When we come to a place where we realize that God is truly loving in the deepest possible way, it makes it a lot easier to open up to God. (Versus a fear-based religious perspective – the parable of the talents).
Jesus did a lot of his teaching using parables, short stories that carried great meaning and inherent challenges. One of his parables has a major point that has been largely missed, perhaps especially by “can-do” Americans. Here is the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30 (NLT):
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.
“The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.
“After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’
“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
“The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’
“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
“Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’
“But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’
“Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
We read this and freak out, wondering if we’re doing enough to warrant a high five from Jesus. Freaking out, however, means we’ve already missed the point, and actually serves to make the point Jesus was making about the character and nature of God and about how God longs to interact with us. The thrust of the story is that we, as the servants, have been entrusted and encouraged by the Master – a great honor that we miss in our fear of underperformance. The problem with the servant who blew it was that he never really understood what had really been given him – trust and support. Because he missed that memo, he lived his life way below his capacity.
Bob Goff shared an interesting insight in his book: Don’t tell people what they want; tell people who they are. He says that we are constantly told what we should want – by our parents, friends, church, employers, marketers. But we become who we are told we are. Jesus was doing that sort of thing with this parable, telling his followers who they are: beloved and entrusted servants who are encouraged to risk on that love and trust. If somewhere in the recesses of your mind you are living your life and faith afraid of God’s wrath, you’ve probably missed Jesus’ memo (and the primary thrust of his life and teaching). God is love, and God loves you. Once we get that, it makes it a whole lot more likely to fulfill the first and greatest commandment to love God with everything we’ve got.
When we know we are inherently and unconditionally loved by the very source of life, it makes loving ourselves and feeling loved a whole lot easier. The Apostle Paul was writing to a church that was caught up in performance and comparison, and had gotten away from the whole point about love. His “Love Chapter” (1 Corinthians 13 - MSG) is quoted often at wedding ceremonies:
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
In my personal experience, when I am in touch with how much I am loved, I seem to be able to reflect Paul’s sentiments much more naturally than if I’m not in touch with love. When I feel unloved – mostly because I’m not paying attention or distracted by pain – I really struggle to love myself and others as Paul describes. Being in touch with how much we are loved is essential if we want to live into the second greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. I wonder if one of the reasons we sometimes suck at loving our neighbors is because we don’t love ourselves?
Do you remember how Jesus referred to God? He often spoke of God as his father. But he also did an audacious thing: he called God “Daddy”. Nobody called God that. It was nearly heretical to use a term of such familiarity for God. Yet Jesus did. I think he believed it for himself, which gave him the confidence to do a lot of bold stuff – a lot of high-risk investments, reinterpretation of scriptures, and hanging out with “questionable” people. He knew the love was there. The love informed how he thought. As he no doubt reflected deeply on God’s love, he surely realized that God felt this way about everybody, always, which made it so much easier to love people. Jesus became love incarnate because he heard the words from God that he was loved. He became love. So can we.
I want to invite you to consider using a different name for God as you pray this week: Daddy. Just see what happens. Who knows, maybe using such a familiar term will help you realize how safe and loved you are, and maybe that will lead you to love yourself as you should, and maybe that will lead you to see everybody, always, as brother and sister, and maybe that will lead you to love them as your heavenly Daddy has loved you. May it be so.