The Parable of the Talents has been on my mind a bit lately, mainly because we’ve been teaching the parables in Sunday School and you tend to pick things up from the other teachers. If you don’t know, the parable of the talents (talents being currency back in first century Israel) is about a businessman who goes off on a journey and, while he’s away, entrusts his investments to three of his employees. Two of them put the money to work, double the investment and get rewarded; the third guy freaks out at the responsibility (or maybe he’s just lazy, or maybe just incompetent, or whatever), stuffs the cheque in a drawer and ignores it. The businessman comes back, finds out about this, goes spare and sacks the dude.
Okay, so that’s a paraphrase, the point Jesus was trying to make was that a) we’ve all been given something – a skill, a talent, a personality trait, a possession, a shed-load of cash, etc, etc, etc, and b) that we’re responsible for what we do with that, whether we use it well, whether we abuse it, whether we simply squander and waste it.
All of which is fine, we’re all on a mission from God, no problem, but the trick is to figure out what it is, which is where things get more difficult. I don’t know what my gig is, not really; there are things that I can do, and I can do them well, but are they my GIG, you know?
Or maybe we’re too conditioned to think of our life’s mission, our life’s work, in terms of a job. Maybe our talent, our treasure, our investment is simply holding the doors open for people, or doing the washing up, or making a cup of tea for someone, or refusing to become rude or thoughtless or ignorant or aggressive or, simply put, one of the Bad Guys. Maybe it’s enough to go to work and be good at fixing spreadsheets or putting together presentations, or server-wrangling or shelf-stacking.
But does that lead to fulfilment? In some cases yes, because greatness is in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes taking the time to buy the Big Issue is as vital as running an international charity, in some weird spiritual sense. In other cases, well, the outlet for our talents isn’t necessarily the right outlet, the outlet of choice, the path that will lead to some measure of fulfilment and calling and joy.
And maybe our gig isn’t what we think it might be. Maybe it’s something completely out of the blue, something we’d never expect. To continue the religious theme, St. Paul was a theologian who became a theologian for the other team – nothing too surprising there, at least in terms of job description. However, St. Peter was a fisherman who ended up becoming the first Pope, which must have come as a bit of a surprise to the guy. And did Martin Luther King really think he’d end up becoming a leader in one of the greatest civil movements in American history when he took up his post as pastor in his church? Frankly, God’s sometimes got us marked out for a gig that we’d never, ever chose, and should we decide to roll with it, we’ve just got to follow and hold on for dear life and see how it all turns out. Maybe that’s why figuring out what our gig is can be so tough.
And don’t get me started on the frustrations. The being single when people seem to love the idea of dating utter jerks. The feeling of never quite being settled or in the right place at the right time. The confusions, the frustrations, the stress and the mixed messages and the kicks in the pants.
Yep, the kicks in the pants.
See, the man from Open Doors came to preach, and since then I’ve been wondering, wondering about a world I knew existed, but that I’ve never really needed to confront, wondering what an appropriate response is to a world that would see decent people killed in the ruins of a society that seems to be run by the guy with the biggest gun, a world that sees the children of pastors raped, boys and girls. Maybe it was seeing the slides. Maybe it was the fact that I’m the same faith as them, the fact that something links us, something that provides a bridge, a connection, something that makes it identifiable and won’t let me pretend it’s something that happens to the Other, something that breaks down the Someone Else’s Problem field.
The subject of the persecuted church, of Christians being targeted and killed simply because they’re Christians is off the radar. Maybe that’s not surprising – Christianity is seen as the ‘western’ religion, the religion of the US and Europe, the religion of the ‘First World’, and so maybe it accumulates the sins of the western Empires – importers of slaves, exporters of smallpox. Or maybe it’s seen as a karmic thing, the cosmos paying back Christendom for such joys as the Crusades and the Inquisition and the bombing of abortion clinics and spiritualised gay-bashing.
I think the Karma idea is at least partly why I’m a Christian, why I believe in grace triumphing over Karma. With Karma I’m screwed, with Grace I stand a chance.
Regardless; there’s no excuse, no justification, no moral relativism that can excuse casual murder or the rape of children. There just isn’t. Despite the idea that a shared location or ideology or race or gender or liking for Buffy the Vampire Slayer brings the horror out of the abstract, to be honest I don’t care if the victims are Christians or Muslims or whatever, and I don’t care what justifications the perpetrators use. There’s good and there’s bad, and while grace should triumph over unilateral vengeance and all the collateral damage to bodies and properties and souls that entails, there still needs to be a response, a line in the stand, a bunch of people standing up and saying “No; this far, no further, drop your guns.”
And it’s in trying to figure out what an appropriate response could be, in trying not to feel helpless and powerless and clueless in the face of horror, that I cycle back round to the earlier question, the cheque locked in a desk drawer that’s helped its trustee achieve absolutely nothing. Hey, I’ve got broadband! How long have I spent on the websites of Amnesty or Human Rights Watch or Christian Solidarity? When was the last time I wrote to my MP? And I’m pretty sure I missed some urgent Oxfam or Tear Fund or Christian Aid Action emails because I was having a hissy-fit with my Hotmail account. Parable of the Talents? Using what you’ve got? The majority of the world’s population will never make a phonecall, let alone download something from iTunes really, really quickly. What’s my gig? Heheh. Can’t expect to play Madison Square Garden if you’ve never even bothered to play a smoky backroom down your local. Maybe not knowing what the form your gig will take is really just a way of saying we’re not even doing half of the things we can do, right here, right now.
Or maybe I’m getting contemplative and maudlin and confused again. ‘Cos, like, I never do that…