I know I say it a lot, but I just don’t think Jesus is an either/or kind of guy. I think Jesus is an and/with person.
Person. I know, here I am again treating Jesus like, well, one of us. Like a friend or a neighbour, even, rather than with the reverence due Christ, the “Word made flesh.” But imagine, just for a minute, that I’m not making Jesus less divine but rather pointing out the divinity in the human characteristic I just mentioned.
Our freedom to choose often leads us to see things in opposition rather than in harmony, as set against one another rather than in cooperation, exclusive rather than inclusive. Either/or versus and/with. Just look at the world. See how much of life seems to be a contest of this side versus that side to see who will have the power to get their way. But we’re all children of God – of God and of creation. We’re connected to the earth and each other. Our very being is literally an “and/with.”
That’s big. Huge even. Especially right now, when we find ourselves struggling to stay connected in a pandemic that keeps us apart. Or in a world of politics that keeps us apart. Or finances. Or cultures. The list is long.
And here’s Jesus, showing us how to live out the human and divine in each of us. Showing us how we can love, have empathy and compassion, live each day offering grace and understanding, engage the world and build relationships and create community. Along with his example, Jesus offers some teaching, words of comfort and encouragement, and a lot of stories.
Especially with the stories, it can be easy to say it means this or that. We can debate and argue about historical context and definitive interpretations and insist that we have the “correct” understanding. But maybe the story has more than one meaning. Maybe different interpretations aren’t about the right one, but the harmony of many speaking together to different times and different people. If the understanding leads to wisdom and love, if it creates and inspires one to live well, maybe we should rethink our sense of correctness.
Here’s an example. Jesus tells a story about a man who has to leave town, so he entrusts his servants with the care of his finances. To one he gives five talents (that’s a huge amount of money, not a skill), another three, another one, “each according to their ability.” While he’s gone, the first two invest theirs and make more, while the third hides his single talent. When he returns, the man congratulates and rewards the first two. Hearing the third explain that he was afraid because the man was a harsh and unscrupulous businessman and that’s why he hid the talent and is returning only that one, he throws him out with nothing.
Jesus tells this story in the context of talking about being prepared for the end times. So is this a reminder that, while awaiting his return, being prepared means building upon what God has given us (financially and otherwise)? It makes for a good stewardship story. It could be a reminder to not be afraid to use what we have, to invest and expand it. Perhaps the ending doesn’t sound quite like the Jesus we know, so we might consider that, while the third servant is cast out, it’s those very people – the outcast, the marginalized and the broken – to whom Jesus comes. Perhaps it’s part of the journey. What about the third servant’s fear? Can we empathize with that? Maybe Jesus isn’t the rich man at all, maybe he’s the third servant and it’s not about fearing the rich man but challenging his methods. Perhaps it’s not just about investing in the future, but living well in the moment. Perhaps it’s a reminder of the inequities of our world we live in and that they must be changed.
Perhaps it’s not one single thing, but how they all interact – it’s not just one thread, but the fabric it weaves. As we engage different perspectives, we might see they’re not exclusive: they can work together to teach us on our own journeys.