Changing It Up

Today’s Gospel reading in the Episcopal lectionary is Matthew 25:14-30, a parable about three slaves who manage their master’s money while he goes away for a time.  In this story we usually interpret the third slave as the bad guy, albeit a slightly dimwitted one; which is why we don’t feel so badly when he ends up thrown out into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  But what if we were to change it up a little?  (By the way, I have no specific persons in mind in anything that follows; I’m merely playing with the parable.)

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Once there was a bishop who was about to go on sabbatical.

“I’m about to go on sabbatical,” he told three of his finest priests.  “But the trouble is, I don’t know how long I’ll be gone, and I’ve disabled my email account and I’m not taking my cell phone with me so you have no way of getting in touch with me while I’m gone and I don’t know when I’ll be back.  It’s an open-ended sabbatical, see, and all my colleagues are jealous.

“Anyway–stop yawning, all of you, and listen to what I’m about to say!–there’s another ‘the trouble is’ problem here.  80 million dollars came across my desk just this morning for church development, and I don’t know what to do with it.  So I’m putting it in your charge!

“Here, you, Lenny, take 50 million.  I’ve seen you do brilliant things before.  Do it again with this!

“And you, Veronica, take 20 million and do something fantastic with it.

“And you, er, uh, what’s your name?”

“Frank.”

“Yes, you, Frank.  Can’t say I know much about you.  Where do you serve?”

“Saint Swithin’s, sir.”

“Well, okay, if you say so.  But I thought Jim was there.”

“Yes, sir.  Jim’s the rector.  I’m just a curate.”

“Oh, okay, whatever that means.  But you are an Episcopal priest, right?”

“Yes.”

“Of this diocese?”

“Yes.”

“Very well, then.  You, Frank, Curator of St. Swithin’s, take the other 10 million (give or take) and do something grand with it.”

“Um, not curator, but–well, never mind!  Sure thing, boss.”

“I’ll check in on all y’all when I return.”

So they all went on their merry ways: the bishop to his sabbatical of undisclosed location and duration, although I heard it had something to do with warm, sandy beaches in the part of the world where our winter is their summer, and it may or may not have included surfing lessons by day and pina coladas by night; and the three priests to their respective parishes.

The first priest, Lenny, put his $50 million to work by developing an Episcopal waterpark.  And $50 million!  Hey, that’s enough to get something good going!  So he hired the best architects and engineers who work on that kind of thing and spent a full week out at Schlitterbahn in Texas shadowing the executives and so on until he had a good plan together and an opening date on the books, Memorial Day Weekend.  When asked about his innovative brainstorm, he is reported as saying, “You just watch.  This is gonna be good!”

Likewise, the second priest, Veronica, set about putting her $20 million to work building a community center on the vacant 10 acres adjacent to her parish.  Yeah!  With the help of her vestry, she bought the lot and drew up plans for a community gathering place, complete with hip café, gift shop, playground, dogpark, and Vespa rentals.  It would be a veritable mall where adolescents with extra cash on hand, soccer moms, anxious husbands out for that last-minute anniversary gift, toy-dog aficionados–anyone!–could buy the latest cool thing for Christians.  And it would be right next to church!  “So hip,” was her only comment.

Meanwhile, the curate of St. Swithin’s, well, he decided to take the $10 million and purchase a plot of scrappy land, cultivate it, and plant two crops.  One was grapes.  Black Spanish was the varietal, because that was blight-resistant in this part of the country, unlike other varietals like Cabernet and Zinfandel; and because it is used in port, the wine of choice for the Episcopal Eucharist.

The other was wheat.  And not just any wheat, but non-GMO affected wheat; for long ago he had learned that the people of his parish that requested gluten-free wafers were actually not allergic to organic, non-GMO wheat.  Yes, his was a green desire; a desire to provide his parishioners with home-made wine and bread.  “Not only that,” he argued, “but it will bring jobs to the area and help sustain a local economy.  The project itself will be sustainable too, eventually.  We will become a supplier for churches with a similar vision.”

Time passed.  Sure enough, some glitches surfaced: the $50 million wasn’t quite enough front money (nothing a loan couldn’t cover) and the local conservatives picketed for one-piece swimsuits only throughout opening week (but the Episcopalians responded by wearing bikinis–even some guys); liability issues surfaced when a teenager crashed a scooter into a table laden with lattes while trying to avoid a toy poodle running from a rottweiler; the first wheat harvest was low due to drought conditions and the grapes, well, as every vintner knows, they take three full years before producing a harvest adequate for any amount of wine anyway.

And, you guessed it, that’s about when the bishop returned.

“Lenny,” he said at the end of his first day visiting the Episcopal waterpark, “this was good!”

“Yep.  And the accountant says we should net $50 million in profits by the end of the season.”

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Then he remarked, “Veronica, this latte’s delicious.  And that puppy is so cute!  How’s it going with that law suit?”

“Oh, just fine.  Turns out we’ve been awarded $20 million by the state for allowing us to rent scooters to teenagers in the first place.  Turns out the kid should have been twenty-five.  Not our fault though!”

“Oh, that’s hip!  Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Then he turned to Frank.  “Tell me, curator, what’s up with your bread and wine enterprise?”

“It’s curate, by the way.  But never mind.  Anyway, well, eh hem, it’s gone about as well as one could expect in the first season of, um, an agricultural, er, enterprise, uh, sir.”

“But have you made any money?”

“Well, not yet.”

“Okay, then, well, do you have any bread or wine to show for it?”

“It doesn’t exactly work that way, sir.”

“No money?  No bread or wine?  That sounds hardly sustainable!

“So I see how it is: I hand you $10 million and you go and bury it in the dirt.  And now you have nothing to show for it.  I see.  Well, curate, I never knew you and I sure as heck have no reason to get to know you now.  You’re fired.  Go away and I hope never to see you again!”

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