Things are not as they seem

We might say that the theme this week is, “things are not as they seem”.
Last week we heard from the Book of Joshua, where all seemed good. The invasion of the Promised Land had gone well; the land was now in the possession of the Hebrew people - a just reward for their obedience. This week we hear of ongoing battles and slow occupation. We hear also of the Hebrew people constantly falling away from their obedience to God. Things were not as they seemed. The problem was they (and we) kept seeing the land as an end in itself, and the law as the means of earning it. They failed to see that the land was the means by which they could live in the presence of God, and the law acted as a guide to how to live in that presence.
I wonder if our “land” is eternal life – do we see that as an end in itself and faith in Christ as the means to earn it. Is not eternal life more about living in the presence of God, and following Jesus the guide in how to live in that presence – now and eternally?
Which brings us to our gospel - the well-known parable of the talents. We all know that it is about using our natural abilities in the service of the Kingdom in order to inherit eternal life, and avoid the outer darkness and the wailing and gnashing of teeth. In this reading the “it” referred to in the beginning of the parable is the kingdom of heaven, and the “Lord” acts as a kind of Jesus figure – not a very nice Jesus figure though. The trouble is this is pretty dodgy theology – this is not what Jesus or the church teaches anywhere.
Some suggest that this story is about allowing the life and generosity of God to flow through us – which feels a whole lot better. This then is about grace at least, even if the Jesus figure is still a little dodgy.
But what happens if the “it” actually refers to the being awake now (as at the end of the parable of the 10 wedding attendants/bridesmaids/virgins) – living in the presence of God now? And what happens if the lord is a scoundrel? Then this story becomes a story about economics – the economics of the vastly wealthy – the wealthy who steal the land in order to be fabulously wealthy and who order their slaves to continue that work of dispossession. Only the last servant acts honourably – not stealing, not breaking the mosaic law and charging interest, but keeping his master’s money safe for his return. David Ewart suggests, “I believe this is NOT a "Kingdom" parable; it is a "Wisdom" parable teaching us about the perils and difficulties of the ways of the world until the Kingdom comes. It warns us to continue to expect the rich to steal from the poor; and for the followers of Jesus to expect to be punished by the rich for behaving honourably.” [1]
So maybe the parable of the talents is not what it seemed as first read? What might this mean to how we live in the presence of God?



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