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.