Sunday, August 16, 2009

More to Do

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

                        Luke 12.48

Nesting Narratives

Most of us know this verse as a proverb: “To whom much is given, much is required.” We apply it to everything from intelligence to money. Yet the statement arises in a very specific context. Jesus is talking about management and readiness. He begins with a simple story about servants.  “Be ready for service,” He says in Luke 12.35, like a staff awaiting its master’s return from a party. When they’re properly prepared, they’ll open the door for him, and he'll be pleased by their attentiveness to his needs. It will go well for them if they’ve done their work and stayed up to greet the master, regardless how late he comes home. Then Jesus does a peculiar zigzag that throws off His entire audience, including the disciples.

He turns His focus from the servants to their employer. If the master knew when a thief planned to invade his home, Jesus says, he’d be on guard. Since he doesn’t know, it’s best to be watchful at all times. Clearly, He’s talking about remaining vigilant for judgment. But the servant and thief analogies don’t mesh. First, Jesus is talking about servants’ responsibilities to serve their master at any time. Next, He’s giving on seminar on home security. Taken together, it’s unclear who’s who. It appears we’re the servants in the first and master in the next, while He’s the master in the first and thief in the next. The parables read better as nesting narratives than all of a piece. (Some scholars think their odd juxtaposition is an awkward cut-and-paste job.) But their common thread is readiness, and as we read on, Jesus clarifies this with another parable.

Management 101

After the first two stories, everyone looks around to see if others get it. They don’t. Peter asks if the stories apply to everyone or just the disciples. Jesus doesn’t say. Instead, He talks about a master who assigns one servant to attend to the others’ needs while he’s away. If the manager uses his time and authority wisely, Jesus says the master “will put him in charge of all his possessions.” (Luke 12.44) Now suppose the manager, thinking he’s in charge for an indefinite period, abuses his authority to beat his fellow servants, eat their food, and drink their wine. The master returns unexpectedly to find his staff bruised and hungry, while the manager’s wasted his time—and his master’s trust—abusing others and indulging himself. Christ predicts the master “will cut [the manager] to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.” (v46)

This is Management 101: delegated leadership, meeting objectives in a timely manner, and maintaining productivity, workplace safety, and staff satisfaction. We’ve all worked for great managers and lousy ones. The great ones treat everyone equally. They’re transparent about their success relying on those they manage. They’re dedicated, consistent, and inspiring. Lousy managers play favorites and conceal self-serving agendas. They intimidate and exploit others’ insecurities to foster fear and panic. Great managers encourage improvement and confidence. Lousy ones threaten their people with dismissal. Great managers prepare for surprise visits from the higher-ups. They get promoted, as do many they lead. Lousy managers get fired. Those they mistreat, however, keep their jobs. Since responsibility for success isn’t theirs, neither is accountability for failure.

Performance Criteria

Jesus summarizes the three case studies like this. The person who knows what the master expects and procrastinates or fails to meet expectations will suffer greatly. The person who doesn’t will also suffer, though minimally so, much like employees with lousy managers are penalized with overtime or miss out on bonuses. But responsibility for readiness belongs solely to the manager. It’s his/her job to keep everything in order, with the staff standing by for the master’s arrival. It’s his/her task to be prepared when the master shows up without warning. It’s his/her duty to treat others as equals, showing them the same concern and care he/she seeks, focusing on their needs rather than his/her desires.

When Jesus says, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded,” He’s not talking about gifts or blessings. He’s spelling out His performance criteria for our lives. When we look closely at the three parables, we recognize our standards of success sit squarely on Christ’s laws of love: “Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22.37-39) This is what He’s assigned to us. This is what we’re required to do. We’ve no time to procrastinate. Nor can we misuse Christ’s authority to abuse others with intimidation and fear. Nor we can we keep His love to ourselves, sinking in a drunken stupor of acceptance while others starve.

“Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins,” says James 4.17. Each of us knows good we’ve not yet done--love we can return for hatred, kindness for cruelty, provision for poverty, mercy for condemnation, and acceptance for rejection. Our lives are full of people needing forgiveness and love—God’s and our own. Tomorrow isn’t promised. Our master may call us at any moment. “I didn’t expect You so soon” won’t suffice. For all the good we’ve done so far, there’s still much more to do.

Fill in the blank today, tomorrow, and until He calls.

(Tomorrow: Under the Influence)

Postscript: “Through My Eyes”

Justin Lee, Executive Director of The Gay Christian Network, emailed me with a link to preview “Through My Eyes,” a GCN documentary about young gay and lesbian believers’ struggles to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation. The full DVD is on its way to me and I’ll be able to give a better-informed assessment after I’ve seen it. But on its own, the film’s trailer is a powerfully moving testament to the profound conflicts GLBT believers deal with.

Please take three minutes to watch this trailer. Whether or not you identify with gay Christians, by its end you’ll most assuredly identify with the sincerity and faith in Christ these kids express. (I personally identified most closely with the young man in the green t-shirt near the trailer’s middle.) You’ll find more information about the film on this page of the GCN site.


FranIAm said...

Oh my God... I am sitting here weeping.

The woman signing her words near the end really got me. And then those last words by the young man at very end who said there is much confusion about what it is to be Christian in the gay world and much confusion about what it is to be gay in the Church world.


Thank you.

Tim said...

I've watched this about a half-dozen times now, and every time, something new touches me. I don't know how I'll make it through the full-length film, but I'm eager to see it.

Thanks, dear Fran. Your love and concern for GLBT people are what the world needs more of. And with amazing folks like you leading the way, it will come. Things will change. One day, Christians of all types will look at this film and shake their heads in disbelief--not because these kids are suffering, but because it will be impossible for future generations to conceive such intolerance and ignorance once governed the Church world.


Luke said...

I have been looking to something like this site for a while. Thank you. Don't stop doing what your doing. It is much needed in our community.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Tim. First an excellent post on active discipleship then this kicker of a video.
And they are very much related.
I pray for the day when all of the People of God are welcome and enlightened.
Thanks so much for posting this.

Tim said...

Luke, thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement, and welcome to Straight-Friendly. I'm glad you found us!

Please join in our conversations here, as well as those we'll soon be having on Facebook. (If you're a member, you can get to the page by clicking the link at the top of the right column here.)

There's much work for us to do in our community, Luke. People are hurt, disillusioned, and angry after being wrongfully rejected and judged by God's people. We who are blessed to know the truth of Christ's love and acceptance have a golden opportunity to demonstrate them to others who are where we once were.

Your brief comment shines with compassion for your GLBT family. I pray S-F will be instrumental in encouraging you and adding to your strength as God uses your witness to help others.

Be blessed always,

Tim said...

Missy, I hadn't really thought about the post and video being related. But after your comment, I re-read it and was chagrined frankly by how they do tie together.

These kids are products of bad management, bruised and hungry servants. This breaks our hearts. I know it breaks the heart of God as well.

And your prayer for a day when all are welcomed and enlightened stuns me with its profundity. Without enlightenment, there'll be no welcome and, thus, no enlightenment for those presently cast out. It's a prayer we all must take to heart and believe with all our hearts the day will come when it is so.

Thank you, dear friend. Once again, you bring much needed light to the topic that inspires us to think.


Cuboid Master said...

I want the DVD. It is so important for people to understand that being gay and being Christian are not incompatible realities but very easily blended and reconciled. Some of the most Christ-like people I have known through the years happened to also be gay or lesbian. I pray that more gays and lesbians alienated from the church will learn the eternal love God and His Son have for them, and NEVER again permit any human being to suggest God does not love them. God's love is vast and infinite, broad and deep enough to embrace us all. How sad when people of the Church say otherwise! To every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered person reading this blog: You are beautiful!!! Do NOT listen to those whom say otherwise. God's Word trumps the words of the ignorant any ol' day.

Tim said...

CM, you leave me speechless--a very rare thing! Your passion and compassion for GLBT people in general and believers especially are a source of great strength to all of us here. God bless you!


Annette said...

I'm late to this (was out and about adventuring and stayed off the computer this weekend), but this is exactly what needs to be shown to all good people everywhere. You can't help but love these kids and see their sincerity and know they are children of God.

Thank you for posting this, I'm going to pass it on to my friends!

I'm off to catch up on the SF posts now!



Tim said...

God bless you for sharing this with people, Annette. The rest of us are doing--and should do--the same. This video accomplishes what should have happened a long time ago: it gives intolerance a face. That's what we're seeing in the wounded words and expressions of these precious kids... in their lost looks and inward glances.

In addition to doing our all to help GCN promote this, we should join them in praying it will reach many, many more people we don't know. The youtube post has just over 13,000 hits, and it's hardly scratched the surface.

Thank you for caring and being and knowing.

Blessings always,