Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Power of Expectations (2) "Of Self"

Dear Friends and Family,

I apologize for being delinquent in my postings. . . it has been a busy time getting back into the swing of things in this new year. I want to stay with the subject of "the power of expectations", focusing first on the expectations we have of our selves.

I am not going to turn to secular or academic sources initially, but wish to frame the discussion with two parables Jesus Christ told to his followers over 2000 years ago.

The first comes from the gospel of Luke, chapter 14:7-11. It is a parable of a wedding feast and sets an important boundary for us as we think about our own expectations. Here it is:

". . . When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Jesus provides the main lesson at the end, so we don't need to strain to find it: "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Said in a few other ways: don't honor yourself; don't self-promote; think and act in a way that is rightly connected to your position; have realistic, fact-based expectations.

The second parable is found in both Luke and Matthew's gospels in slightly different forms. I will quote from Matthew's version since it is more familiar. It is found in chapter 25:14-30 and is referred to often as the Parable of the Talents. Here is a selection:

"For it (the kingdom of heaven) will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. . . Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more. His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master'. . . He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ' Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant!. . . You ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away."

Again, Jesus provides the principle at the end of the parable: "to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away". What can we derive from this parable in regard to expectations about self?

Here are a few interpretations that I believe are true to the text: be faithful with what has been given to you; recognize the "talents" you have been given and put them to good use; don't over-reach - deliver in a way commensurate with your resources; don't under-estimate what is expected of you or what you are capable of; don't "hide your talent".

As I think about establishing expectations for myself, I find these stories from Jesus provide some helpful boundaries. On one hand, we should not seek a place of honor or fame and should not be characterized by self-promotion. In other words, we should think rightly (humbly) about ourselves and our position.

On the other hand, we should be willing and ready to recognize what has been given to us when we are called on by the master to put our resources to use. We should rightly appraise our talents and resources, and be willing to act and deliver in a way commensurate with those skills and gifts.

In contrast to what much of modern culture teaches and holds up as the norm when dealing with expectations of self, Jesus seems to be teaching that we should be people who don't seek to be exalted, or to be promoting oneself to an ever-higher position. At the same time, we should be people who rightly appraise the talents and the resources we have been given and to put them to good use for our master.

So, a few questions for reflection: Are you and I characterized by taking a lower position and not seeking the place of honor? Are you and I known for being "faithful over a little"?

If the answer to both is "yes", then Jesus suggests we will be recognized, rewarded by being "set over much", and then "enter into the joy of our master." Just for contrast, I suggest you read the entire parables, because the alternatives are not so attractive. Then again, Jesus was never accused of mincing words. . .

In Christ alone,