Trey, the Unacknowledged Prophet: A reflection on Matthew 25: 14-30

This is a reflection that I preached in my Lay Leadership of Prayer and Preaching class this past week, but it is on today’s (Sunday, November 16th) Gospel reading. Maybe it  will invite you to consider a different angle on this common parable?
 

I am a people pleaser. I want people to like me, so my most frequent response to a petition to help with something is… yes, especially when the person asking is a person in authority. I’ve know this about myself, yet sometimes I still catch myself saying “yes” when a more appropriate answer would be, “I’m sorry, I really can’t help with that right now.”  But this is okay, I’m a work in progress, and on my better days, I can accept the grace of still being under construction.

But my people-pleasing ways worry me sometimes, because I worry that if I were in today’s gospel story, I would be more like the first two men, than the third. It might surprise you that I want to be like the third man (let’s call him Trey) since this story is often used as a call to live your vocation and use your talents to the fullest, and Trey doesn’t seem to do that. And the Master, who we presume must be God, gets pretty mad at our third man, Trey, for this.

But what if the Master isn’t God in this story?  That master is pretty angry and greedy anyway. Let’s flip this story on its head. What if Trey is actually the brave hero who has something to teach us? Should we bury our talents too? Depends on what talents are, I guess. Some people probably want me to bury my supposed-talent when I like the song in church and make a joyful noise unto the Lord, much to my neighbor’s dismay! But a talent in Jesus’ time is not a characteristic, or a gift. It was an amount of money or a weighed measurement worth a large sum, as we can tell by the way it can be traded and invested for more.

So maybe this is actually a story about money, about greed, and about a prophet I’m calling Trey.

You see, in their time and place, there was no stock market. You couldn’t just invest $500, and magically get $500 more (at least that’s how the stock market seems to work to me when it’s not a recession). No, if you got $500 more using your original $500, that means someone else, was $500 poorer. It was a limited system of scarcity. Trey decided his master’s request wasn’t acceptable. The master was asking Trey to make money off of his already-poor neighbors.

Trey had a choice. Would he be a people-pleaser and cooperate with a master who self-admits to greed and unjust practices? Would Trey exploit others on his master’s behalf? Or would he stand up for what was right and risk suffering for his decision?

This is why I want to be like Trey—Trey, who is the lowest of the servants, the one given the least amount of money, the one said to be the least capable—because Trey recognized exploitation and had the courage to stand against it.  He decided not to be a people pleaser and he refused to cooperate with greed. And then he paid the price. He suffered for risking and standing up to corruption.

We are called to be bold and prophetic like Trey. To not immediately say yes to everything that is asked of us, before we have discerned its value. We are called to courageously risk ourselves to not cooperate with injustice and greed. Sometimes this will mean suffering for our resistance. Maybe we choose not to shop at stores where products are made from child labor. It may cost more and ask us to cut back on our spending in other ways. Sometimes it could mean not going along with it at work when your boss wants to fudge some numbers and you’re expected to look the other way, no questions asked. Speaking up could have very real consequences, like it did for Trey, but to this, with appropriate discernment, we are called.

I’ve heard it said that courage means to tell the story of who we are with our whole heart. When we have courage to stand up prophetically against injustice like Trey, we tell the story of who we are, who we are called to be…. with our whole hearts. Hearts that are moved by love and not by people-pleasing. Hearts that choose justice over greed. Hearts that support those like Trey who face consequences for speaking up. Hearts that are full of gratitude for what we have instead of constantly striving for more than we need. Let’s be like Trey and with our prophetic actions, tell the story of who we are with our whole hearts.

 

Grace and Courage

At the end of my year as an Amate House volunteer, I wrote myself a letter to be opened in one year. (Thank you, Amate, for sending our letters to us!).  I may or may not have written to my 23 3/4 self from my 22 3/4 self. I’m that cool.

This last June, I appreciated getting that letter so much that I decided to do it again.   I wrote myself another letter on my 24th birthday to my 25-year-old self. Thankfully, I have a terrible memory so I already have no idea what I wrote in it other than two paragraphs that I decided to copy into my journal because they’re about things I decided to be intentional about this year:

Grace and Courage.

I know these are life-long pursuits. But I think it’s good to be intentional about things and about becoming the person I want to be.  Here’s what I wrote:

Grace. Seeing people as God sees them. Asking, “who am I to judge?” Remembering, “If God has been merciful with me (constantly!), then so should I be with others. Giving people the benefit of the doubt. Choosing understanding over self-righteousness. Being gentle with myself and others.

Courage. Daring greatly. Living in the arena. “Doing” when called to “do.” “Being” when called to “be.” Choosing to make time for prayer, because, let’s be honest, it feels like such a risk at the time. Living wholeheartedly. Not living small in false humility (or large, in unhealthy pride), but living me, as God calls me to be me. Focusing on God’s strength in me.

Ironically, I didn’t want to share these intentional practices with people. I didn’t have the courage to do so 😉 But that is because it offers others the opportunity to call me out if I am not living grace-filled (note, that is not graceful. I’m a klutz. You don’t have to call me out on that… I’m well aware) or if I’m living small and scared. It offers the opportunity to be critiqued for picking virtues to “focus” on. But I’m going to be courageous and be open to criticism, open to conversation, open to being formed by those around me. Open to not keeping all my thoughts in my head.

Speaking of being open to being formed by those around me, I decided it was time to share these thoughts because someone called me out the other day around the topic of courage. A mentor of mine heard my timidity at accepting a compliment concerning courage and she made me say out loud, “I have courage.” THREE TIMES. Hmmph. So here we are.

All year long, I’m going to be adding to my thoughts on grace and courage… and of course, trying to find opportunities to practice them! I don’t think I have to worry about a lack of opportunity. It’s like praying for patience. God doesn’t give you “patience” per se,  but gives you an opportunity to wait. In my 1+ month of being 24, I’ve had several (daily!) instances to choose grace and practice courage.

And why grace and courage specifically, you ask? Well, first, I should say that practicing these are obviously integrally tied up in other ways of being intentional about my life and becoming the person God calls me to be. But these stuck out to me right now, to my mid-20s self, for a few reasons.  Simply, I’ve read a lot of Brené Brown over the last year, and I’ve been convicted to live life wholeheartedly, to dare greatly, and that takes practice. And answering my vocational call(ings) demands courage. (As does yours of course! And grace? I think I noticed a piece inside of me that didn’t like some of my interior dialogue that I was hearing. And it was affecting my actions. Asking myself to be more grace-filled calls me immediately to rely more on Grace, humbling me to be patient with myself and others.

And you want to hear something cool?!?!

Over a year ago, my running buddy and I met this cool group of runner-women who started an organization/movement of runner-women called Fellow Flowers. They sell different colored flowers that signify different concepts. I chose white: Dreamer. The description?

To show grace and courage. To embrace the challenge and welcome new beginnings. Putting yourself out there. Doing it scared. I WILL RUN THROUGH THE FEAR TO FEEL THE JOY.

Dreamer. To show GRACE and COURAGE.

Didn’t realize that “coincidence.” Pretty cool.

You’re pretty cool too, friends!! Thanks for being part of the conversation. What else would you add to my collection/collecting of thoughts on grace and courage?

With grace and courage,
Melissa

P.S. Do you want to know who else is pretty cool and courageous?! My running buddy. She’s running the Chicago Marathon AGAIN this year. Check out her blog supporting her work and running cause, Taller de José.