My favorite poem comes from none other than my favorite poet, Mary Oliver. In the poem, At the River Clarion, she begins, “I don’t know who God is exactly.” And she continues, “But I’ll tell you this.” Then Oliver writes about God being part of all creation: the good/the bad, the happy/the unhappy, and so on. She tells us that “we do not live in a simple world,” and a few lines later that “we receive, then we give back.”
I stood up here about eight months ago as I reflected on the Samaritan woman. I told you all that I wanted to practice seeing creation outside a binary view: no good and bad; no right or wrong. I told you that doing this required a movement out of my brain and into my heart.
Well, I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: In my lectio with The Parable of the Talents there is the obvious interpretation toward which my brain instinctively leaps: Use your gifts and don’t squander them, lest something bad happens. There is also the less obvious, like the interpretation Benedictine Abbot John Klassen offered us during our 2018 retreat: Maybe those two servants who doubled their talents took advantage of others to multiply what had been given, and the third servant wasn’t interested in playing the same games. And then there’s the movement into my heart in which Jesus challenges me to go deeper with the parables, not to simply say that I will be punished if I do not use my gifts, or that the older brother should have been less resentful when his younger sibling returned home. We do not live in a simple world.
I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: I hear the third servant say to the master, “I was afraid,” and I connect because I know how often fear becomes the reason I choose to bury my talents: fear of being overextended, fear of not using my gifts perfectly, fear of feeling as though my talents aren’t as useful or as important as someone else’s. It is in those moments when I choose fear that a voice of God enters into my head, saying, “You wicked and lazy servant.”
I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: Those words are not the voice of God. Rather, they are a voice of God that I allow my brain to manifest when fear overtakes love. They are a voice of God that enters my brain when my trust in the goodness of creation, and the piece I am of it, wanes.
The Parable of The Talents is not about God judging me for my choices. That’s a simple way for my brain to explain away my own judgments of how I use, or fail to use, my gifts, and we do not live in a simple world. For me, this parable is about what happens when I bury my talents in fear. And in those moments, God does not punish me and send me away. No, what God does is beckon me closer to the Source of Love; God uses the Holy Fire deep within to illuminate more clearly all that I have received, and to ignite me to give it all back. At least that has been my experience thus far. But, that beckoning does feel like a punishment when I would rather take the easy road and ignore the sacred wealth I have received.
I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: God has entered our human existence in the fullest way. And if God is here in our midst, and we take that truth seriously, then we, too, must become that beckoning divine source for one another in community. We must challenge the fear-based behaviors around us. When we challenge with love, it is not a punishment, but rather a call to the conversatio that we have vowed to one another.
I don’t know who God is exactly, but I’ll tell you this: I have no idea how God is going to continue challenging me to use my talents. But I know that if I believe in a God who will call me a wicked and lazy servant, I will be fearful to use them. I believe that our God, who is here and now, and who will come again, we know not when, is an all-encompassing pulse of love. There’s no possibility for any of us to be wicked and lazy servants in the heart of that Love. The voice of God says to us, “Your pulse beats in rhythm with mine. You can trust what you have received, and give it back freely. That’s all it takes for a job well done.”
May we continue to live in the Love of God.