Recalculating Risk

© Copyright Arpingstone and licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

© Copyright Arpingstone and licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

I read the Parable of the Minas this morning. I’ve always had a secret sympathy for the servant with the single mina.  Wasn’t he just being extra careful and vigilant?

The part of me that always brings two tubes of sunscreen and triple-checks that I’ve got my purse and never misses a kid’s vaccination appointment resonates with this.  Isn’t it better to be cautious?  After all, at least he didn’t lose the mina.  Is that really wicked and ungrateful?

You see, I constantly wear these glasses that paint the world in fear and scarcity and uncertainty.  It’s like when I think about going on a rollercoaster and calculate that there’s a 99.999% chance it is completely safe.  But I’m stuck on the .001% uncertainty.  And I opt out of the ride.

My risk-gauge is faulty. 

This may seem understandable when I listen to news stories of ghastly tragedies or read op-eds about the worsening state of the world, but living in constant-vigilance is a blatant sin of unbelief in the goodness and sovereignty of God.

It’s faulty theology that says first of all, God might not actually be in control, second, his purpose for me might not really good, and third, that I receive any suffering as an evil.

At worst, it’s the opposite of Thy will be done.

© Copyright National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

© Copyright National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

At best, it’s Thy will be done with conditions, as in, as long as it’s suitable to me.  I really am American-to-the-core, stoutly believing that my earthly life ought to feel like heaven.

I shouldn’t be surprised anymore that my way of seeing the world is completely askew.  Even if I wasn’t old enough to have a thick file of humbling moments where I’ve seen how foolish I’ve been, Scripture itself teaches me that I have no hope of seeing clearlyThe heart is deceitful above all else.  Desperately wicked.  No health in me.  Deaf ears, blind eyes, I still don’t understand.

With the story of the Minas, this is perhaps most evident in the servant’s fear of the Master.  Perhaps the servant was one of those rebellious citizens who didn’t even want to live in the kingdom.  I wonder if he scoffed once the Master was gone.

Or maybe not.  Maybe he just wanted to get by.  Maybe he really was terrified at the thought of being singled out by the Master.  Maybe he was the kind of guy who played by the rules, who lived with a skewed risk-gauge.  We don’t get those particulars.  What we do get is that in the moment of testing, his true perception of the Master comes out.

Severe and Hard.  

What do I really believe God is like?  What informs that perception? I may say, “Jesus, friend of sinners,” with my mouth, but in my heart I sing: “Oh, God, Severe and Hard.  I’m terrified of screwing up.”

So terrified that I’d rather do nothing.  And lazy, too, I’d wager.  Not really convinced that the days are short, that what I do matters, that God has purposes for me that he’s prepared in ages long ago.  That it might not actually be all about me, that there are eternal souls out there; that I interact with them daily and every moment matters. 

Lewis puts it this way: “There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God, and counter-claimed by Satan.”

There’s work to be done, the promise of jaw-dropping rewards and the implication of breath-taking stakes, and I’d rather opt outWhether it’s because I don’t want to mess up or I’d rather just not be bothered, either way, I’ve lost my mina. 

© Copyright Holzfäller at the German language Wikipedia licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

© Copyright Holzfäller at the German language Wikipedia licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

Like many of Jesus’ parables, I don’t fully get this one.  I read books by brothers and sisters who’ve spent their lives studying the Scriptures.  I hear sermons.  I hunt down what the church fathers and mothers might have said.  And this helps.

It sheds light and gives insight, but the brilliance of Christ’s teaching is that it’s always multilayered.  It’s dynamic.  He is a living Word that strikes a different chord today than it did a year ago, or even last month.

Today, as I read this parable, I’ve been thinking about writing, about how unwilling I’ve been to share spiritual reflections outright.

And do you know why?  I’m afraidAfraid that I might mess up.  That I might say something wrong or have incorrect theology or lay a heavy burden on someone’s shoulders.  (Which makes me laugh when I look straight on at it, this idea that I might write “correct” theology, as if we aren’t all little heretics!)  For these reasons and more, I’d rather hide my single mina.

This joyless existence is full of human calculation.  It comes from the glasses fogged up by the blasphemy of setting God in my image, rather than the other way around.  Jesus’ invitation is to abundant life and joy.  To a light and easy yoke.  To a gentle Master.

Perhaps it’s not about the return on my mina, about how secure an investment I can make, or about how I can limit my risk.  Perhaps it’s about entering the game at all.  About leaping out, trusting that, whatever else he is, God is a good Master.  One who, when asked his own name, declares himself to be a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands.  One who, when he took on flesh, became Christ, Love incarnate.

One whose creation is full of the extravagant, teeming with infinite magnificence that goes beyond function into realms of delight and frivolity.  With untold numbers of species that no man’s eye will ever behold, with millions of galaxies that boggle the mind.  And instead of a Gracious Giver whose eye is on the sparrow, I rewrite him into a Miser whose stingy eye demands account?

© Copyright nheyob and licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

© Copyright nheyob and licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

This indeed is wicked, and there’s no place for it in the kingdom of God.  So I’m done with that.

I’d rather be wrong than paralyzed.  I’d rather be a little heretic who risked something, counting on the love of God to carry me through my own insufficiency, than a little heretic who deceived herself that by keeping still and silent she could maintain an illusion of sufficiency.

I’d rather join my own voice, feeble though it may be, with all of creation that is proclaiming the majesty of God, than worry that I might sing a little off-key.

I’d rather laugh at my myopia and remind myself that it isn’t really about me, about how I steward the mina at all, but about whether that mina is cast out into a world desperate for Good News.  Can I really say to those starving for Bread, “Hold on a minute.  I don’t quite have the recipe just right.”?

As Augustine writes, “After all, if our Lord did not forbear to pour out his own blood for [ one rational sheep], what excuse would such a person deserve for allowing himself to neglect the one so esteemed by the Lord and not making every effort on his part to care for the sheep?”

No, in God’s mysterious wisdom, he has hidden this treasure in earthen vessels, and we can joyfully leave the fallout of that in his hands.  The stakes are too high, the time is too short, to mess around with evaluating risk and calculating loss.  Besides, our risk-gauge is faulty.  Hear Jesus’ words on the subject: The one who seeks to save his life, will lose it, but the one who loses his life for my sake will save it.

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