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How Do You See God?, November 19, 2017

How Do You See God?

Have you ever been in a fun house? You know the kind I mean, with the mirrors which distort you and make you look shorter or taller, fatter or thinner? I like the last one best—I could stand there all day. Of course, it’s an optical illusion.

There are all kinds of different optical illusions. You can find many here . With many of these pictures, some people will see one thing, while others see something completely different. There is some scientific research which tells us that we are predisposed to see these kinds of illusions in one way. We see what we are hardwired to see. Both images are there … but it takes work to see both sides.

The same is true in life. Our perceptions, how we see things, affects the way in which we interpret life. What we learned early on determines how we will see the world for the rest of our lives.

That’s partly what this parable is about.

The conventional interpretation of this parable is that it encourages us to discover our gifts and talents, and to use them for God—or else! Taken this way, it teaches that everyone has a talent; some have many, others a few, but all of us have at least one. Perhaps you can play the piano; or maybe you have the gift of hospitality, or the skill of organization. Regardless of how many talents we may have, and whatever they may be, God wants us to use them wisely and not waste them.

So goes the conventional interpretation. And there’s nothing wrong with the idea that we should use our talents to glorify God.

But let’s consider another possibility. Let’s think together for a moment about the character of this master, and how the slaves react to him.

We don’t know much about the master, except that he’s enormously rich. He’s part of the 1%. More accurately, he’s part of the 0.1%. He hands out enormous sums of money to his slaves. The Greek word ταλαντον (talanton) doesn’t mean a talent or a gift. It designates a sum of money. One talanton was the equivalent of almost 20 years wages.

Let’s say you earn $50,000 a year. One talent represents $1 million. A fortune! It’s an unimaginably huuuuuuuge sum of money, especially for the poor peasants who would have heard Jesus tell this parable.

The master prepares to go on a journey. Now that the snow has come, he’s going south for the winter. He entrusts his fortune—$8 million—to three slaves. The first two go out and double their master’s money. The third one hides it in a hole in the ground.

When the master comes home, the first two proudly present their profits, and the master praises them lavishly. If the story were to end there, we would think that this was a wise master—trusting, welcoming, generous and benevolent.

But the story doesn’t end there. The third slave steps onto the stage—and he sees the master very differently. “I knew you were a harsh man; you reap where you do not sow; you demand the best, you make no allowance for mistakes, so I hid your money. See? Here it is, right down to the last cent.”

Do you see what’s happening here? Each of these slaves sees the master differently, and how they see him determines how they react to him.

We still don’t know a whole lot about the master—but we have come to know quite a bit about these slaves.

The first two didn’t have any problems with him. They took his money, invested it, took some risks, and came out ahead.

But the third one acted out of fear. He cowered in his boots. He was afraid, and his life was small and stunted and narrow because his vision was small and stunted and narrow.

Reading the parable this way leads me to ask, how do we see God? What image of God do we hold in our heads and in our hearts?

If we imagine God as an enforcer of rules, then our faith will be about keeping a set of rules and requirements. If we visualize God as stern and ready to punish us at a moment’s notice, then we will come to believe that everything bad in our lives is somehow a punishment from God. If we see God as arbitrary and capricious, then we will live in fear that God might zap us at any time.

I grew up this way. I was in a church which said that to be a Christian was to keep all the rules. We learned that we had better not screw up, or God was going to get us. What we learned was that we better watch out, we better not cry, we better not pout—or else.

What you see is what you get.

But if we learn to see God in terms of grace and compassion, then all the moments of grace and compassion will lift us up, will surprise us, will make our heart glow with grace. We will learn to see life as a gift. If we imagine God to be a God of love, we will find it far easier to experience God’s love in our own lives and to share it with others. If we see God with a heart of compassion which holds us up and encircles us with love, then we will learn to live with the same compassion, reaching out to those who are in pain and those who are lonely and those who have been cast out to the margins of our society.

Reading the parable this way invites us to examine how we see God.

So let me ask again: How do you see God? Is God gracious? Or stern? Is God loving? Or judgmental? Is God eager for us to live in peace? Or is God prone to violence?

How do you see God?

And then, how does that image of God shape your life? How does that shape your prayer? How does that shape the way you live with other people?

If we hold an image of God as good and faithful and generous, then we can learn to live boldly as gracious and grace–ful people, who venture in faith with eyes wide open to the grace of God in our lives. We will see signs of God’s providence in every part of our lives.

But if we insist on seeing God as oppressive, cruel and fear–provoking, we will live a tragically impoverished life.

Those who live in the confidence that God is trustworthy and generous will find more and more of that generosity; but those who run and hide under the bed from a bad, mean and scolding God—they’ll end up hiding under the bed alone, quivering in needless fear.

How do you see God?


Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt

November 19, 2017 (24th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 33)

Matthew 25: 14–30

1 Thessalonians 5: 1–11

Judges 4: 1–7