There is something very troubling to me about today’s Gospel, Matthew 25:14-30. This well known parable is often preached in conjunction with stewardship campaigns and seems to confirm all our U.S. cultural myths about how to get ahead and that you can make if it you just invest wisely. How can these be the words of Jesus, who says sell everything and follow me. Does he suddenly, so near the cross, change his mind about how to live a life of faith? Is this the same person who says if you have 2 cloaks give one away? Instead of giving one away he seems to be saying – if you have 2 sell one at a profit and buy more so you can sell more at a profit? Makes me wonder (as they say in Godly Play).
I am just home from convention for the Diocese of Wyoming where we had a long respectful but painful debate about social responsibility in investing, especially as it regards companies that profit from the Israeli/Palestine conflict. Both pro and con had equally passionately held beliefs about the church’s relationship with money and investing in “good” companies and “evil” companies.
I wonder if we are all buying into at the domination system of oppression and oppressors regardless of our strongly held beliefs about how to invest wisely. Are the landowner and his slaves all caught in this same system. Are any of the characters acting out of holiness? Is the landowner God? Or are the slaves who invest wisely being holy? In Jesus’ world all profit was made by those who had more taking and getting more and those who had less were left to scramble for a daily piece of bread for their families. How can this parable be Good News of the One who preached about everyone getting paid the same wage no matter when they started to work? Who says – it is not just the strong and privileged who will get the most because they are called to work first but also the weakest and least likely who will receive as well.
Thursday of our convention we heard a presentation about the work done by the churches in Salem OR to help keep people in poverty and without shelter to keep it together day to day. They work to support people to find shelter, work, clothing, food, personal hygiene products, safe places. Hundreds of people are served – many who are working but whose wages do not pay the rent, health care, or for enough food. It is an amazing ministry, but I went away thinking why in this country are all these people suffering like this? Why can we raise millions of dollars in a lottery and not be able to pay people to live decently?
Which brings me back to Jesus and this parable. Interest is earned by profits taken on other people’s work. But the parable seems to be more a judgment on the whole system that leaves one person out in the darkness with gnashing of teeth. Has the parable become adrift from something more Jesus is saying? He is at the end of his days, he has given away everything and soon his life. Surely he is not giving investment advice?
Leaves me wondering. What do you think?
The Rev. Ann Fontaine is the priest associate at St Catherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church, Nehalem/Manzanita on the Oregon Coast. Her book of reflections on scripture following the Daily Office is Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.