The Man Who Met God In A bar -Part 1 of 2-

If there were an award given for “Most Terrible Parable,” my vote would go straight for the one about the coins. Known traditionally as “The Parable of the Talents,” the story almost single-handedly drove me out of the church and into a spiritual detox. You may know it: the tale of a nobleman who is leaving town for a while and so offers three of his servants an investment opportunity, as shifty salesmen do, giving each one a different amount of money “according to their ability.” Amy All-Star gets five talents (or coins), Count-On-It Carl gets two, and the lowlife, who maybe we just call Larry, gets one. If you’re already getting nervous, just wait.

Each of them is given the same objective: to take care of what’s been entrusted to them. Larry, who sounds a lot like me if I’m being honest, is afraid he’s just one more demotion from the curb, so he wraps it up in a napkin and buries it. He thinks he’s being smart by not losing the one thing he’s been given. You can hear his thought process, can’t you? Oh man, just imagine what the boss’d say—I’m already on the rocks with the guy—if I lost this one, too…It’s not worth the risk. I’ve got to keep this job.

Predictably, the boss returns, and Amy and Carl have doubled their funds, now sitting in higher cotton than they were before this cruel experiment. Lowlife Larry, on the other hand, only falls farther. As he tries to explain to the nobleman why he buried the coin, how afraid he was of losing it, his boss silences him and tells him to pack up his desk. “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.” Jesus gives his listeners the following ominous warning: “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

So, considering some of the nicer parables—about lost lambs found, about prodigal sons welcomed home, about the last being first—yeah, this one sticks out to me. Even if you seem more like All-Star Amy, and you view yourself as someone with quite a lot to be grateful for, you can’t not hear the conditionality lining this story.

Like a sore toe, this parable became impossible to ignore. It came to dictate the Jesus I believed in. And it wasn’t exactly the Sweet Jesus of Lambs and Orphans. It was the Very Serious Jesus of Judgment I had always been afraid was hiding behind the curtain. It’s not surprising that this picture of God—the expectant landlord, his threat of punishment, his focus on productivity—has provoked leagues of burnouts over the church’s tenure. Have you done enough? Invested wisely enough? Have you, too, chosen to sit on my opportunities for fear of losing them?

-Robt. F. Capon-