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Distributing the Treasure

In the parable of the fields, Jesus says of his kingdom that:

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Then in the parable of the talents, Jesus addresses the Apostles and says of the servant that hid the money he had been given to invest:

‘You wicked, lazy slave…take away the talent from him’…For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away

The two parables illuminate the challenge of bringing divine power into the world. The unsuspecting finder of faith has no idea what to do with it. Looking at the history of the Hebrews, it is obvious how fragile faith is. From Aaron to the Pharisees, from Saul to Herod: the leaders of the nation of Israel corrupted faith for political and economic purposes. Aaron acted in good faith because the people were afraid when Moses disappeared on the mountain, but in the time of Jesus the Pharisees twisted the fear of divine retribution to line their pockets. Saul, having been anointed king by Samuel, was angered when others threatened his authority. In Herod’s time, that pattern had become so entrenched that oppression of dissent was not even remarkable. Given this, perhaps it would have been best to keep the treasure hidden.

But the Apostles were students of a master who prepared them to exercise faith in service to the oppressed. They had seen what faith could do. All that they required to see it multiply was simple courage. For those demonstrating courage, the master would not judge between those with greater or lesser skill in the exercise of power, but reward them all. For those lacking courage, the portion of power that was given them would be given to others.

The tension between the two parables should be heeded by us today as we ponder how to go about distributing the riches that Christ has provided us to do good in the world. As people of compassion, our natural tendency is to respond to fear and righteous anger with promises of aid. The obvious first step is to eliminate the cause of the fear and/or anger. When that cause is hunger, it would be hard to fault an offer of food. But when the cause is political tyranny, forceful intervention (as currently in Russia) can be propagandized to justify further oppression. The Russian people have offered adulation in response to Putin’s aggressive militarism.

So we have to ask, when offering aid, “What are you going to do with the power we offer you?” When the hungry man is fed, will he then seek employment? If an oppressed people is offered political assistance, how will they organize to overcome the tyrant? If these question can’t be answered, then their troubles are merely symptomatic of a large social disease that must be addressed before individual problems can be solved. They may need education, or political enfranchisement – or assistance in finding a leader that can articulate their needs.

I think that many of the world’s problems today require the last: for those offering Christian compassion to go beyond simple charity to supporting the development of leaders motivated by Christian ethics. In assessing candidates, I favor strongly the wisdom of Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts. In developing leaders, the program upholds this law:

A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

These qualities are an interlocking web of virtue that ensure that power is not diverted for personal gain, but rather directed towards those that first inspired our compassion. They are not qualities that necessarily translate to the easy currency of popularity. That is gained all too often through promises of an end to fear and oppression that cannot be made good until the people themselves begin to manifest the qualities of true leadership. As it is said in the Chinese I Ching:

Of the great leader, when the work is done the people say ‘We did this ourselves.’

God took 2000 years to work his will on the people of Israel. For those continuing that work in the world today, patience (although perhaps on a more human scale) is essential. As in Jesus’s relationship with the Apostles: It is not upon us to do the work ourselves, but only to offer the oppressed the hope that it can be done at all. Hope is the seed of courage, Christian compassion is the seed of faith. When courage and faith combine, anything is possible.

4 thoughts on “Distributing the Treasure

  1. The philosophical part being way too complex for me to comment on, I want to point out the more down-to-earth aspect of taking Russia as an example of aggressive militarism. You mention identifying root problems, so it would make sense to do that here, too, and to take the much bigger example of the USA, which, due to its siginificantly dominant power, creates fear in others and causes those of lesser power to take defensive measures. Especially since now the USA have pretty much revived the cold war into full swing, the whole picture has to be looked at. For example, when I look at North Korea, I think: I totally see why they have nukes. It is all that keeps them from being conquered by the aspiring world empire, and they’re in an extremely worried defensive stance. How they developed is seen favorably by the USA, because it weakens them. But at the same time, the USA is weakening itself through its lust for power and unwillingness to wisen up, and THAT then is welcomed by others who gladly allow them to destroy themselves through their growing madness.
    All this, as pretty much all human suffering, stems from a widespread unwillingness to make an effort in overcoming fears, out of convenience, out of a lack of incentive. People who need to change for the common good but don’t want to will only adapt, and only when they don’t have any choice. Truly changing a person is only possible if they want to.

    • From the other side of the pond, things are a little murkier. We have corporations with more assets than many nations, and political gridlock that would seem to undermine any dreams of hegemony.

      I looking at US power, I see two factors that are significant: first, we’re still have huge untapped resource reserves. Secondly, because resource exploitation is still viable, we tend to have few brakes on the redistribution of power. This equates to rapid response to new opportunities, even when that means that a large part of the population suffers when wealth is transferred from those that need it most to those that want it most.

      I do agree that US military spending is way out of line. What is it – greater than the next eight spenders combined? But that power is largely bound up in trying to protect trade routes and resource pools. The lesson we learned in watching Europe in WWI and WWII was that war is just bad for business. I see that principle far more active in our foreign policy than any other.

      The Korean peninsula is an interesting case in point. Samsung is a South Korean company that is beating the pants off of American cell phone manufacturers, using technology freely licensed from Google. The company has snubbed both Apple and Microsoft in intellectual property disputes. Compare this to North Korea, which was a Chinese proxy for so long. If the US actually had the power some claim it does, I think that the North/South differential would be a little smaller.

      In Europe, I’m also aware that there’s some frustration in Greece about the influence of the Bundesbank. The claim of hegemony is not one isolated to America.

    • Regarding resource reserves, interesting (quite obvious) development lately: US oil businesses put trus (based on past credentials) into corruption working for them, invested in fracking. Then big surprise: illegal. So they’re doomed. Now I bet the Saudis, being pseudo-allies of the USA, are doing them a favor, lowering oil prices drastically, allowing the USA to utterly sacrifice their own doomed oil industry in order to subdue oil-rich enemies. Just like when a supermarket tries to undercut small businesses, but more crazed.

      Also, I’d specify: War is bad for good business, but good for bad business. … The bank always wins.

      Yes, South Korea could be yet another country that the USA pampered so much as an ally that they’ll eventually dis its master. The son comes after the father, so to speak.
      Also, ‘fun fact’ about South Korea: At one point they had a secret nuclear weapons project going. The consequences: A mild slap on the hand and “Don’t try this again (or hide it better).” … Oh well, I guess this kind of hypocrisy is so common knowledge that it hardly needs mentioning anymore.

    • I believe that the lessons of WWI and WWII is that in generalized war, nobody wins. Entropically, it’s just far easier to break something than to create it. And of course the conclusion reached by Gorbachev was that even the Cold War was a losing proposition. Finally, where the US has gone most out of bounds in the use of military aggression is typically in states (such as Central America in the ’50s and ’60s and Iraq in the last decade) where our business interests were threatened. And currently, our exposure is to digital warfare: if Russia really wanted to get back at us, they’d probably pursue that angle, although perhaps through criminal proxies.

      But this discussion is a little off-topic for this post. I’ll try to relocate it – I remember writing something about the creation of oligarchies as a means of managing foreign aggression. You may find this shifted, or perhaps we can reconstruct it there so that others can focus on the specific issues raised here. I’ll get back to you.

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