Best of Who We Are
One of the most difficult life questions is, “How do we live with the knowledge that we will often do things that will disappoint ourselves and others?” The epidemiology of “evil” is “Transgressing,” defining human failure in the context of human relationships. Eastern philosophy clarifies the correct social relationship as upholding the cardinal virtues of compassion, moderation, and humility, not demonstrating heartless compliance with a rigid list of “dos and don’ts” as institutional religions have.
In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 15:14-30), Jesus teaches that spirituality is being the best of ourselves. In the story, three servants are given different amounts of resources, and strangely, no command is given. Most common English translations fail us as to what the servants did with the “talents” that were left in their charge. The word often used is “traded” or “did business,” emphasizing activities the servants engaged in. However, the term “ergazomai” is better translated as “toiled” or “labored,” emphasizing the effort the servants exerted.
When servants made an account, the two who made an effort were rewarded, but the one who made no effort was not. The landowner reveals that the human experience of laboring and toiling to live in compassion and humility pleases God, not what we accomplish.
One of the greatest spiritual quandaries expressed in the New Testament was by Paul, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). Paul despairs over his inability to achieve his ambitions, both personally and professionally, and he places the blame for his own failures squarely on the weakness of God. He contends that Satan overpowers God and forces him to do wrong.
Paul reflects the dualist ideology of the Middle Eastern culture of his time and espouses a cultural view that leaves humans as victims of uncontrollable permanent evil within. Paul paints a picture of an anemic God who instills desires but is powerless in guiding humans to achieve them. Paul’s ego-driven ambition fails him, and his lack of humility misguides him. The contrast between Paul and Jesus cannot be starker.
Jesus teaches that living daily life relying on God’s grace is faith; Jesus teaches that faith is doing the best we know-how. Religious institutions, consumed by maintaining their power, exploited the people’s fear of the unknown. God instilled desire to live by faith and declared themselves as the vendor of eternal life; religious institutions falsely promoted themselves as God’s agent of dispensing the key to heaven.
The faith Jesus teaches is about living each day doing the best we know how with what we have. We all have our difficulties, but faith is trusting in God’s grace and believing that God is guiding our efforts. We are called to labor in humility, to live with compassion and grace, and work for justice that honors the “talent” in each person. Each of us are called to be the best of ourselves, and our responsibility as a faith community is to encourage, uphold and walk with one another as we all labor to be our best selves.