Your Pastor and the preacher of the day have confessions to make. Anyways it is the right place to make confessions. So, take it easy and be more gracious before pointing fingers at him.
My first confession I used to think that community food pantries were a completely bad idea!
Of course, I didn’t know much about food pantries because in Kenya where I grew up – there are no food pantries not because there are no food insecurities but because there is so much need that relief food is only meant for emergencies when calamities such as famine, droughts, floods befalls.
My first encounter with a food pantry was when I joined a seminary school back in New Jersey. As a student whose budget was very tight I would hear about the food pantries from my fellow students and I would be mesmerized. Wow! How can one receive free food and who does that? Is it real? And who really should be eligible? I would ask myself so many questions.
Then, I will ponder again. If indeed it is free food to anyone in need. They might be ones who have been severely affected by natural calamities and if that is not the case then food pantries are not good because they will make the community dependent on relief food and they will become even more vulnerable.
During my second year in the seminary school, things began changing. I couldn’t get a campus job and as an international student, my visa had limitations, that is I was not allowed to work off-campus. I had to choose either to buy food or pay for school fees or accommodations.
Yeah! That was a hard decision to make with such limited resources. Food insecurity was staring at me and I had to let go of my ego and seek help. The food Pantry became one of my refuges for relief food.
This experience opened my eyes. Yes, I might be in the wealthiest country on earth but with support with limited resources making ends meet can be very hard. With the rising cost of living, homelessness, discrimination, health affordability, natural disasters, wars, and the list goes on and on.
All these complexities can be overwhelming, especially among the most vulnerable members of our communities.
Today’s text, the parable of the Talents, is very popular for misinterpretation for so many reasons.
Here is my second confession, I used to read it literally and maybe you could have read it too. I would firmly believe that the servants that got 2 and 5 talents were hardworking and deserved to be awarded whereas the one talent servant was weak and lazy. That was me reading the text literally!
I like the voice translation. The Voice version gospel according to Matthew 25: 24-29 reads.
Finally, the man who had been given one talent came forward.
Servant: Master, I know you are a hard man, difficult in every way. You can make a healthy sum when others would fail. You profit when other people are doing the work. You grow rich on the backs of others. 25 So I was afraid, dug a hole, and hid the talent in the ground. Here it is. You can have it.
26 The master was furious.
Master: You are a pathetic excuse for a servant! You have disproved my trust in you and squandered my generosity. You know I always make a profit! 27 You could have at least put this talent in the bank; then I could have earned a little interest on it! 28 Take that one talent away, and give it to the servant who doubled my money from five to ten.
29 You see, everything was taken away from the man who had nothing, but the man who had something got even more.
I admire the servant with one talent- he refused and resisted to let the master’s selfish ambition succeed. He stood against the injustice perpetrated by this corrupt master.
This master cared for no one. All he wanted was to make as much profit as possible at the expense of poor workers who toil day and night.
This is a very familiar story in our society today’s society. We have seen many workers going on strike. The masters and bad system continue to reward few people with so many resources while the poor workers work day and night and sometimes in very poor conditions.
There is an imminent danger and it’s dangerous for you and me today to be comfortable and read this parable of the talents without contextualizing it or wearing the lenses of the realities in our neighborhoods that have continued to justify inequality and oppression.
For instance, some people have used this parable to argue that the rich are more deserving of wealth because they are more likely to be good stewards of it. Others have used the parable to argue that the poor should be grateful for the little that they have and not complain about their circumstances.
Sadly, as people, we quickly forget Jesus employed his parables with the aim of making his subject ambiguous or obscure. A parables comparison was not obvious. Jesus used them to shed light on the subject under discussion and had a deeper hidden meaning. And Jesus would always side with the poor and oppressed.
Therefore, it is upon you and me to interpret these parables in light of our present societies that there is so much justice to be done. When we flip this parable, and pay attention to the one talented servant-there are so many unanswered questions and I am reminded of, “Addressing imbalance,“ artwork by Tony Ruth.
The first two pictures illustrate, that two individuals have access to a system/ resources or talents and in this case, the tree that provides fruits. Even with equal support from evenly one is on equality – our society and system would want us to believe that equality is good and the ultimate solution to problems. If we all get opportunities we will thrive and excel. But the pictures tell a different story; the story is different in our society due to the existing complexities.
Yes, the tree or the social systems might appear to be normal and perfect giving people opportunities but on the grounds, things are totally different.
The rich continue getting richer and the poor continue to get poorer.
Paying attention to the next picture; the one at the top there seems to be equity; our friend on the right now can harvest the fruit and actually he even has the longest ladder but how many? Only two because more fruits are on the left side where the tree is bending towards.
In the last picture, justice is done to our two friends. The tree is no longer crooked and there are enough fruits for both of them to harvest and thrive. Justice is doing its work of mending the broken systems so that everyone is happy and able to access the resources needed.
Unlike the master in our parable who only favored the one who had more talents, ability, and accessibility; I believe Jesus is reaching out to all of us meeting us where we are, and breaking down the walls and barriers that separate us.
John 10:10 – Jesus came so you and me can have life and life in abundance. An abundant life that will not be comfortable amassing wealth for selfish gain but one that is faithful even with the little to share so that the earth might be full of justice till Christ comes again.