A number of years ago the film, “No Country for Old Men” came up in the queue of my Netflicks orders and Dan and I set aside an evening to watch this film. It had already won two Golden Globes and four Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best supporting actor. Directed by the Joel and Ethan Coen and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Javier Bardem, and Kelly MacDonald, I anticipated an engaging, thought provoking film.
It’s the story about an ordinary person who discovers two million dollars in the middle of the desert of western Texas. Out for a ride on his horse the man inadvertently wanders into the aftermath of a drug deal gone horribly awry. When he decides to abscond with the cash a violent chain reaction is set in motion. The violence plays out through the hit man, who comes to retrieve the money, and decides the fate of his victims through a coin toss, heads or tails. Critics describe this movie as an examination of fate and circumstances.
Regardless of the numerous awards this film won, I did not like this bleak, violent, and depressing movie. Most of all I dislike it because the violence and corruption prevailed without an ounce of hope.
I am left feeling much same from the news this week. Abuse of young boys, abuse of women, the abuse of one doctor and his patient, and the tragic abuse of a music icon from his own addicted behavior, to occupy Wall Street, and the protests, justified or not, against greed and corruption – all of these stories, in one way or another, are examples of the perpetuation of denial, ignorance, and a blame the victim mentality. Add to these the stories of war and the efforts toward peace that we are learning about in the Women, War and Peace series on PBS, and all told, these unfolding events paint a dismal picture of our world today.
This dismal picture of the world today fits right in with the perspective portrayed in our readings from scripture.
In the Gospel of Matthew we have come to the third in a series of three parables. First, from Matthew 24:45, the story about a wicked slave who mistreats other slaves, then in Matthew 25, the story about the ten maidens, some of whom are prepared because they have oil for their lamps, and some who are not prepared and are left out, and then the story today about the slaves who invest the money given them. One slave turns his five “talents” into ten, the other turns his two talents into four, and the third who buried his one talent and returns only the one, saying; “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” And, as a result, this slave receives a thorough reprimand for being lazy. His one talent is given to the man who now has ten, with the master offering this rationale: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” The parable ends with the master’s command to throw this “worthless slave…into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
So, let’s take another look at the third servant. He knows his boss is wicked, evil, and greedy, and he calls him on it. Whereas the first two did exactly what was expected of them without question, the third person calls it like it is, has the courage to speak up against the corruption. This third person shows courage, integrity, and perhaps a reasonable sense of fear because he knows that he will be ostracized for speaking up and telling the truth.
Then, as now, human beings have a tendency to dislike truth tellers. It often seems easier to just hide or do what one is told to do, do the expected thing and keep quiet. Even if that means perpetuating acts of injustice.
Jan Richardson, on her blog, The Painted Prayerbook writes,
“I find myself wondering, why is it that we most often read this passage as a judgment against the third servant and not against the man who has perpetuated an unjust system? Do we really think that the harsh and reportedly corrupt master of this parable represents God, who, after a period of absence, comes back prepared to throw out those who have not performed as expected? Do I really want to be like the first two servants, willing to participate in and perpetuate injustice?
Much like the wise bridesmaids, the two multi-talented men serve as the foil for the one who proves inept and unprepared. One could say they are the suck-ups who provide a contrast to the screwup. We might wonder at a parable that presents a narrative ecosystem in which the only available choices seem to lie either in perpetuating the master’s corrupt business plan or hiding his loot in the ground.”
Of course we may wonder, are these two choices the only options – perpetuate the corruption or hide? In each of these stories there is a character who chooses to be passive, unwilling to take responsibility, foolish. Which reminds me, again, of the news stories this week. People unwilling to take action, or look for other options, that will enable justice to come forth.
When we hoard, hide, and cling to what feels safe and comfortable we contain God and ultimately limit the fullness of our own lives. When live passively we limit the fullness of our lives and contain God. We can see examples of how these limitations play out in the tragedies of the world around us. People who, for lack of taking risks and acting for justice, have had their lives ruined, not to mention the lives of others who would have benefited from someone speaking up and taking action on their behalf.
This parable calls us to examine and then remove the barriers to our lives. To take seriously God’s call to us. Last week when we renewed our baptismal covenant we were reminded what God’s call to us is:
Will you continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
To each of these questions we answered, “I will with God’s help.” Even in our context, in the interfaith culture of Dearborn and this church, where we strive to live with integrity for self and others, where we actively work at hospitality and kindness, and what it really means to love our neighbor, even for us, there are ways we could live with a more expansive awareness of justice and respect for the dignity of everyone.
My friend, Janine in a reflection she wrote on our readings today, ask this:
“Have we acted justly toward God and others? Have we used everything God has given us, not just our money, but our whole selves, wisely and well?”
Because ultimately living that way, completely spent in acts of compassion and justice, having used everything God has given us, is the only hope we have.