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.