01 March 2011
Sharing our Master's happiness through good stewardship
While the reality of cuts makes for narrow horizons, we need a Christian imagination that gives an impulse to the alternative economics of God's kingdom. Jesus' parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 feeds our imaginative capacity and has the potential to shape business, economy, community life and our households. For this parable does not merely concern the wise investment of money. It has a wider agenda. Reading the parable allegorically, Jesus' teaching concerns faithful stewardship of all that is entrusted to us, the reward of which is the prospect of sharing in our Master's happiness.
When reflecting on faithful stewardship that is rooted in godly character, we do well to delve into the original calling to fulfill the creational mandate and live out a vision for the good of the community (Jeremiah 29:7). Genesis 1-2 is a foundational text for human flourishing. It concerns stewardship which causes us to live wisely within the world. God placed mankind in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. The role contains two elements - to realise its potential and to nurture it. Interestingly, both these aspects are about stewardship that embraces the production of an increase for the master (the owner) and a caring for the resources entrusted to us.
The principle can also be seen at a community level in the Jubilee principles in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. The land, once distributed among the tribes and families, is worked and some do economically better than others. The care and sustainability aspect is seen in the exercise of the forgiveness of debts and the freeing of slaves. This includes the provision to get them started on their own and the return of the land to the original families in the 50th year, the Jubilee year. The good of the community is paramount. Economic gain cannot be allowed to trump the primacy of relationship and community.
This is about essential health, being like our Father in heaven. The idea that it is more blessed to give than receive, as Jesus teaches (Acts 20:35), is perpetually true. The Bible contains a developing vision of a generous resourcing community. Generosity and creativity reflect God's character. Those who reflect His image into the world are those who are "rich in good deeds, generous and willing to share" (1Titus 6:18). Generosity is transformational both for the giver and the recipient. So the exhortation might be: "Be generous. It changes lives (yours first)."
We all share in the grace of both giving and receiving, as Paul teaches the community in 2 Corinthians 8:14. In this beautiful equality, relationship and community are paramount: a community empowered by the demonstration of sincere love in the grace of giving. We are stewards not only of all we have but all we are. We are to give ourselves first (2 Corinthians 8:5). It is classic 'whole life discipleship' stuff.
A new landscape
The recent BBC 2 series Age of the Do-Gooders featured 19th century Christians in the public square;entrepreneurs, politicians, medics and others whose faith was core to their vocation for the good of the community.We draw upon a rich tradition of fellow believers who envisioned a new landscape for society. Whether we are disciples in business, politics, arts, media, education, healthcare, sports, IT, or elsewhere, we are called to live wisely in the discernment of our vocation. Proverbs teaches us that the practice of wisdom generates blessedness, riches, peace - in other words, shalom, happiness (Proverbs 3:13-14). Wisdom is needed to be genuinely human.
Richard Hays writes in The Moral Vision of the New Testament that the aim of Jesus' parables is to instil godly fear and motivate us to do God's will while we have the opportunity: "The New Testament writers are not concerned merely with how individuals might seek eternal life; rather, they are concerned with how the Church as a whole might embody the economics of the Kingdom of God." Contemporary examples in the Christian community are numerous: academics and practitioners who develop business models on the basis of rethinking capitalism; the media entrepreneur who includes a proportion of employees from marginalised sections of society; the community which enables the poor to express their artistic gifting and celebrate beauty.
Matthew's parable of the talents is part of a larger section which emphasises the need to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man (24:37- 25:46). Moral behaviour, including making imaginative use of the resources entrusted to us, is directly and repeatedly connected to the invitation to eternal life (25:46). Faithful stewardship entails work, risk, and imagination. As Peter Heslam writes in his excellent booklet Transforming Capitalism, the two trustworthy servants receive a commendation and an invitation into God's shalom economy. They receive a greater responsibility and are invited to come and share their master's happiness. Matthew places our faithful stewardship in an eternal light, the rays of which already illuminate our lives.
We are challenged to live generously and take creative risks in an age of austerity. An age to aspire to a different kind of riches, to develop society with a greater compassion and to serve the common good with all the talents entrusted to us. As God's people we, in this way, foreshadow God's healing transformation of the world.
Marijke Hoek writing in conjunction with