Not the gospel of “it’s all about you”

Psalms 93, 96 (Morning)

Psalm 34 (Evening)

Numbers 6:22-27

Acts 13:1-12

Luke 12:41-48

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. (Luke 12:41-48, NRSV)

Our Gospel reading today is one of those times I’m grateful for the Daily Office, because the Revised Common Lectionary pretty much hides from this snippet of Luke, preferring the more “generic” version of watchfulness in Mark 13, and totally avoiding the even more gruesome version at the tail end of Matthew 24, complete with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The Parable of the Faithful or Unfaithful Slave is a parable that doesn’t register well with modern sensibilities. Transposing “servant” where we see “slave” doesn’t always fully make the cut, and most of us find “a light beating” an unacceptable outcome for that poor third slave, who didn’t know any better but did the wrong thing in ignorance. It might be a doubly uncomfortable parable on Father’s Day, if one grew up with the capricious whims of alcoholic or addict fathers and endured the beatings (light or otherwise) that also resulted seemingly from nowhere. We all have a twinge of righteous indignation for that poor third slave, who’s standing there going, “But what’d I do?”

Let’s look at this, though, through the opening words of Peter in this passage. Peter basically asks Jesus, who has just delivered the Parable of the Watchful Slave (Luke 12:35-40,) “Are you tellin’ this to us, or to them?” Notice Jesus doesn’t really answer the question, but Peter’s question is covered in Jesus’ answer–he answers in a way that fails to make a distinction between “us” and “them,” in a way that no one gets off being righteous. It’s a reminder that the Gospel of Christ is not The Gospel of It’s All About You–that sin is probably far more corporate than it is individual, and in reality we probably add more trouble to this broken world unknowingly more than we do knowingly. Only time has the power to sort that out.

Take something as innocuous as hopping in the car and taking a joy ride around the countryside simply to improve our mood or because we’re bored. Although infinitesimally small, that single little joyride did change in a tiny way the milieu of the system of supply and demand for oil, and, if we buy the chaos theory, could well be something that affects the fact the Chinese keep bidding more and more for barrels of oil in their quest to become a more fully industrialized nation against the continually increasing demand in the U.S. for oil. This could prompt more exploration of oil, more trashing of the environment, more greenhouse gases, and more woe to the planet. That’s just how it is. I don’t say that to make anyone feel guilty–guilt is really not a feeling, it’s an outcome of judgment. The fact is, there are an infinite number of things every day that every action we take, makes us guilty of something. Period.

On the other hand, that little joy ride might have also done something to the positive. Perhaps it improved our mood to the point we went out and did something that honored The Good News in Christ, and brought the Realm of God a little closer to Earth. Perhaps it gave us impetus to call on someone who was homebound, or volunteer at the soup kitchen, or simply be present for someone who needed us. We are never shown the ultimate end of any of the good deeds we do on this planet, either–maybe because, ultimately, there is no end to that chain of events. What happens when we believe in the possibility that evil becomes an end to itself, but God’s grace provides a never-ending source of good?

It’s so easy to get enamored with our righteousness every time we recycle, or buy organic over commercial, or choose a vegetable over a hunk of meat, and put ourselves on this little pedestal touting the glory of “us” vs. the great unwashed-ness of “them,” isn’t it? It’s a reminder that, in the end, we’ve all done something wrong and no one has a corner on owning neither a special guilt, nor a special righteousness. The best case scenario is we muddle through life, making the best choices we can, trying our darndest to hear what God is telling us, hoping we are ultimately doing right. When it’s all said and done, we’ll probably discover we were fairly right about some things and pretty wrong about some others. I suspect that, at our deaths, the judgment we wished upon the bad “others” of the world will be reflected back on us when we discover some of our choices in ignorance created equal harm to the world. Yet I am equally hopeful that we will see pleasant surprises in the good choices we made with equal unknowing. Can we accept the possibility of a “light beating” at the risk of amazing joy?

What transformations await us when we begin to give up the “us” vs. “them” mentality?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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