Working With What You've Got
[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
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 bad family background. Jesus' parable above describes people with different amounts of gifts, and maybe we feel like the person who got the one talent rather than the five. This seems to be a truism - people who struggle with limitations are the quickest to 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 have feelings for God like the man in the parable, who told his employer that he knew he was harsh and unfair.
The rabbis tell an insightful parable about this - about a king who hires two watchmen over his garden - one who is 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 picks up the lame man and together they pick the fruit. When the king finds out, both of them say they were incapable of stealing the fruit — but the king puts the lame man onto 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 parts we bring to life - 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 just ignore our need to serve God because of our struggles. Some of us will want to give up and be chronic "victims" - feeling cheated by a harsh God, and having no obligation to others. Others will use their difficulties to serve God, like the late Dave Brownson, a man who was tormented for years with schizophrenia and manic depression. His profound disability made him feel sub-human — as if he was worthless to God — that he had no calling in life. But then he began a ministry counseling others with serious mental illness, and gave enormous comfort to people in circumstances like 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 of us 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.
©2006 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All rights
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