There is no getting around it. When it comes to living on this planet, none of us is going to get out of here alive. Each heartbeat brings us closer to our last.
The parable of the slaves who each get a coin of great value with which to do business when their master goes away for a little while is a response to this understanding. Luke says, “because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” he told them this story.
As an outer-world tale the parable runs contrary to what Jesus says about God and God’s kingdom. The nobleman who gives the coins to his slaves is a cruel man whose citizens do not want him ruling over them. They hate him so badly that they send a delegation to the king to ask for his removal. But the king ignores them, and the heartless nobleman kills everyone who does not agree with his rule. Then there is the bit about giving the managing of cities to the slaves who do business with their coins most successfully – and taking away the only coin of the slave who, with remarkable honesty for someone who is terrified, tells the nobleman that he has been too frightened to use his coin at all. This slave hasn’t wanted to make any mistakes with his coin, for his master is harsh. And so the master leaves him with nothing. These sound like the actions of a sharp CEO – giving leadership to those equipped to ruthlessly expand the interests of the company and eliminating the rest. But does it sound like a loving God?
The parable does work as a tale about the inner, spiritual life. In the realm of the soul there are cities we were destined to rule. Finding them and taking charge over them is a matter of using what we were given – becoming what we most deeply are. Finding and living into our true natures involves the practice of being present to God. It’s a paradox. The more we let go of our ego perspective, our belief in “I”, the more we find ourselves. The more we invest in a practice that frees us from dualism, judgment and grasping after the things of this world the more we discover our rightful inner kingdom.
We cannot do this through holding on tightly to what we were given to start with. We need to “do business with” our earliest perceptions of God, our initial understandings. Investing in practices rather than wrapping our beliefs in a cloth and sliding them away into a drawer will bring deeper comprehension and wisdom. That’s why religious community is so important; dialogue with others helps us learn, grow and come home to ourselves.
Prayer is important. Meditation, any sort of creative expression that speaks our sense of meaning into the world, any following of a spiritual discipline, all experiments with living a life of service – all these practices are doing business with the coin of our spiritual selves so that we begin to live into what is destined for us in the world of the soul. We begin to find our inner cities and to take charge of them.
We don’t have much time for this spiritual practice. Death is close. I don’t believe the afterlife is a place where we’ll be punished for failure or rewarded for success. But we will be forever beyond the ability to realize our destiny as creatures on this planet who have inner cities to govern, dynamic and creative lives to live. Maybe that’s the unequivocal harshness of the nobleman in this parable: when your life is done, it’s done.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. She will soon manage a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries.