Monday, October 03, 2016

What Are You Investing In?

Luke 19:11-27  (NRSV)
As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’ When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’ Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’ Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’”

This story comes in an interesting place in the Gospel according to Luke, this is the final story before Jesus makes his triumphant entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem

And, I believe, Luke placed it here for a very important reason

As Jesus prepared to enter into Jerusalem --- Luke is asking us
          Which king are you going to follow?
                   The king of our parable --- or Jesus?

This parable sounds familiar because there is the related parable of the talents that is found in Mathew 25 (the parable of the talents)

But this parable is very different

Matthew's parable is all about Stewardship
Which, of course, is very important
·         especially this time of year as we get ready to begin our annual stewardship campaign
·         This year's theme is taking our theme from these past few years of “Through These Doors” and expanding it --- THE DOORS TO OUR HEARTS
·         You will be hearing more about this in the next couple of weeks, and we will ask for commitment cards to be turned in on our Thanksgiving celebration Sunday November 12th
·         But the truth is every Sunday is an opportunity for us to be good stewards

But, this parable really isn't about financial stewardship --- This parable is really about a contrast between the Kingdom of God and a political kingdom

The story in Luke's gospel right before this one is the story of Zacchaeus
Zacchaeus, that wee little man who was stealing from all of his neighbors.  But in that story, Jesus goes to the home of the tax collector Zacchaeus and while there, Jesus declared to Zacchaeus that "today, salvation has come"

In our parable today, Jesus seems to want to make sure that we understand, that --- while the kingdom of God is near --- just because Jesus is getting ready to enter Jerusalem doesn't mean that it is coming immediately

Our parable starts with a noble man traveling to a distant land . . .

William Barclay writes that everyone, in 1st century Judea would know that this was referring to Herod Archelaus.

Archelaus --- when his father Herod the Great died --- was forced to go to Rome to ask Caesar Augustus to grant him his inheritance and the title of king of Judea
Augustus ultimately grants him the right to rule Judea but not the title king

We know from the parable of the prodigal son --- that when Luke tells us that somebody goes off to a "distant land" that nothing good can come of it

Allan Culpepper in his commentary on Luke writes:
This parable cannot have the same meaning as the Matthean parable of the talents.  It features not a lesson on responsibility and stewardship but a portrait of greed and vengeance.  The king is acquisitive.  He seeks a royal title and expects others to multiply his property five and tenfold. 

Culpepper goes on to suggest that we have a hard time understanding this parable because of the social codes invoked by this parable. 

We function with an economics of unlimited goods --- we believe that anyone can rise up starting from nothing and become fabulously wealthy.
If we are just cleaver enough
Ambitious enough
Lucky enough

But in first century Palestine --- nothing could be farther from reality

It was an economy of limited goods.

There was only so much wealth and property to go around

So if one person acquired more --- somebody had to lose it.

In this month’s Biblical Archeology Review, Richard L. Rohrbaugh examines the parable and it’s first century setting:
[G]iven the “limited good” outlook of ancient Mediterranean cultures, seeking “more” was considered morally wrong. Because the pie was “limited” and already all distributed, anyone getting “more” meant someone else got less. Thus honorable people did not try to get more, and those who did were automatically considered thieves: To have gained, to have accumulated more than one started with, is to have taken the share of someone else.

The king in our story is greedy --- seeking power --- and taking whatever property he could.

The Palestinian peasant who would have heard this story would have identified with the fear that the third servant in the story possessed --- and with the bystanders protest of this redistribution of wealth.

But this king believed that the rich should get richer and the poor poorer.

If Zacchaeus, as the chief tax collector, was despised and hated --- think how much more this greedy and vicious king would have been hated

Luke seems to place this story right before the entry into Jerusalem so that we (and the hearer in the 1st century) could clearly understand the distinction between the kingship of Jesus and that of the common or typical king of the day.

The kings of the day Lord over their subjects
They were corrupt, greedy and violent

Jesus seeks justice for his followers
His kingdom is diametrically opposed to that of the kingdom in this parable

This parable invites us to reflect on what it means to call Jesus king and Lord.

God's kingdom isn't going to appear immediately --- even though it is breaking in with the advent of Jesus.

This parable calls for us to have faithful allegiance to a king whose kingdom is in conflict with the world who seek profit at expense of the poor.

The protest by the bystanders in verse 25 is a call for justice --- and an invitation to us to join them in that quest for justice.

When we --- who have access to medical care protest against the expense of providing it for those that don't --- Jesus is calling out to us and challenging us

When we --- who have access to food and shelter protest against the expense of providing it for those that don't --- Jesus is calling out to us and challenging us

What should we say when regressive taxes are proposed that protect the assets of the wealthy at the expense of the poor?

Luke ends Jesus journey to Jerusalem right here

The rest of the story is of Jesus entrance into Jerusalem, his arrest, trial, crucifixion --- and of course --- his victory through the resurrection.

As we end this journey --- we need to decide where we stand.
          Will we be hailing Jesus as king?
          Shouting for his crucifixion?

It all depends on what kind of king you want?

A while ago, someone posted on Facebook about their daughter not being welcome at a church --- not here.

I think one of the reasons that the church is losing its way is we have turned Jesus into the king in this parable.

As I explained why I felt like the church was struggling --- another friend replied with this:
I'll offer a different reason -- the rise of big government. Hundreds of years of history have now taught us that the bigger government gets in people's lives, the more secular society gets and the less people think they need religion and God. Europe was the cradle of Christianity, and now church attendance is at dismal lows in countries where government is now here to take care of everybody's needs. After all, why tithe 10% of your income to a church when 10% of your income is already taken from you in taxes for social programs? In the most extreme cases of big government -- socialism and communism -- religion is all but expunged from culture. This is why I scratch my head at religious leaders in this country who keep preaching for more and more social programs and government sponsored income redistribution. Liberalism at its very core is about replacing faith in God (and faith in family and community) with faith in government

There may be a kernel of truth to what he writes --- but if we think that the government was not intrusive in Jesus day they we don't understand history.

Jesus wasn't calling for government to solve society's problems. 
But he also wasn't telling the rulers that they could ignore the problems either.

He is calling for us all --- those who rule and those who don't to seek a better, more just world

It is up to us --- you and I to choose
          Which kind of king will you follow?

What kind of world are we investing in?
          Are we the focal point of that world and how we invest?

          Or are we investing in God’s kingdom
Working to break down the systemic injustices that exist

Jesus calls us to follow the Prince of peace that Isaiah speaks of

Not the Prince of Machiavelli