I wrote the first draft of his post somewhere between Nassau and Miami on the final day of a 4-day cruise that took us and 2000 new friends to Key West and Nassau and back to Miami. Like life, our trip itinerary was subject to change without notice. We were supposed go to Cozumel, Mexico, but Hurricane Rina rained on that parade. So we did a big U-turn and joined 5 other huge cruise ships in Nassau to benefit the Bahamian economy. Lots of American dollars intended for conversion to pesos went to Nassau instead. $111 of ours was spent on a tour to the obscenely over-priced Atlantis resort to see how the other .5% lives.
The huge resort can’t be missed from the cruise ship dock, and we could have gotten there by cab or ferry for a few dollars. But fear of coping with a strange city where they drive on the wrong side of the road, even if they do speak English, led me to pay the cruise line and local entrepreneurs to take us on a 10 minute ride, literally and figuratively. One of the signature features of the Atlantis Resort is a 4740 square foot suite that is located in a bridge sixteen stories up than links two of the imposing twenty-three-story towers on what some marketing genius named Paradise Island. The bridge suite rents for $25,000 per night (that’s not a typo—it’s 25K), and, in case you are interested in booking it, there’s a four night minimum stay required! Staying there is not on my bucket list, but if anyone starts an Occupy Atlantis protest, it might be a good place to spend the winter.
The opulent wastefulness within sight of the hundreds of dirt poor native merchants selling cheap souvenirs along the cruise ship dock seemed to confirm the punch line of the parable of the talents which says, “to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” (Matt.25:29). Never mind the obvious question/problem of how one can take away anything from those who have nothing, where’s the justice in that scenario? And it gets worse from there. The parable goes on to pass harsh judgment on the one-talent slave for his scarcity-inspired fear and condemns him as a “wicked, lazy worthless slave “ who is to be thrown into “the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 30).
Granted, that’s a nasty slave owner speaking here, not Jesus (we hope). Makes me wonder if this parable is about the Reign of God or of Warren Buffet, or could it be both? Certainly the world rewards risk-takers and those able to think outside the box. The late Steve Jobs had 313 Apple patents to his name when he died. Jobs is an inspiring story, and the title of Chapter 1 of his new auto-biography explains much of his success–“From Abandoned to the Chosen One.” I haven’t read the book, but I’m guessing that attitude and gratitude that he was rescued to a new life by his adoptive parents (whom he calls his “real” parents) carried Steve Jobs through many failures and setbacks in his life. His much quoted commencement speech from Stanford’s 2005 graduation, advising his audience to embrace their mortality and dare to look foolish, might describe the first two slaves in the parable of the talents.
The first two slaves dared to risk all they had in order to reap an impressive return on their investments. And they are rewarded by their master with praise and a big promotion. I admire people with that kind of chutzpah. I’m more like the one-talent slave who digs a hole and buries the money to avoid the risk of losing all he had in an economic downturn. I wonder how much of our current recession is caused by that kind of fearful scarcity mentality. From small investors like me worried about shrinking retirement accounts to multi-billion dollar corporations that are hoarding their profits instead of reinvesting them in job-creating new projects, fear inspires more of the same. Isn’t there the same amount of money out there somewhere now as there was in the boom years prior to 2008? Most of it is just buried somewhere and not being circulated to create more jobs, services and products.
But the parable of the talents is about much more than economics. Fear stifles faith and creativity in every aspect of our lives, from honest, intimate relationships to athletic and career achievements. The slave with one talent buried it, and when asked why he says, “I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground” (v. 25). Sounds a little like hiding one’s light under a bushel, doesn’t it? But notice another word in that sentence that’s easy to overlook—the word “your.” The talents don’t belong to the slaves but to the master, just as my house and car and other worldly goods don’t belong to me either. There’s an old hymn that describes our role as stewards of God’s creation very well. We often sing it to inspire more generous contributions in the offering plates, but it’s about all of our “possessions.” “We give thee but thine own, what ‘ere the gift may be. All that we have is thine alone, a gift O Lord from Thee.”
The good news is that we are all playing with house money. We’ve got nothing to lose. Not only is the deed to my house and my car and my 401K really not mine, neither is my life. Some wag once said, “Don’t take yourself so seriously. You’ll never get out of this life alive anyway.” That wisdom needs to be filed next to “You can’t take it (and that means any of it) with you.” Ever seen an armored car in a funeral procession?
Writer’s block is one familiar example of how fear stifles the talents God gave us. I have a slogan on my writing desk that says, “Write as if no one will read it.” That was inspired by the popular saying by William Purkey, “Dance like no one is watching, love like you’ll never be hurt, sing like no one is listening, and live like it’s heaven on earth.” A brave honest student helped me break through my fear and publish my first book this spring. She asked me if I had published anything. I said, “No, but I have lots of good stuff in my files and my computer.” Her poignant reply really hit home. She said, “Oh, so you’re going to publish posthumously?”
We know the one-talent slave was afraid because Matthew tells us he was, but what about the first two? We aren’t told they were fearful, but it’s pretty likely since none of us are immune from fear. If those first two slaves were afraid, the difference is they acted in spite of the fear, much like the title of Susan Jeffers’ excellent book advises, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. It’s possible the first two slaves used their fear of the harsh master as motivation to risk losing what they had in order to reap a greater reward. The third slave buried his talent for fear of losing it, and in the process guaranteed its potential was lost.
What dreams and goals do we have that are buried and abandoned by fear of failure? “Oh, I can’t write that book, it might not sell? I don’t dare speak that truth! People might not like it!” And by choosing not to try I guarantee failure. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. Jesus takes that to the nth degree when he says, “Those who try to save their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives will save them” (Luke 17:33). Faith by definition requires risk. That’s why Paul says we are called to be “fools for Christ” (I Cor. 4:10). I love the way Bette Midler preaches that truth in “The Rose.”
“ It’s the heart, afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance .
It’s the dream, afraid of waking
That never takes the chance.
It’s the one who won’t be taken
Who cannot seem to give .
And the soul, afraid of dying
That never learns to live.” (Amanda McBroom)
The lessons are the same from Midler, Jobs, and Jesus:
• This life is finite.
• We are all abandoned by all earthly things and allegiances.
• Those who also know that we are chosen and adopted by God are able to live by faith and dare to live.
The parable says the third slave was cast into the outer darkness by his own lack of faith. It doesn’t say he has to stay there forever. Failure was his choice and so is learning to trust.
We all fall down, often. The secret is learning what an old Japanese proverb teaches, “Fall Down seven times, Get up eight.”