Thursday, February 28, 2013

Giver? Taker? (Luke 12:42-48)

Jesus said “It’s a faithful and farsighted steward that the owner leaves to supervise the staff and give them their rations at the proper time. Happy the steward whom the owner, upon returning, finds busy! The truth is, the owner will put the steward in charge of the entire estate. But let’s say the steward thinks, ‘The owner is slow in returning’ and begins to abuse the other staff members, eating and drinking and getting drunk. When the owner returns unexpectedly, the steward will be punished severely and ranked among those undeserving of trust.
                “The staff members who knew the owner’s wishes but didn’t work to fulfill them will get a severe punishment, whereas the one who didn’t know them – even though deserving of a severe punishment – will get off with a milder correction. From those who have been given much, much will be required; from those who have been entrusted much, much more will be asked.
Luke 12:42-48

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility by C. Kirk

This parable can be succinctly summed as: with power comes responsibility. The parable like the image of Mickey Mouse proves a bit non-conforming. The Mickey above in his tighty-whities, smoking a cigar, and positioning his right hand as a gun does not confirm to the the cuddly cartoon of our childhood. So too does this parable challenge our notion of power.

Jesus sets us up with one of his frequently used plot devices – an absentee master/land owner. In this case the land owner appoints a steward, head of the house, to watch over the rest of the staff. And, as we have encountered in other parables, Jesus draws a contrast between the trustworthy steward and the non-trustworthy steward. Then the anticipated conclusion: “go and be like the good steward.”
We should assume that the parable ends here, but it doesn’t for the conclusion thrusts us back into the heart of the matter. We are left to ask, what makes the trustful steward good? What makes the non-trustworthy steward bad?
Here it gets a bit personal for “good” and “bad” are subjective assessments. As queer people we are often deemed “bad” for no other reason than another person’s subjective perception of good and bad. As I write this a colleague – a lesbian minister – received an anonymous letter which opens with “Isn’t it hilarious how shrill, neurotic, hate-filled lesbians always end up in the churches, in jobs requiring no ambition, drive, or talent?” The letter concludes, “What a laughable pitiable excuse for a woman, and human being, you are.”
Who’s to say my colleague is good or bad? Who’s to say the letter writer is good or bad? By my own subjective reasoning I would say the minster is good and the letter writer bad. I know my brother, by his own subjective reasoning would reverse my decision.
The parable simplifies things for us – good or bad may by assessed by how we wield power. Do we use power responsibly or do we use it irresponsibly? Responsible use of power brings wellbeing not only to the steward, but also to the staff. Irresponsible use of power brings harm to the steward personally and to the wider staff.
By categorizing power into responsible and irresponsible uses, sacred writ reminds us that power has a social dimension. Our power is always exercised in relations to someone or something else.
Queers have power – even if we don’t feel it. Nobody fears the powerless and there are a lot of people out there who fear us. This fear is heightened because our power, though not limited to, is certainly tied into sexual energy. Which brings us back to the parable at hand – do we use our power responsibly to extend justice and love to those we are in relations with, or do we us our power irresponsibly and cause harm?
When we examine the actions of the two stewards I think we can associate responsible power with being a “giver.” In contrast irresponsible power can be associated with being a “taker.” Taking exploits. Giving contributes. As queer people we often live in the fires of the exploited. We can forget that there is another way to exercise power. Not power-over which takes, but power-with, and for, and on-behalf-of which gives.
I am reminded of a quote by the late Viktor Frankl which speaks to responsible power: “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more on forgets himself (and herself) – by giving himself (or herself) to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he (or she) is.”

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