories that end, "... and isn't God just like that?" But Jesus seems to prefer provocative tales that end, "... and if that's how this guy behaves, how do you think it will be with God?"

This morning in our churches we were reading Matthew 25.14-30, often known as the Parable of the Talents. I prefer to think of it as the Parable of the Godfather. It starts with a man going travelling who leaves his wealth to his servants - five talents to one, two to another, one the the third. Fantastic amounts of money; one talent would have taken the average first century labourer around twenty years to earn. This guy hands out about four lifetimes of cash without blinking.

When he comes back, most of his money is handed back doubled, which must have been a pleasing moment. But if we have any doubt about who we're dealing with here, the last servant's words give the game away: "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours."

Let's be really clear: God's not like that. Please, don't ever preach to me that this guy is just like God. This just isn't a parable about God handing out gifts and expecting us to multiply them - or else! This is pure Godfather. The guy is a mafioso, a brutal and merciless thug who'll do anything to improve the bottom line.

So what about God? Let me say it again: it's about contrast not comparison. The Don gives gifts, rewards improvement and punishes failure. But God? What if the third servant had come back to the Lord without having improved the gift? How would the God of grace responded? Would we then be looking at outer darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth? I'm guessing not. The Lord gives gifts, rewards improvement and forgives failure.

So what have we got to lose? This parable is an invitation to take risks, to step out in faith, to fail and fall flat. As William Carey once put it, "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God." Well sure, why not? When we mess it up he welcomes us home again and again. And when we get it right he blesses richly.

Why so timorous, Christian? Why so cautious, Church? Think big, walk tall, dream large. The Lord is with us!

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