life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Monday, October 17, 2005

enter into the joy...

Sorry (again) to be so long in getting another post up, but I’ve been working many extra hours and have begun a month-long stretch of out-of-town work trips. (I had to reintroduce myself to Dorothy last Friday after the most recent trip and take her on a date that night! Whew! And Saturday I was off on another one to Santa Rosa, where I am now!) I keep hoping that while I’m gone I’ll have some time to reflect and to write for the blog, but, alas, that seems almost never to be the case. There is more than enough for me to do from the time I pick my head up from the pillow until the time I lay it down. Please bear with me! Anyway…

The post that follows is all Dallas Willard’s fault.

I started thinking about Jesus’ story about the three servants and the money their master gave them after reading a paragraph in Willard’s book, Hearing God. We often call this story the parable of the talents, since a silver talent was a significant amount of capital one could invest. Once we do that, our interpretation takes a funny turn since talent means something else in today’s English. Or we see it as work-oriented investment of capital, which is the metaphor Jesus uses but IMO focusing on the subject of the story misses the point of what he’s trying to say. But, enough of debunking poor interpretations of the parable.

What I’ve been thinking of in regard to this story are the various communications between master and servants, and the attitudes with which the servants took those communications. First of all, the master never tells them what to do with the money/capital. Have you noticed that? All three make certain assumptions about what is expected, but the master himself never says anything. Two of the three invest the capital and make earnings. The third misinterprets the character of the master and fearfully hides the money to keep it safe. In response to the stewardship of the master’s capital, the first two are invited into the joy of the master. Peterson’s paraphrase has the master saying, “From now on, be my partner.”

Sounds like a simple investment “success story” and that the guy who had no guts, gets left out.

But Jesus prefaces this story with his common refrain, “The kingdom of heaven is like....” How does that affect our understanding? I think if we see this as simply reward for gutsy investment acumen, we miss what he’s trying to say.

The first two servants understood the heart of the master. The master was all about investment, all about gain, all about entrepreneurship in playing the business game. The servants understood that. They were, in a way, already entering into their master’s joy.

If the kingdom of heaven (God, in Luke) is the presence of God himself breaking into the world, isn’t God overjoyed when we enter into that interchange alongside Him with people in a way that brings him and them near to each other? I’m not talking about slam-bam evangelism (or what sadly passes for evangelism today). Rather I’m talking about the pure joy of not only relationship, but common work along with God as we join him in his breaking into the world.

Aren’t we entering into the joy of our Master when we do something as simple as offering a cup of cold water in his name? Isn’t the joy of our Master something other than parsing doctrinal fine points and winning arguments and drawing lines? Do we degrade God and lower his character by doing these things, rather than entering into his joy? Is Jesus not saying that this is not about fear at all?

Grace and peace,



Anonymous Marshall said...

Is Jesus not saying that this is not about fear at all?

I dearly hope so. But what about all the verses that say to fear God?

9:21 AM  
Blogger Johnny said...

Isn't it interesting the first two servants did what they must have known their master wanted done, because he didn't tell them. The better we know Jesus the more we will be able return to Jesus, because it has become part of our lifestyle. We will not stop and consider "how water shall we give , will he use it wisely, etc." We will just do it.
As to the fear God references, it really refers to having an awe, respect,or honor of God. The word "fear" used with God is different from the word "fear" used otherwise, if I remember correctly.

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

You may be right, Johnny, you may be right. But recall the children of Abraham gathered at the foot of Mt. Horeb? Isn't at least part of the message there to be afraid in our conventional sense of the word? And, for a New Testament example, always I think of Annanias and Saphira.

Joy without being frightened - what a beautiful concept.

6:17 PM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

I think it is entirely possible, Marshall, that the kind of fear you are speaking of is only reserved for those who either are so sure of themselves and their understanding of God that they are ready to "call down fire from heaven" on those who do not believe as they do or act as they expect.

Example? The Pharisees and teachers of the law. I find that Jesus seldom raises his voice in anger. Usually, when he does, it is reserved for those who dare to speak for God in their own self-righteousness. He seems to "yell" almost as if to get their attention.

The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira seem more to do with their failure to apprehend the presence and purpose of God in what was going on. Instead, they saw this as an opportunity to gain stature in this new movement, to be seen as "leaders" in the movement, while having unregenerate hearts. I could be wrong, mind you. But this is what it seems to be to me.

The same could be said of Peter's reaction to the request of Simon Magus.

Let's consider two other examples though. Even though the rich young ruler went away from Jesus sorrowfully, Jesus didn't strike him dead for failing to divest himself of the wealth that stood in this man's way. Jesus himself was sorrowful. He loved this young man.

The woman at the well is, at least at first, rather testy in her exchanges with Jesus. He doesn't blast her for being a Samaritan, for being mistaken in her worship theology or for being a loose woman. Rather, it is very evident that he cares for her as no one else apparently did.

Then there is the woman caught in adultery, the man with leprosy, the centurion with a sick servant, the man born blind, Peter by the lake (post-resurrection)....

I'm sorry, but I just don't see the anger in Jesus that you do. I do certainly see a man of compassion for those who are desperate for God.

Have you read McLaren's The Last Word... and the Word After That?

McClaren does a pretty good job of deconstructing the whole concept of hell and showing how Jesus turns the Pharisee's use of it to condemn the masses right back at 'em.

Still, I see a great deal less anger and a whole lot more sadness in Jesus. I'm sure I'm reading through "lenses". But I grew up with the same pair you did. Those don't fit my eyes anymore.

Again, maybe I'm mistaken. But I don't think so.

There may certainly be reason to be frightened by God. But not for the sake of honest human weakness. At least not the way I read. (I'm reminded of the prophet's phrase, "...a bent reed he will not break, a smouldering wick he will not put out...." There's a lot of hope in that.

I think joy without fear is much more likely.

I think I'll skewer Jonathan Edwards in an upcoming post. "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" sounds more like the Pharisees, less like God or Jesus, at least in the New Testament.

I'm sending you a quote via email from that book I mentioned to you.

Grace and peace,

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

Thanks, Owen. That's helpful. As I've said somewhere here before, I think, I'm sure the problem is my lenses, not the Lord.

12:15 PM  

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