The Faithful or Unfaithful Slave

piece of pie going to man, while rest of the pie goes to one

by Herb Montgomery

Featured Text:

“Who then is the faithful and wise slave whom the master put over his household to give them food on time? Blessed is that slave whose master, on coming, will find so doing. Amen‚ I tell you, he will appoint him over all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart: My master is delayed, and begins to beat his fellow slaves‚ and eats and drinks with the drunkards‚ the master of that slave will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him to pieces and give him an inheritance with the faithless.” (Q 12:42-46)

Companion Texts:

Matthew 24:45-51: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Luke 12:42-46: The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

A Word about Slavery and Jesus

Luke sums up Jesus’ gospel in Luke 4:18 with the phrase “to set the oppressed free.” Jesus was a prophet of the poor who called those who exploited them to radical wealth redistribution and to embrace solidarity with them. He called those at the helm of an exploitative economic system to account, speaking truth to power to the degree that the elites ultimately worked to see Jesus executed.

And yet, this week’s saying foregrounds one of the challenges with elevating Jesus and his teachings for our society today: Jesus never spoke one word against slavery. This silence was used by Christians in the U.S. to justify Christianity while they held tight to slavery. Moses Stuart of Andover Seminary in Massachusetts wrote that abolitionists “must give up the New Testament authority, or abandon the fiery course which they are pursuing.” [See Mark Noll’s, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (The Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era)][1].

Regardless of how one explains Jesus’ references to slavery and servanthood, the reality remains the same: an enslavement culture is at the heart of some of Jesus’ strongest parables about a new social order.

What Can We Glean From This Week’s Saying?

As we covered last week, much is lost when we immediately apply sayings such as these to a future second coming of Jesus rather than to the unexpected nature of the social vision Jesus shared during his life.

Jesus emerged among the exploited, poor class in his society announcing the return of YHWH’s liberating Presence among them (i.e. the kingdom or reign of God). He called for the evidence of this Presence to be expressed in his listeners taking responsibility for each other’s care. This is the centerpiece of this parable in the regrettable context of slavery:

“The master put [the slave] over his household to give” the rest of the household “food.”

The slave’s job was to distribute justice; to make sure everyone had enough, and to make sure no one had too much if someone else would go without.

The Jewish tradition is full of rich veins of calls for distributive justice.

Distributive justice is what the prophets called for.

Distributive justice is what Jesus also called for.

Distributive justice is the choice that lies before us still today.

Distributive justice calls us to become a people-oriented society. John Dominic Crossan writes in The Greatest Prayer:

“[Jesus’ distributive justice] vision derives from the common experience of a well-run home, household, or family farm. If you walked into one, how would you judge the householder? Are the fields well tended? Are the animals properly provisioned? Are the buildings adequately maintained? Are the children and dependents well fed, clothed, and sheltered? Are the sick given special care? Are responsibilities and returns apportioned fairly? Do all have enough? Especially that: Do all have enough? Or, to the contrary, do some have far too little while others have far too much? It is that vision of the well-run household, of the home fairly, equitably, and justly administered, that the biblical tradition applies to God. God is the Householder of the world house, and all those preceding questions must be repeated on a global and cosmic scale. Do all God’s children have enough? If not—and the biblical answer is “not”—how must things change here below so that all God’s people have a fair, equitable, and just proportion of God’s world? The Lord’s Prayer proclaims that necessary change as both revolutionary manifesto and hymn of hope.” (p. 3)

Today, we live in a global society right now where six men have as much wealth as half the world’s population. This past week, American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist Noam Chomsky released a new book on this topic: Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power. This is Chomsky’s first major book on the subject of income inequality and I’m looking forward to reading it.

The statement we considered in our HeartGroups last week from Dr. King applies:

“Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives, and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” (Beyond Vietnam, April 4, 1967)

Jesus called us into relationship with each other in a way that makes a tangible difference in how privilege, power, resources, profits, property, and anything else we need for survival and thriving are distributed justly. Jesus’ worldview was one where God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on all alike (Matthew 5:45). Today, we must learn to recognize, name, and work to reverse systems that preventrain” and “sunshine” from reaching some people while being funneled off to others.

Violent Ending

This week’s saying unequivocally ends quite violently and I find it troubling. I don’t believe in a God who is going to “cut people into pieces” if they don’t do what that God says. I do believe Jesus was reasoning from cause to effect in parable form.

What history now tells us is that the exploited poor of Jesus’ day did violently revolt against the elites in Jerusalem, and they went on to take up arms and revolt against Rome itself as well.

The Roman backlash was merciless. Jerusalem in its entirety was destroyed: the entire “household” was laid waste. If Jesus saw this coming, I can understand his trying to warn them.

But here is the catch. The catch wasn’t that the poor were finally able to take back what had been taken from them. No, poor and the rich alike were annihilated by Rome in 70 C.E., so threats of violence didn’t motivate those who dominated them to change.

What motivates me today to live into the teachings of Jesus is seeing my interconnectedness with others and heeding the call to engage in relationship with others. Compassion is a far greater motivator, for me, than fear of future loss or hope of gain.

And this may be the point of this week’s saying: We are all in this together. The choices we make affect us all. And although they affect us differently, we all have to share this planet we call home. As a dear friend of mine said to me recently, “We all get clean air or we all get dirty air.” We all inescapably share space with each other. We have the choice to share this space in a way that makes sure everyone is taken care of.

Who then is the faithful and wise slave whom the master put over his household to give them food on time? Blessed is that slave whose master, on coming, will find so doing. Amen‚ I tell you, he will appoint him over all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart: My master is delayed, and begins to beat his fellow slaves‚ and eats and drinks with the drunkards‚ the master of that slave will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him to pieces and give him an inheritance with the faithless.” (Q 12:42-46)

 

HeartGroup Application

  1. This week, as a group, consider the following statement made by Dr. King at Western Michigan University:

“Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion.

Well, there’s half-truth involved here.

Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart.

But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated.

It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.

So there is a need for executive orders. There is a need for judicial decrees. There is a need for civil rights legislation on the local scale within states and on the national scale from the federal government.” (December 18, 1963)

Discuss:

1. What do you perceive as the interim goals and long term goals in King’s statement?

2. What do the methods of working toward the interim goals involve?

3. What does engaging the work toward the long term goals look like?

4. Pick an interim and long term method and practice it this week.

Thank you, each of you, for checking in with us this week.

Also, I want to take a moment to thank all of you who support the work of Renewed Heart Ministries. It’s people like you who enable us to exist and to be a positive resource in our world in the work of survival, resistance, liberation, restoration, and transformation.

If you are new to Renewed Heart Ministries, we are a not-for-profit group informed by the sayings and teachings of the historical Jewish Jesus of Nazareth and passionate about centering our values and ethics in the experiences of those on the undersides and margins of our societies. You can find out more about us here.

Everything we do at Renewed Heart Ministries is done with the purpose of making these resources as free as possible. To do so we need the help of people like you.

If you’d like to support the work of Renewed Heart Ministries, you can make a one-time gift or become a monthly contributor by going to renewedheartministries.com and clicking on the Donate tab at the top right of our home page.

Or you can mail your contribution to:

Renewed Heart Ministries

PO Box 1211

Lewisburg, WV 24901

Make sure you also sign up for our free resources on the website: we have a monthly newsletter and much, much more.

Remember, everything we do here is free. And all your support helps. Anything we receive beyond our annual budget we pass on to other not-for-profits making systemic and personal differences in the lives of those less privileged in the status quo.

For those of you already supporting our work, again, thank you.

Together, we are making a difference, and making our world a safer, just, more compassionate home for us all.

Keep living in love.

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week.


[1] Noll’s volume is especially helpful in understanding what happens today when people calling for social change for minorities are accused of being “against the clear teachings of scripture.”

“On the other front, nuanced biblical attacks on American slavery faced rough going precisely because they were nuanced. This position could not simply be read out of any one biblical text; it could not be lifted directly from the page. Rather, it needed patient reflection on the entirety of the Scriptures; it required expert knowledge of the historical circumstances of ancient Near Eastern and Roman slave systems as well as of the actually existing conditions in the slave states; and it demanded that sophisticated interpretative practice replace a commonsensically literal approach to the sacred text.”

Mark A. Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (Kindle Locations 647-649).

 

The Son of Humanity Comes as a Robber

The banner reads: 'Capitalism isn't working: another world is possible'. G20, Meltdown Protest, City of London, Bank of England, 1 April 2009. Credit: Tony Hall.

The banner reads: “Capitalism isn’t working: another world is possible.”
G20, Meltdown Protest, City of London, Bank of England, 1 April 2009.
Credit: Tony Hall.

by Herb Montgomery

Featured Text:

“But know this: If the householder had known in which watch the robber was coming, he would not have let his house be dug into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Humanity is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Q 12:39-40)

Companion Texts:

Matthew 24:43-44: “But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Luke 12:39-40: “But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Gospel of Thomas 21:5 “That is why I say: ‘When the master of the house learns that the thief is about to come, he will be on guard before he comes and will not let him break into his house, his domain, to carry away his possessions.’

Gospel of Thomas 103: “Jesus says: ‘Blessed is the person who knows at which point of the house the robbers are going to enter, so that he may arise to gather together his domain and gird his loins before they enter.’”

Not The Second Coming, But The First

Typically when this saying is used in most Christian preaching today, Jesus’ words are interpreted as a prediction of his return to Earth at the end of time. Remember, though, Jesus disciples didn’t yet even understand that he was going to be taken from them, much less that he would come back at some point in the future. At this stage of the story, Jesus would have still been speaking about his unexpected emergence among the people, not about some point in the distant future.

What difference does it make to apply this saying first to Jesus’ emergence among the poor in the 1st Century, before we jump to the Christian second coming? Let’s first allow this saying to relate to the appearing of the Jewish Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago and see if there is any message in that for us today. We can get to secondary interpretations later.

Jesus the Thief

In our society, the haves are assumed to be the “good guys.” Law and order protects the haves from the have-nots who step outside the lines the haves set down for them. In this week’s saying, Jesus subversively calls himself a thief whom householders need protection from. He calls himself a bad guy.

Morality is defined quite differently by those at the bottom and edges of society and those who are at the top and the center. Last month’s book of the month at RHM was James Cone’s God of the Oppressed. He describes how morality functioned for black slaves in America:

“The grounding of Christian ethics in the oppressed community means that the oppressor cannot decide what is Christian behavior. Intuitively and experientially black slaves recognized this basic truth, because their mental and physical survival was at stake. They rejected the white masters’ view of morality, but they did not reject law and morality. Rather, they formulated a new law and a new morality that was consistent with black strivings for freedom . . . Thus black slaves made a distinction between ‘stealing’ and ‘taking.’ Stealing meant taking from a fellow slave, and ethics did not condone that. But to take from white folks was not wrong, because they were merely appropriating what was in fact rightfully theirs.” (pp. 191-192)

Cones uses illustrations from Olmsted and a slave named Charles that are well worth your consideration.

Consider also, how the legendary Robin Hood was viewed by the rich and how he was viewed by the exploited poor. Similarly, the “thief” Jesus in Luke preached good news to the poor (Luke 4:18, 6:30) and pronounced woes and curses on the rich (Luke 6:24).

This was in keeping with the Jewish prophetic tradition:

“For he will rescue the needy from their rich oppressors, the distressed who have no protector. He will have pity on the poor and the needy, and deliver the needy from death; he will liberate them from oppression and violence and their blood will be of high value in his eyes.” (Psalm 72:12)

Jesus’ definition of wealth as the exploitation of the poor and his call for wealth redistribution was viewed as thievery in his day. It’s still viewed as theft by many wealthy people today. I wish I had a dime for every time a well-meaning, affluent Christian responded to presentations where I talk about the wealth redistribution Jesus commanded by calling it “stealing” from them and giving to those less deserving.

Test this out yourself: take Luke 6:20 and 6:24 (Blessed are you are poor and woe to you who are rich), post it on Facebook, and see how long it takes for Evangelical Christians to chime in to qualify or condition the text. They won’t be able to let the texts sit there unexplained. They have a desperate need to qualify or censor these sayings of Jesus. And these are Christians, not the secular or nonreligious.

Jesus came preaching a new social order, a great reversal, or as Eliza Gylkison refers to it, The Great Correction. He invited those who had a lot to live in solidarity with those who had little, and he taught them to redistribute their wealth. It’s this idea of redistributing wealth to those who have less that was perceived as thievery.

Yet here is my point. Redistribution of wealth was good news to the poor in Jesus’s day and viewed as “stealing” by the rich. Not much has changed, today.

Those who are benefited and whose lives are bettered by domination systems (the haves) don’t view such an end as good news. Those on the underside of those systems, though, do see it as good news.

In the gospels these systems are replaced by a table where resources are shared wealth is redistributed, and justice is distributive justice: everyone has enough and no one has too much. This is a new humanity where people are prioritized over profit, property, possessions, power, and privilege.

Today, many both here and abroad have suffered and are suffering for the sake of the “American Dream.” America is one of the wealthiest and the most powerful nation in the world. And yet for such wealth and power, there are still 43 million people here who live below the poverty line. The wealth disparities in the American population are vast.

Today, “law and order” is the code phrase for a systemically unjust legal system that targets people of color, men especially, and takes their lives even when they have done nothing wrong. One example that top U.S. advisors to past administrations have admitted is that the “war on drugs” itself was created to target certain populations. People are targeted and arrested for nothing more than the color of their skin. That is “stealing.”

When one adds to this unjust system the capitalization of the prison industry, and the free labor that benefits large corporations from an exploited prison population, one begins to see that slavery really never ended in the U.S. It simply took another form. (To learn more, read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.)

We find ourselves in an exploitative system today that takes from those forced to the underside of society and benefits those for whom the rules are shaped. To talk about reversing that nature of things provokes the accusation of “taking from the rich to give to the poor,” or thievery. For example, socialism (a workers’ movement) is accused of being thievery and capitalism is not. Even democratic forms of socialism are continually erased from the conversation by the haves in our society. Jesus envisioned a system where the strong take care of the weak, not a world where the strong prey on the weak. But, as he said, whenever the son of man appears in every generation, he is seen by the “householders” of the present system as a thief breaking in to “take away their possessions.”

Expectations

I recently traced the title son of man used in the gospels for Jesus back to the Jewish apocalyptic book of Daniel, specifically chapter 7. In this chapter, one like the “son of man” is given a kingdom, a new social order, that ends exploitative systems of domination, subjugation, and violence. The overthrow is violent, and it could be argued that the systems overthrown in this chapter are simply replaced by another subjugating domination system (see Daniel 7:14). This would make perfect sense given the historical context of those who wrote the book of Daniel. Violent overthrow was the only way they could imagine their subjugation by violent empires coming to an end.

In Jesus’ own society, there were also those who could not imagine arriving at a different world in any other way than through violent uprising. But Jesus invited us into the end of domination, subjugation, and exploitative systems not through more domination, but in a way that was deeply unexpected. “Sell your possessions and give to the poor,” he taught (Luke 7:33). This was good news to the poor, and it was thievery to the “householders” within that society. It was counter intuitive, beyond what they had imagined.

I imagine that many who heard Jesus could not connect the dots between following his plan and bringing about a world without domination, subjugation, and exploitation. Jesus invited them into relationship with one another, into a community where they choose to take care of one another. In that community, those who had a lot gave to take care of those whose needs were not being met. As it states in Acts, “all the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44-45).

In the 1st Century, Jesus was inviting his listeners into a new human society, a beloved community, that the wealthy elites indicted as theft. He was calling the people to voluntarily enter into a community that he felt could avoid the Gehenna that they were heading toward. If they chose relationship, they could avoid the uprising of the exploited, the war against Rome, and the utter destruction of Jerusalem that history now tells us was only three decades ahead of them at that time. The result of ignoring Jesus’ call to wealth redistribution and reparations for past exploitations came in 66-70 C.E. when the exploited poor in Judea rose up, drove out the wealthy from the Temple, and proceeded to take up arms against Rome itself, too. Rome put down what began as a poor people’s rebellion in a way that left nothing for anyone. It was complete destruction for all.

Revolts and revolutions don’t always come. Oppressed communities don’t always rise up. They sometimes just give up. And there aren’t always third parties such as “Rome” that come in and wipe out everyone. I still wonder what lies ahead for us that we could avoid with the choices we are making today.

What lies on our horizon?

What will be the result of our environmental abuses driven by greed?

What will be the result of our military-backed, economic exploitation of countries abroad?

What will be the result of our exploitation of the lower and middle classes here in the U.S.?

What will be the result for our refusal to make reparations for our deeply racist past?

What will be the result of our racist “law and order” and unjust criminal justice system?

What will be the result of our classism, racism, sexism, cis-heterosexism, militarism, and corporatism?

If Jesus walked U.S. streets today, what would he see on America’s horizon? Who would he be calling us into relationship, community and solidarity with? What redistribution of wealth and power in favor of those on the undersides and edges of our society would he be calling us to voluntarily embrace?

Even if one only considers the environmental impact, it will be much less catastrophic to embrace our interconnectedness today, and enter into community with the people we share this planet with and with whom we also call Earth “home.”

We are in this together.

We are each others’ fate.

The choice is ours.

“But know this: If the householder had known in which watch the robber was coming, he would not have let his house be dug into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Humanity is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Q 12:39-40)

Heart Group Application

Jesus’ gospel calls us repeatedly to look at the world through the lens of those on the undersides and edges of our societies. This past week marks the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. One of the news outlets I follow this week played a portion of the sermon he gave one year before his assignation, Beyond Vietnam, written by Vincent Harding.

  1. As a group, read the entire transcript of this sermon:

http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_beyond_vietnam/

2. Considering this week’s saying and its historical context, a statement leaps out from for me from the transcript of King’s sermon, “It is with such activity that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, ‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.’ [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.”

What does engaging the work of transitioning from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society look like your area? Which local organizations can you partner with? Here in WV our work may look very different from the work in other states, for example. We have the same -isms as exist nationwide, yet they work uniquely in Appalachia from how they express themselves in larger cities.

3. Pick one of the options you discovered this week, and as a group put it into practice.

Thank you, each of you, for checking in with us this week.

Also, I want to take a moment to thank all of you who support the work of Renewed Heart Ministries. It’s people like you who enable us to exist and to be a positive resource in our world in the work of survival, resistance, liberation, restoration, and transformation.

If you are new to Renewed Heart Ministries, we are a not-for-profit group informed by the sayings and teachings of the historical Jewish Jesus of Nazareth and passionate about centering our values and ethics in the experiences of those on the undersides and margins of our societies. You can find out more about us here.

Everything we do at Renewed Heart Ministries is done with the purpose of making these resources as free as possible. To do so we need the help of people like you.

If you’d like to support the work of Renewed Heart Ministries, you can make a one-time gift or become a monthly contributor by going to renewedheartministries.com and clicking on the Donate tab at the top right of our home page.

Or you can mail your contribution to:

Renewed Heart Ministries

PO Box 1211

Lewisburg, WV 24901

Make sure you also sign up for our free resources on the website: we have a monthly newsletter and much, much more.

Remember, everything we do here is free. And all your support helps. Anything we receive beyond our annual budget we pass on to other not-for-profits making systemic and personal differences in the lives of those less privileged in the status quo.

For those of you already supporting our work, again, thank you.

Together, we are making a difference, and making our world a safer, just, more compassionate home for us all.

Keep living in love.

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week.