Wednesday, August 4

money, conscience and responsibility

In both Matthew and Luke, one finds the parable of the Talents. It is common enough that I shan't repeat the entire thing here, but one servant takes what is given them and magnifies it tenfold, another takes what they have been given and multiplies fivefold while the third takes what is given them and buries it. In the end, each are rewarded in proportion to what they have done with the investment. As this is a parable, there is a deeper meaning to be gleaned from the story and we are invited to contemplate on the tale.

As I reflect on this, one thing stands out. Those who took the money and made more from it acted as good stewards, taking ownership of and responsibility for the gift. The one who buried it, did not. To me, the parable reflects the gifts that the Divine gives each of us and strongly instructs each of us to develop those gifts to the best of our ability. It also recognizes that different people have different levels of success in this endeavour, but the important part is to do our best, not for ourselves but for our Master. There are two gifts which the Divine has granted to all of us, the ability to reason and a conscience, which I wish to examine more fully.

There have been a number of recent discussions about rather deep and divisive issues which I have had the honour of being party to. Without naming names or positions, what has rang clear to me is how often and easily the words of well-heeled doctrine doth come trippingly off the tongue. Whether it is 'the Church says', quoting a single verse of scripture out of context or basing their carefully rehearsed defense on an assumption which is conflicts with other parts of their espoused theology, all of these are indications that these people have not personally examined what it is that they are saying, the underlying theology involved, the full implications of their statements and how those beliefs correlate with the facts on the ground.

For instance, saying that women are incapable of ordination ignores the first several hundred years of the church history when women were deacons, priests and even bishops. The statement that Christ didn't ordain women conveniently omits the fact that he didn't ordain any men either. These aren't abstruse and arcane theological concepts requiring decades of specialized study, but rather easily discovered and understood matters of history that even a cursory analysis of primary sources and reputable scholarship would reveal.

As Paul regularly reminds us, Christ's principal teaching (i.e. - the Great Commandment) is blindingly simple in principle. That said, the application of it is so broad and complex that no manual written by mortal hand could account for even a fraction of the scenarios and the 'right' answer to the questions presented. The human capacity for intellectual reason and rational thought is a unique and powerful gift which, when suitably trained and practiced, can produce truly stunning results. That is not to say that reason and intellect are alone sufficient for the task of navigating the complexities of a Christian life. Just as someone without any innate ability can train in a task without any substantive affect, without Spirit-filled conscience, our capacity for wise and correct discernment is fatally limited.

I should say a word about Spirit-filled Conscience. Lest a person believe that, like reasoned intellect, I am purporting that conscience is insufficient to the task without reason or intellect, I say unequivocally and explicitly that the Omnipotent Divine is not limited or constrained to require rational thought to prod us towards the good through the judicious use of conscience. That said, just like training augments and improves natural talent, so too does the regular engagement of the rational mind into matters of Spirit improve the capability, efficacy and ease by which we may access the eternal Sophia for the benefit of ourselves and all Gods Church. The entire idea of the Primacy of Conscience depends on the interaction of a Spirit-filled heart and an informed/engaged mind.

But that primacy of Conscience comes at a cost, just as Free Will carries with it a price. If we are simple creatures, slaves to base desire with the inability to discern for ourselves the difference between right and wrong, then the cost of error is nothing and our conscience would not prick us. As this is manifestly not the case in all instances, we have an obligation to follow that conscience and choose for each of us what is right, fitting and proper based upon the dictates of our heart (as guided by the Spirit). As it is our obligation to do so, it is also our duty as thinking beings with Free Will to educate ourselves on matters which we much decide, lest we unknowingly and unwittingly work against our best interests and the greater interests of our communal brotherhood which is the Word made manifest in our time. To do any less would be to, in one way or another, abdicate our responsibility as stewards to the Almighty who has entrusted these gifts to us.

Like the three servants in the parable, each of us will, at one point or another, be called to account for what we have been given. Will we be the servant who took ownership of their faith and responsibility for their actions, or will we be the servant who was just following orders, head and heart buried in the sand?

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