|Luke 19.11-27 by Elsa A. Peters|
I’m puzzled by this question.
You might know the context of this strange little parable where a nobleman seems to flaunt his extravagant wealth all over the place. He rewards the “obedient” slaves who make him richer and condemns the “wicked” slave that treated his pound like a sacred object that was to be protected and loved.
It was this story that greeted me this morning. It took me a while to get over the fact that the slave doesn’t bury this entrusted object as is done by the slave in the same story in Matthew. So, I started with the object itself off on the edge of the page. I made it a little ornate — though not too ornate because what nobleman would give a truly ornate object to a slave. Of course, I kept drawing circles around it.
Like the slave, I wanted to protect it. I wanted it to be safe. I wanted it to have another layer of cloth (or something). But, I couldn’t quite get over the possibility of the thing being in the ground. So, it started to grow. It literally sprouted — and blossomed again and again. With each stroke of my pen, I thought about how wrong the nobleman was. You can’t protect something and love something so much and not have it yield greater potential. It’s just not possible. It will multiple. It might not multiple in the creation of economic gain but it will somehow grow.
The question that this parable asks is: “You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow?” (Luke 19:22, NRSV). There’s something about this question where it is assumed that we cannot gain from what others have done. We cannot grow from what others have planted. We cannot yield new potential from what has been nurtured by other hands faithfully protecting and loving this sacred thing we now hold. I think I have good reason to be puzzled by this — particularly because I lead an institution that is always trying to figure out how to pass on traditions and responsibilities to new leaders. In fact, that’s most of what I do. I start something. I protect it. I love it. And then, I give it to someone else. I let them protect it. I let them love it. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes it gets broken. Sometimes it doesn’t end up like I would have expected (though that can be a good thing). It’s not about my leadership as the “nobleman” but about how we all love and protect that sacred work of ministry we do together.
I know that doesn’t make the parable easy to read. I have a bad habit of reading myself and my community into all of the characters at the same time. After all, there are times we’re the nobleman and there are times we’re one of the slaves. The work we do isn’t so black-and-white that we are only one of these characters all of the time. I thank God for that — though I still puzzle over the growth I’m determined to find in the ministry of this “wicked slave.”