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Thursday, August 19, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: Matthew 25:1-30

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college, I went back home for the summer and started searching for a summer job. The first week I was home I found an advertisement for a position helping an environmental activist group. The job was going door-to-door doing community education and outreach. I thought the cause was important so I started pulling together my resume to prepare for the application process.

When my father learned what I was up to, he went ballistic. He knew I planned on getting an education degree and working as a school teacher down the road. He was convinced that if I worked as an activist that I would get labeled by potential employers and be unable to get a job as a public school teacher. It also might hurt my cause in case I was ever nominated to a position on the Supreme Court – but I digress.

We went round and round for hours the night I told him I was applying. He expected me to defer to his judgment since he was my father (and an expert on public schools since he was on the local school board); I expected him to respect my commitment and passion for the cause.

As it turned out, I ended up getting another job – so in some ways our conflict that night was a moot point. In another way, however, the conflict represented a turning point for me. Here's why I say that. My father represented a rather tradition approach toward life (i.e. get a long-term goal in life, prepare assiduously to obtain that goal, and don't let anything stand in your way). I represented a somewhat unconventional approach (i.e. pursue your passion, take a risk, and let the chips fall where they may). That conversation was one of the first times in my life when I stood up to my parents and quit trying to write a script for the future. I was willing to take a chance and let the future unfold the way it would.

This issue of risk-taking plays a prominent role in the second of two parables that Jesus puts forward in today's reading. The reading contains a story about a man who leaves money with three different individuals. The first two individuals took a risk and ended up doubling the original amount. The third man didn't take a risk (i.e. he buried the sum he had been given) and simply maintained the original amount.

The more I read that story, the more I realize what's really going on in the parable. The parable isn't simply about trying to increase our resources or advocating a particular approach toward life (i.e. a risk-taking approach is always better than playing it safe). No, the story is about the assumptions we make behind the scenes that cause us to adopt the approach we do toward life.

The man who buried the money, for instance, assumed that the "investor" was a rigid, perfectionist who would hate to be disappointed. This belief produced a fear-based approach toward life that prevented the man from being able to take risks. The two men who took a risk and doubled their original amounts assumed that the "investor" was a generous soul who would support them regardless of the outcome. These perceptions encouraged the individuals to feel confident in taking such risks. That – I believe – it what the story is about: how the way we think of God influences the choices we make in life.

With that in mind, I would ask you how you perceive God. Do you see God as a rigid, perfectionist who instills fear in you and causes you to play it safe; or do you see God as a supportive, encouraging investor who would want you to take risks in life? That is a question for you to explore today.

Til next time …

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