I’ve taken to using the Pray as you Go app – it helps to hear the Gospel rather than read it for oneself. The trouble is, as well as getting the reading aloud, questions are posed about it which can be more or less helpful. Today’s questions were not helpful, but they did inspire me to write this as a result, so maybe they did what they were meant to do after all.
The reading was Luke 19:11–36, that odd parable about the Kingdom of God, where there is the harsh and judgemental ruler who goes off to claim another kingdom leaving his slaves behind to mind the shop. Three of them have been given talents or pounds to do something with, one turns it into 10 talents and is given 10 cities to look after, another creates 5 talents out of his one, and the third just gives the one he was given back because ‘I was afraid of you because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.’
Now bear in mind that on the news today was an item about the chief exec of a gambling firm who has just been awarded millions for her latest pay offer, and the announcement that it was being acknowledged that Universal Credit is causing hardship, you may begin to get an inkling of where I am going with this.
One of the problems that I have with the parables is that the moment a king or master is mentioned I equate that role with God. But that just doesn’t work. I believe in a loving God, not a God who takes up what he did not lay down, or reaps where he didn’t sow. I do not believe in God as severe, and God may be worthy of an awesomeness that is a type of fear, but God is not about making people afraid. (That might be our reaction, but I really don’t think that is the action of a loving God.)
So where is God in this parable, and where is the Kingdom of God? I wonder if this is where we need to look at the third slave who didn’t buy into the schemes and empire building of his master and the other two. This slave was brave enough to admit to being scared of how the master acted and brave enough not to get involved. You could argue that the slave wasn’t so much brave, rather someone who was passive and who chose not to act – maybe that is true. But not doing something can be as active in a way as doing something. As a result of not acting the little she had was taken away. And that, I want to suggest, is the punch line. Because to whom does the Kingdom of God truly belong to? The poor, the have nots, the powerless ones. Maybe we have to see this parable as an enormous joke on us, if we get caught up into the competitive marketplace of high figure salaries and the accumulation of goods and possessions which can threaten to overwhelm us. Maybe what we need to take from this parable is that there needs to be justice and fairness for all, so that there is just the right amount for everyone. Maybe we also need to remember that we are called to bring forth the Kingdom of God where status and material possessions don’t count, but how we act towards one another does. And maybe we have to come to understand that the Kingdom of God is not about the ones who have and to whom more will be given. The Kingdom of God is about the ones who have not, and to whom even what they do have will be taken away.
Written by Sue Price, a doctoral student with Anglia Ruskin at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology. Her topic is ‘Hearing the Silent Speak: An exploration into the silent spirituality of disabled children’.