SOS from the Outer Darkness
Hey, you got a flashlight? Or even a match?
Yeah, I figured as much.
You can call me #3. No, I was never a Next Generation fan, why?
What about ear-plugs? I’d give a kidney and my last pair of clean undies for some ear-plugs. I mean that gnashing sound is one thing. If you’ve ever been married, then it doesn’t take too long to used to that gnashing of teeth sound.
But the weeping? The weeping can mess with your head after a while. And because of the darkness, because you can’t see anyone, after a while you start to think the weeping is in your head. That it’s you. That you’re the one weeping.
You know that Groucho joke about how I’d never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member?
Yeah, that’s this place.
With the weeping and gnashing, you’d expect it to be a lot louder than it is. Instead it’s just creepy quiet. And even though it’s dark, you can just feel it- there’s a lot of people here.
A lot of people, though not the ones you’d expect. I haven’t bumped into one atheist, adulterer or TMZ reporter. I mean, sure, Ted Cruz is here; he keeps yammering about repealing the incarnation.
But other than him and Justin Bieber, nobody here are the sorts of people you’d expect to find here.
Mostly, they’re all people just like me. Just as surprised to be here as me.
I suppose that’s the money question isn’t it? Why am I here?
Just before my Master went away, he tells us this story- my Master was always telling stories. To people who weren’t his servants, he never spoke in anything but stories.
He told this one story about a kid who wished his old man dead, cashed in his inheritance, and then left home and blew all the money. And when the snotty kid comes crawling back home, what’s the father do? Blows even more cash on a welcome home party.
I know, right!?
My Master told this other story about an idiot shepherd who had 100 sheep and goes off and abandons 99 of them to search for the one sheep too dumb to stay with the flock. It’s like that Woody Allen joke. Those who can’t do, teach. And those who can’t teach, shepherd.
My Master was always telling stories like that.
And just before my Master went away on a journey, he tells us this story about another master who had 3 servants.
The master gives the first servant 5 talents, and the master gives his second servant 2 talents- and 1 talent is worth about 20 years’ income so we’re talking a crazy, prodigal amount.
Even the master’s third servant, who gets a single talent, gets more cash than he’d ever seen in his life, more than he could possibly know what to do with.
And that’s the thing, that’s what I’m thinking as the Master is telling this story about a master. What kind of fool would risk wealth like that on…nobodies…like them? I mean, at least Lehman Brothers knew how to handle money.
And what kind of bigger fools would take that master’s treasure and jeopardize it? Gamble on it?
But in the Master’s story that’s what the master’s first two servants do, and lucky for them (or lucky the master came back when he did) because they managed to double their investment. 5 talents becomes 10 and 2 talents becomes a fourscore gross.
And their master praises them for it: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’
The third servant though- the one with the single talent that was still worth a fortune- he does the prudent, responsible thing.
He buries his master’s talent in the ground, which is what you did in those days when you didn’t have a bank or a safe, especially when it’s not your money to risk. Plus, interest is forbidden in scripture so by not investing his master’s money I’m thinking this third servant’s doing the faithful, biblical thing.
In my Master’s story, when the master returns he calls this third servant wicked.
Wicked and lazy.
Pretty harsh, right?
That’s what I thought too. Then this master ships his servant off to the outer darkness where there is nothing but weeping and gnashing of teeth.
At the time, I thought outer darkness was just a rabbinic euphemism for Cleveland, but it turns out I was wrong.
So just before my Master went away he tells this story, and, sure, it didn’t make much sense to me, but that’s how it was with most of his stories.
Still, because it was one of the last stories he told before he went away, I figured it was important so I tried to live my life according to it.
I tried it produce with the financial blessings the Master gave me.
I didn’t try to hide my stinginess behind caution or prudence.
I took some risks for a higher yield, and other than a Bowflex and Redskins season tickets I never wasted the wealth God gave me.
I earned as much as I could so that I could give as much as I could. That’s the point of the story, right? A rising tide lifts all boats?
When I saw the Master again?
No gold watch.
No ‘My servant is good and faithful’ bumper sticker.
Not even a Starbucks gift card.
No, instead I end up here, which I assume is the outer darkness. If there’s a sign, it’s not like I can read it. But there’s definitely weeping and if that sound’s not teeth gnashing then someone should call a plumber.
I guess this beats being cut up into little, tiny pieces- that’s what happened to the fall guys in one of the Master’s other stories.
And maybe it’s better than what I would’ve guessed it be like, fire and brimstone. But it’s God-awful cold here in the darkness. And, for as crowded as it is, it’s terribly lonely.
What day is it anyway? Or year even?
I don’t know how long I’ve been here, but it’s still hard to believe I ended up here.
Or not hard to believe at all I guess.
The truth is-
How I heard my Master’s story reveals an awful lot.
It shows how captive I was to money that I just assumed my Master’s story was about money. If it’s possible to see anything clearly in the dark, it’s obvious to me now.
I really believed the only real, realistic wealth in the world was cold, hard cash. Not only did I believe it made the world go around, made me ‘successful’ and made my family secure; I believed you needed it to change the world.
That you can’t fill the poor with good things if you’ve got empty pockets. That before you can give gifts you need to earn money to buy them. That you can’t make a difference in a life, in the world, without investing aggressively the financial blessings God gives you.
Like I said, it shows how captive I was to money that I just assumed my Master’s story was about money.
Now, in the darkness, I can see the light. Or, see how stupid I was.
Why would I think he was talking about money? As though my Master was some sort of economist. He didn’t even HAVE money!
This one time- right after he told this story actually- some hypocritical clergy (which might be redundant) tried to trap my Master with a question about taxes. And he tries to answer them with an illustration. So he asks them if any of them have any money on them…as a sort of visual-aid.
He asks them if they have any money on them. Because he doesn’t. Doesn’t carry it. Doesn’t have it. Doesn’t have anything positive to say about it at all for that matter.
So why- how could I be so dumb- would I ever think my Master’s story was really about money?
What would a Master like mine be doing telling a story like that? What does it say about greedy, unimaginative me that when I heard this story I just assumed it was about money? And making more of it. And being rewarded for it. And being encouraged to go make still more of it.
What would a Master like mine be doing telling a story that just reinforced all the other stories we tell ourselves?
How could I be so blinded by greed that I didn’t see the obvious? The master in this story is supposed to be my Master.
And money- talent- that’s not the treasure he gave us before he went away.
I don’t know how I missed it before. He wasn’t vague or coy.
The gifts the Master left us before he went away weren’t cash and coin or CODs.
No, he gave us bread and wine. He left us water, for baptism. He taught us how to pray and interpret scripture. And he showed us how to reconcile and forgive.
Before he went away, he gave us wisdom and knowledge and faith and prophecy and healing and miracles and love. Which is just another way to say that the gift he gave us, to each of us his servants, is the Holy Spirit.
And, sure, that gift comes to each of us in different amounts, but for each of us the gift is more than enough.
More than enough-
To shape communities of mercy.
More than enough-
To bring his healing grace to conflict and suffering.
More than enough-
To set captives free and to lift up the lowly and bring down the proud and the powerful.
It’s more than enough to bring about forgiveness and redemption and resurrection.
The gift comes to each of us in different amounts, but for each of us the gift is more than enough for each of us to do everything that Jesus did, which includes training others to do the things that Jesus did.
Even the servant with 1 gift- the ability to pray or receive the sacrament or forgive- even that servant is sitting on a fortune large enough to change the world. That’s what my Master wanted us to know before he went away.
Should, woulda, coulda.
It wasn’t until I was shocked to wind up here that the shock of my Master’s story finally hit me.
Think about it:
After spending so much time with his master and then being given a life-changing, world-redeeming treasure, one of the master’s servants still don’t know how to do the things the master had done.
One of the master’s servants acted as though the gift they were given still belonged to someone else, as though it were someone else’s job to do something with the gift.
After so much time and such treasure, one of the master’s servants somehow thought their relationship with the master was just between them. Personal. Private. Which makes the gift about as useful as hiding it under a basket or flushing it down the toilet or hiding it in the ground.
Here’s the punchline:
There’s only 1 servant like that in the story, but there’s not only 1 servant like that.
There’s only 1 servant like that in the story, but there’s not only 1 disciple like that. There’s not. Or else I wouldn’t be here, rubbing my teeth down weeping. The joke’s on me.
In the story, the master says to his servant:
“You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own plus some.”
But what the Master says in real life sounds more like:
“After all the time you spent following me? Worshipping me? Learning from me? Listening to me?
After seeing how I share food with the outcast and bring all sorts of sinners around my table. After seeing the way I transform people and heal brokenness and refuse to condemn.
After seeing how I forgive. How I invite people to follow me and how I challenge them to lead an eternal kind of life.
And then after I give you all the gifts you need to do everything I’ve done…you don’t?!
You don’t!? What were you thinking!? Whose job did you think it was?!
My Kingdom isn’t just good news; it’s responsibility.
You can’t accept my Kingdom without being enlisted by it.
And don’t I say I didn’t warn you, didn’t tell you that my disciples will be held accountable.
Therefore, for a worthless disciple like you it’s outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
You’re sure you don’t have any ear-plugs you could spare?
Well, make sure you pack some for yourself.
I mean, obviously I’m not a gambling man, but if I had to make a bet…you’ll be here too someday.