March 18, 2018: Digging Holes

Pastor Steve Mechem

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Matthew 25:14-18 New Revised Standard Version
For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

It had been a long trip. The owner of the farm was ready to be home. It felt like ages since he had watched the sunset from his front porch, eons since he had milked a cow or planted a crop. At last, home!

Upon arriving, after kneeling down to kiss the ground, and walking through his home, he called his three most long term employees.

Before he had left, he had placed these three employees in charge of the farm. Beyond the physical work required to keep the farm up and running, each of these employees was given access to one of the farm’s accounts. They were told by the farmer that they were free to use the accounts as they saw fit for the good of the farm, but if they misused the accounts or lost money, they would suffer severe consequences.

And the three employees believed his threat. The Farm Owner was known to be impulsive, rash, harsh, punitive and mean. So each of the three employees had thought long and hard about the accounts in which they were entrusted.

And now, the three stood before the farmer. It is fair to say that the farmer was grumpy after his trip and showed little in the way of social etiquette as he dealt with his employees.

“The farm looks good. What did you do with the accounts I left with you?”

The first employee to speak said, “I invested the funds in livestock. The animals selected turned out to be of the best quality and when we sold them, we doubled your money.”

“Very good,” said the farmer, “for that, I will give you a promotion.”

The second employee spoke, “I invested the funds in seed for crops. Turned out to be a bumper harvest and I doubled your money.”

“Very good,” said the farmer, “for that, I will give you a promotion.”

He waited for the third employee to speak. The employee didn’t, so the farmer forced the point. Looking directly at his employee, he asked “Well. What did you do with the account entrusted to you?”

“Uh, um, I buried the funds in the ground.”

“What? What is wrong with you? Did you think it would grow a money tree? Why didn’t you at least leave it in the bank, where it could earn a little interest?

“Well, um, there was a economic downturn right after you left and there was a real fear that the banks would default, so I took the money and dug three holes on the farm. I dug deep. The money is safe and secure.”

The Farmer seethed, “I don't get it. You know who you are working for, don’t you? I know how you all talk about me. Harsh. Reactionary. Vindictive. Unfair. Cruel. Well, if you really believe that, you would have found some way to show a little return. You are a lazy no account employee!”

“Well Sir, I do know that you are a harsh judge, and so, it seemed to me that the most important thing was to protect your money. Digging a hole and hiding it in there seemed the safest thing to do.”

“You are Fired!”, yelled the farmer, “Tell the other two where my money is buried so they can did it up. And then you, pack your stuff and leave my farm.”

The point of the story seems to be that as we use, invest that which God has given us, we are blessed by God for our faithfulness.

I gotta tell you, I am not a fan of this parable. Not the message of the story, but story itself.

In the gospel environment where Jesus welcomes sinners, where dads welcome home their wayward sons, where women celebrate when they discover something that was lost, where shepherds have parties for one found sheep, where late comers get paid the same as those who had been there the whole time, this parable seems off.

If the farmer is God symbolized, God seems grumpy, out of sorts, and demanding. (Seriously, its not like the servant stole the money or wasted the money. He is just careful, hoping to keep his a volatile Master happy.)

The way the servants are treated seems inconsistent with the rest of the Gospels as well. They are rewarded for their shrewdness and ability to make a profit. They are rewarded based upon their specific achievements and successes. And punished for their failure to succeed.

Jesus' approach to people seems very different than that. In fact, he often challenges those who are considered successful while embracing the rejected, the misfit, the left behind.

So, how do I make sense of this parable compared to the understanding of God I have based in the life and teachings of Jesus.

Well first, I recognize that parables are not intended to be allegories assigning exact personality traits or behaviors to characters. Parables are stories intended to make a point. If you allegorize parables, you will often end up with a skewed understanding of God.

I believe this parable fits into a category of Jesus’ aphorisms or stories that I call “how much more” stories.

An example from the gospel of Matthew: Jesus is quoted as saying, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

“How much more”

Another example from the gospel of Luke:
quote - Jesus said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’

For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”

If an evil judge will show mercy based on a widow’s continual entreaties,
how much more will a gracious and loving and kind God respond to the prayers of God’s children.

Returning to this morning’s parable-

If a person should take the risks and make investment of that which is entrusted to him or her, knowing that a vindictive and harsh master is looking over their shoulder, ready to pronounce judgement,

how much more should a person, knowing that he or she is loved, accepted and embraced by God be ready and willing to take risks to live out that which God has called them to be and do!

There is no down side. Our efforts will be not judged as inadequate. Rather, we are loved and encouraged to “let our light shine.”

There is no reason to dig a hole to hide ourselves or our gifted ness. The problem with digging holes is that sometimes we forgot where we dug, and that which we have to offer stays hidden.

What has been left to us, ingrained in us, gifted to us to use are …
the gifts of kindness, mercy, and grace,
the yearning for justice and equity and equality,
the mandate to accept, embrace, support,
the challenge to encourage, lift up, stand beside.

We don’t strive to do what is good because we are afraid of God’s judgement, we strive to make a difference because we know God cheers us on, blesses our effort, and rejoices in who we are!

Quit digging, start investing yourself in God's kingdom.