Ability

All In The Same Boat

…according to each man’s abilities
Matthew 25:14-30

 

In the movie, “Harold and Maude,

…it is Maude, the 80year-old lover of life, who challenges the young Harold to greater sensitivity to the wonder of life around him. In one scene, Harold sees only a field of ordinary daffodils; Maude asks him to look at the uniqueness of each individual flower. When Harold and Maude drive into the City of Los Angeles, Harold sees tall buildings and lots of cars and people; Maude sees a tiny, dying, choking tree and determines to uproot it and plant it where it can grow into the tree it should really become! In the film, Maude says many unconventional things which might cause some uneasiness to those of us who adhere to the traditional philosophies of the Western World. But, it could be that unconventional Maude has a deeper sense of the meaning of Christianity than many “conventional” Christians.

Jesus talks about silver

The call to Christianity is, after all, a call to liberation-a call to be free to become the unique human being each of us really should become; to become the beautiful, unique human being each of us is intended by God to become. That is the very point Jesus makes in Matthew, the “Parable of the Silver Pieces.”

Performance of the three servants

This is the story of three servants who are entrusted with various sums of their master’s money to invest. One receives 5000 silver pieces. Another receives 2000. The third receives 1000. Jesus points out that each of the three men is given funds according to his ability. The first two men perform up to their respective capabilities. They invest the money wisely and, in both cases, a handsome return is generated. This pleases the master immensely. “Well done!” he says. “You are industrious and reliable servants. Since you were dependable in a small matter I will put you in charge of larger affairs. Come, share your master’s joy” (Mt.25:21). The third man, however, does not perform up to his capability. He is afraid of risk. Out of fear, he refuses to act positively. Instead of investing the money given to him, he hoards it, buries it. Consequently it does not bear interest and appreciate in value as did the money invested by the other two men. Seeing this, the master expresses his displeasure in some rather vivid language, calling the servant a “worthless, lazy lout!” Then he says, “Throw this worthless servant into the darkness outside, where he can wail and grind his teeth” (Mt.25:26,30).

This Gospel story can be easily misunderstood as an endorsement of our modern-day achieving Society or of high interest rates. Actually, the Lesson has nothing at all to do with investing money or accumulating wealth. Jesus merely uses the analogy of money to make an important point about our lives as Christians. Jesus is telling us that each of us is expected to perform our Christian duty according to our individual abilities. Each disciple of Christ is Graced with his or her own unique power and capability to perform God’s Will. Each is expected to live up to that power and that capability. Moreover, the lesson is clear that the power conferred on us grows with use, and withers with disuse!

Who has excuses now?

Recently, a West Coast pastor compiled a list of parishioners whose Christian powers he felt were withering with disuse. To them he mailed the following message concerning a forthcoming “no-excuse-to-stay-home Sunday:”

There will be
… cots available for those who say Sunday
is their only day to sleep;
… eye-drops for those who have red eyes from
watching late Saturday night TV;
… steel helmets for those who say the roof
would cave in if they ever went to Church;
… blankets for persons who think the Church
is too cold, fans for those who say it is too hot;
core cards for those wishing to list all
hypocrites present;
… TV dinners for those who can’t cook Sunday
dinner and take time to go to Church;
… a sanctuary decorated with Christmas
poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who
have never seen Church without them.

Whether or not the pastor’s promotional effort resulted in increased Church attendance I do not know. I do know, however, that in itself, increased attendance would not necessarily be a sign that the parishioners’ use of God’s Grace was on the upswing.

whatever it is we’ve done in Jesus’ name

“This is how all will know you for My disciples: by your love for one another,” Jesus said (Jn.13:35). If we come to Church only to acknowledge before one another that we have been doing our best to do God’s will, each according to his or her ability, that is a sure sign that our God-given power to live the Christian life is withering. When we begin to congratulate ourselves on performing up to our capabilities, that is a sure sign that we are not! When we begin to think we’ve done enough, that is a sure sign that we have stopped doing at all. The power conferred on Christ’s disciples grows with use and withers with disuse. There can be no standing still. There can be no stalling around. There can be no “I’ve got it made” attitude. There can be no hoarding of God’s Grace. Either we are moving ahead or we are moving back! Either we are spiritually growing or we are spiritually withering. In a very real sense, therefore, we come to Church to acknowledge before one another and before Almighty God, that whatever it is we’ve done in Jesus’ name, we must do more.

We have been given the responsibility for preparing this earth as the Kingdom, the Presence of God with His people. And, through the life and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, we have been given the freedom and the power to grow into the beautiful, unique persons God wants us to be, through love. Our spiritual beauty is enhanced only to the extent that we exercise our freedom and power to love one another; to see each other as having been chosen by God for fulfillment as a uniquely beautiful human person.

Harold and Maude see it differently

Again, in that scene from the movie “Harold and Maude,” the insensitive Harold sees the City of Los Angeles as a kind of a “big blob” of buildings and cars and people. The sensitive Maude, however, sees it on a different level. She sees individual shapes, individual forms, individual life. She sees individual human beings. She even sees an individual tiny, choking, dying tree which she rescues, making it possible for it to grow into the tree it should really become! Most people who saw the movie were deeply moved by that scene, I am sure. How then can we be less than profoundly moved by the example of supreme sensitivity to our needs we see in Jesus! Jesus came to sensitize us to the infinite beauty and worth of God’s creation and, especially, God’s human family. Jesus came to reveal God’s infinite Love for His human family and to teach us how to share that Love with one another.

Someone has likened people who remain insensitive to the needs of others-unloving people-to two shipwrecked men sitting together at one end of a lifeboat, doing nothing. They watch intently as the people at the other end bail furiously, trying to keep the boat afloat. One man then says to the other, “Thank God, that hole isn’t in our end of the boat!”

According to his or her God-given ability

The power of the disciples of Christ grows with use and withers with disuse. As a Christian People we must become ever more sensitized to the reality that human need, wherever it exists, is our concern; that we are all, quite literally, in the same boat, moving toward a common destiny. As a Christian People we must become ever more sensitized to the reality that just as Jesus is God’s gift to us that keeps on giving, so too we must make of ourselves a gift to the world that keeps on giving. The world needs us and deserves us, because it is God’s world we are serving. The children of the world need us and deserve us, because they are God’s children we are serving-each of us, according to his or her God-given ability.

 

 

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