Working With What You’ve Got

by Lois Tverberg

[The Kingdom of God] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. Matthew 25:14-18

Sad Child

We all struggle with our weaknesses, and for some of us, they are pretty profound. We might be plagued by a physical disability, mental illness, psychological problems, or a dysfunctional family background. Jesus’ describes people with different amounts of gifts in the parable above, and many of us feel like the servant who received one talent rather than five. It’s often true that people who struggle with limitations bury their talents and give up on serving God. We feel worthless, like only those who are great in human achievement are worthy of serving God. We may even believe that God is harsh and unfair, as the man in the parable viewed his employer.

The rabbis relay a similar parable with a wise message: A king hires two watchmen over his garden—one blind, and the other lame. The two watchmen decide to steal his fruit, but neither can do it alone. The lame man can’t reach the fruit, and the blind man can’t see where it is. So the blind man hoists the lame man on his shoulders, and together they pick the fruit! When the king discovers the crime, both of them claim they were incapable of stealing the fruit. So the king lifts the lame man on the blind man’s shoulders and judges them both as one. (B. Talmud, Sanhedrin 91a-b)

The point of this parable is that all of us have two aspects —our flesh, that may have disabilities or psychological problems; and our will—our desire to accomplish what we are called to do. Together they determine what we can do, and we can’t ignore our calling to serve God because of our struggles.

We may be tempted to give up and be the chronic “victim,” feeling cheated by a harsh God, having no obligation to help others. Instead, we should look for ways to use our difficulties to serve God. Dave Brownson was tormented for years with schizophrenia and manic depression. His disability made him feel worthless and sub-human, and that he had no calling in life. But then he began a ministry counseling others with serious mental illness, and supplied enormous comfort to people in circumstances similar to his own. It was through his illness that he gained the empathy and experience to reach out to this needy group of people. (1)

God knows the talents he has given you, and he knows that many struggle with enormous problems every day. When we finally stand before him, may we be counted among those who have multiplied what we have been given.

(1) Bill & Helen Brownson, Billy and Dave (Words of Hope, Credo House Pub., Grand Rapids, 2006).

Photo: Wagner T. Cassimiro “Aranha”

A Parable of a King

by Pastor Ed Visser

A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return … But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, “We don’t want this man to be our king.”
Luke 19:12,14

Near the end of a long day in the Judean desert, our tour group made our final stop at Jericho. Being a Palestinian city, entry was controlled by the Israeli military (in the last few years, Jericho was given over to Palestinian control). After about 30 minutes, we were given permission to enter — a rather rare feat. The city itself has been ruined by a poor Palestinian economy. Our interest, however, was a different sort of ruins.

Jericho PalaceWe made our way along Wadi Qelt (a dry riverbed) until we came upon the ruins of Herod’s palace across the wadi. What must have been magnificent in its day was in ruins and being over-run that day by a flock of goats. Just to our left (west), were the hills to which the Israelite spies escaped when scouting out Jericho (Joshua 2:16-24). In front of the palace and through these hills was the beginning of the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, made famous in Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable.

But our attention was drawn to a different story in the Bible. In Luke 19, just after Jesus had encountered Zacchaeus in Jericho, he continued on his way toward Jerusalem and the cross that awaited him. His route would have been the Jericho road. And, at some time, he and his disciples (and others making their way to Jerusalem for Passover) would have walked right past this palace of Herod the Great — now used by his son, Herod Antipas, when he was in town. But before Antipas, it was used by another son of Herod, Archelaus, who was king of Judea for about ten Beginning of Jericho Roadyears. As dreadful a king as Herod the Great was, Archelaus was much worse. After Herod died, Archelaus went to Rome to ask to be made king over Judea in his father’s stead. A delegation of Jews also went there to dissuade Caesar from naming Archelaus king. Once he was given rule over Judea, Archelaus had his enemies killed ruthlessly. Within 10 years, after another Jewish request to Rome, Archelaus was deposed.

As Jesus tells the parable of the minas in Luke 19:11-27, he puts it in terms of a man going away to be named king, whose enemies oppose him but are eventually killed. Given the fact that Jesus was leaving Jericho to go to Jerusalem, it is very likely that he used the occasion of passing Herod’s palace to tell a story right out of the pages of their recent history! While his point in the parable has nothing to do with Archelaus, we see the typical way Jesus taught: drawing on current events and local landmarks to teach truths about a very different King and kingdom — the Kingdom of God. It reminds us of the importance of being able to apply truths of Scripture to the events of our world & lives.