In the Bible, Matthew 25 is a parable about a kind of investment banker who, before leaving on a long trip, distributes eight bags of gold among three of his employees. The first employee gets five bags of gold, the second gets two bags, and the third employee gets just one bag of gold.
When the investment banker returns from his trip, the first employee has turned the five bags of gold into 10. The second employee has also doubled the value of the assets given to him. He brings four bags of gold to his boss. The investment banker is very happy with the first and second employees and gives them great bonuses for having had the courage to invest his funds.
The third employee, who did nothing with his gold, gets into deep trouble. He isn’t just fired. He is thrown “into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It’s such a black mark on his resume that he’ll never be able to get a job again.
Why, we ask, did that poor guy, who only received one bag of gold, get such a bad rap? He didn’t squander the money on a luxury vacation or instant gratification. He was a super careful chap who buried the money in a deep hole in the ground and gave it all back to his boss. Nothing was lost, other than a little money he could have earned from bank interest. Why is the boss so upset?
As everyone knows, a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. The wealthy investment banker is a reference to Jesus Christ himself. The wealth that Jesus, “who so loved the world,” gives to his followers is not bags of gold but cups overflowing with love. Those who follow Christ are instructed to “invest” that love in the world. If I use a hole in the ground to hide the love that Christ entrusted to me, then I am in the same kind of trouble as the one-bag-of-gold guy. I will have boxed myself in a cold, dark and hate-filled world.
I have been thinking about that parable a lot since reading Daryl Johnson’s book Hateland: A Long, Hard Look at America’s Extremist Heart. The book tracks how extremists fuel fires of hate that, like candles burning at both ends, endanger all of us because they are systematically weakening all the institutions that protect us.
But there is hope! In the last chapter of that book, which has the title “Love thy neighbour,” Johnson gives a few examples of people who acted like the first two employees in the above parable. They did not bury their love in the ground but courageously invested it and, in that way, brought fresh water of love to overheated hate promoters.
I think that we all need to make 2022 a love-thy-neighbour year. As Johnson says, “On the local level, everyone can play a role in lowering the heated rhetoric and divisiveness that opens up the space for extremism” (242). If we, like the third employee in the above parable, bury our God-given love in the ground, then we perpetuate the “walling off of America” (242) process that makes all extremists happy. If we follow them down that road then we will, in the imagery of the parable, have invested all our spiritual capital in false coins of fear and hatred.
The choice is in front of each of us.
Patient, enduring love
Will 2022 be a year for building more walls of fear or will it be a year when, like the first two employees, we have a spiritual investment portfolio with which we can – with our mind, hands, feet and heart – invest in acts of love?
The first two employees, by bravely investing their godly love, broke through all the walls of fear that stopped the one-bag-of-gold guy. If we step out of our cocoons of fear in 2022 then we will really discover that love is “patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; […] It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things” (I Cor. 13).
Let us all, in 2022, act and live like the courageous first two employees in the parable who stepped away from their dark walls of fear and used their seven gifts of godly gold to build love bridges in their homes, schools, churches and in their nation.
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