Is there a physical posture that would make it most difficult to enter the kingdom of heaven?
When I was the vocation director, I attended a conference designed to impart wisdom about the process of screening candidates. The presenter told a story about his brother and him that illustrated one of the qualities that you look for in a candidate. When he was done, he said simply: “Sometimes you have to do something, even if it is wrong.” Whoa!, I thought. But he continued. What the priesthood needs are men who can make a decision, even if they don’t have all the data, and even if the decision turns out wrong. In the diocesan priesthood, you can’t spend all your time weighing and re-weighing and weighing again all the possible options. When crunch times come in that endless series of deadlines that is sometimes called priesthood, you have to be able to act. Do something, even if sometimes it doesn’t work.
Jesus would have given him a standing ovation. In this very confusing parable we just heard, it looks like Jesus is condoning criminal behavior, dishonestly and disloyalty. Jesus is the story teller – he’s not repeating someone else’ story. He can craft the story any way he wants. So, when the fired servant adds another layer of treachery to his lazy work ethic, by defrauding his master of more of the profits so people would be indebted to him once he lost his job, we are shocked when Jesus commends him. Why did he do so? What was he honoring?
I think it is this simple. He praised the servant because he stepped away from the one posture that would get him into trouble in the kingdom. That posture? Living with his hands in his pocket. Doing nothing. Waiting. Not working. Not acting, not living the moment and the day’s possibilities. That is what gets you into trouble in the kingdom. There is always forgiveness for trying and failing. There does not seem to be the same understanding in the stories of Jesus for DOING NOTHING. Those folks are punished harshly in this and other parables of Jesus. It is the posture that gets us into trouble.
You see, the call is always to make some kind of response to God with what he has given us. In our Catholic heritage, we have come to reflect on that attitude of response to God in all things as Stewardship – knowing that we have to make our way in this world, preparing for the next, by our use of the things that God has given us. Time, Talent and Treasure. They are given to each in different measure, different combinations, and different abundances. How we give that back to God is up to us. The only condemned choice, in this parable, is to do nothing with what we have been given. That’s the primary lesson of the parable.
This is the other lesson of the parable – we have to make the choice to do something with what WE HAVE, not what we WISH we had. My brother Dennis was once told that he sings like a bird. He was surprised. The lad continued: “Yes, like a crow.” Dennis will never be a cantor in the church. But he brings a ton of other gifts to his parish community. The steward in the gospel looks at what HE is capable of – “I can’t dig ditches. I have too much pride to beg. Ah, but I know how to cook the books…” Though it is dishonest, and that still rankles us, he uses what is HIS gift, his talent …and he acts.
One of the things that I love here at St. Justin is that the vision of the founding parishioners is ALL about this stewardship. All about people being very intentional about being good stewards of what God has given you. In that vein, I invite you to do some reflecting this week on your posture before the Lord in regards to the time, talent and treasure that are yours. Are you standing there with your hands in your pocket, doing nothing? Or, are you trying to give back to God, maybe not perfectly, but with as much generosity as you are able – using this world’s goods to secure a place in the next. (fall fest needs volunteers…/thanks to our Catechists on this catechetical Sunday!)
Regardless of where you prayer takes you concretely, like the dishonest steward – DO SOMETHING. (Even if it turns out wrong/less than perfect…) Because the only posture that doesn’t work in the kingdom, is this (hands in pocket). Do something, even if it’s wrong. Otherwise, when you get to the pearly gates and find them locked, you may look to the other side and see St. Peter – with his hands firmly in his pockets…