28 February 2021

Less is More

Speaker: Rev. Don Ludwig

Matthew 25: 14-30 and Quotes from Richard Rohr

Robin Hood Adventures

When I was a boy one of the most endearing fictional heroes was Robin Hood. Literally dozens of books were around detailing the wondrous adventures of the daring mythical man in green. But when I was about four or five years old, watching on our television set, the hero of Sherwood Forest really came alive for me.  With his band of merry men, Friar Tuck, Little John and the others, and his uncanny knack of escaping the soldiers of the Sheriff of Nottingham and charming Maid Marian, Robin Hood held me spellbound. In my young mind, though, the thing that captured my attention the most was Robin Hood’s mission statement. His mission, carefully put forth on the weekly program was to “rob from the rich and give to the poor.”

What a man! What a novel idea! That’s fairness, I thought.  Turns out, that particular mission was never part of the original 17th century myths, but it’s one of those fascinating stories that adapts to every generation. The whole idea of helping the downtrodden poor by taking from the rich who were always cast as priggish, self-centered snobs, was a very attractive notion to a young boy.  Reflecting on Robin Hood recently, I have realized the similarities between Robin Hood and Jesus of Nazareth! They both were really “bad guys” when it comes to the prevailing systems of their day.  They were both charismatic and charming to be sure, but they both engaged in calls of thievery.  Their entire mission and purpose was focused on the marginalized.

The Parable of the Talents – Matthew 25:14-30

Let me illustrate.  We usually interpret the parable of the talents in Matthew’s gospel (Matt. 25:14-30) as an exhortation to develop our God-given gifts and to make them productive in building the Kin-dom of God. Our heroes are the servants who returned their talents with interest. We praise them and call people to do the same.  We with our Western cultural mindset dismiss the unprofitable servant and perceive him as lazy.  

How could he do nothing? But what if he was the actual hero of the story?  Richard Rohr, a catholic teacher and writer on spirituality, along with many other theologians around the world have insisted that there is another way to look at this story.  In middle-eastern and central american theology, the theology of poor people, the “King” of this story is not “God” as we Westerners suppose, but in fact was Archelaus, the son of Herod, who had gone on a three-year furlough to Rome after becoming king.

This changes everything.  Jesus tells us a parable, as he often did, about the real world of politics and oppression.  This means that Jesus wasn’t preaching good news for capitalists. He was actually rebuking the capitalists who only use the system to benefit themselves––those who play cutthroat politics––those who get richer at the expense of the poor.  His audience, and Matthew’s readers, were mainly poor peasants.  An honorable person didn’t try to get more of his or her allotted share nor make themselves rich at the expense of others. Those who did were considered thieves––they cooperated with their evil master in extortion, to enrich themselves and his cronies by stealing the resources of others.  These first two servants are the real thieves in this story.  This story was actually good news to the peasants.

From the peasant’s point of view, the honorable thing was to bury his boss’s one talent so that it remained safe and intact, not gaining, not losing––and surely not perpetuating an unjust economic system.  In fact, Rabbinic law provided that burying a deposit was the safest way to care for someone else’s money. This servant is the only one in the parable acting in a morally responsible way–– and he was prepared to suffer the consequences of his conviction. Today, we call this “civil disobedience” or  being a “conscientious objector”.  And throughout our history at Southminster, we have participated in civil disobedience when unjust practices are the norm.  Becoming a Matthew 25 church simply calls us to continue and expand what we have already been doing––it means that we see the third servant in this story as the hero.

Less is More

Richard Rohr speaks: “The words of the Gospel never allow us to live in self satisfaction.  Rather they always make us empty.”  Francis of Assisi who spent his whole life trying to become smaller, a “a brother of the lower class”, told us that we should always live at the bottom, since only there can we really experience the truth. While the world can indeed make us richer, Jesus teaches us that less is more.  This can be a very hard pill to swallow for rich people like us.  But becoming a Matthew 25 church has deep implications for our priorities––we intend to challenge the unjust economic systems as well as the social norms and the individual practices that create the haves and the have nots.

As you know, I have spent my whole career advocating for and leading mission trips.  I have visited many countries in the Third world and in impoverished areas of these United States.  With each visit, I always found that the poor of this world are often much happier than most of us.  They don’t need to constantly project their soul onto things, and so they can find it within themselves.  A woman in Cuba once told me: “Pastor, we have nothing except God and our community and that is enough.”

Somehow I have known this since I was a child.  That is what attracted me to Robin Hood as a character.  He was so much like Jesus: he played with children, helped the lame, brought good news to the poor.  They were both rebels because they rejected the god of this world while upholding the true God of justice and fairness.  They were both thieves that didn’t follow the rules and robbed from the prevailing wisdom of the time.  Both were servants and both believed that less was more.

Who is the Hero of this story for you?

Richard Rohr once said: “As I like to say, ‘when God’s kin-dom comes, your kin-dom goes.”  When God’s kin-dom comes, your kin-dom must go.  So who is the hero of this story for you?  If it is the first two servants, then know that the world will take care of its own––you will receive praise, you will become richer yourself and fit into the norms of a capitalist society quite well.  But if Jesus and Robinhood and Richard Rohr are right, you will soon find out that it will only leave you wanting.  You will soon discover that less is more.

And if you see the third servant as the hero in this story, “you will begin to love the leper within you”, as St. Francis of Assisi famously penned.  And if we learn to love the poor one within us, we will make room for compassion and civil disobedience outside of us too.  

I close with the words of Richard Rohr: “Less really is more.  Only those who have nothing to prove and nothing to protect, those who have enough space in them to embrace every part of their soul, can receive the Christ.”

A-men.