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A Monster Story

Rev. Harry Currie

Nov 19, 2023

Judges 4:1-7, Matthew 25:14-30

Let me tell you a monster story. Once upon a time about three thousand years ago, the nation of Israel was having a hard time. They were being oppressed by King Jabin of Canaan.

       He had a really big army and he had an armored division. He had 900 chariots of iron.

And the leader of the army was a real monster of a man called Sisera. In Jewish tradition it is said that Sisera was so big and strong that when he yelled walls shook and animals would drop dead.

At that time there was a Jewish prophetess named Deborah. Yes. A woman prophet. And she called to another Jewish leader Barak to come and help her fight against the monster Sisera and his monstrous army, believing that God would help them win.

       And they did fight and win against the armoured division of Sisera, and they defeated the monster, and the monster Sisera ran away.

Sisera ran to a tribe of Kenites who were at peace with the Caananites, and the wife of the Kenite Leader came to meet Sisera. Her name was Jael.

       “Don’t worry” she said to Sisera. “Come into my tent and stay with me and you will be safe.”

Jewish legend has it that she used her feminine wiles and tired the monster Sisera out with lots of sex. She gave him milk to drink and let him fall asleep.

Then when he was sound asleep, she took a tent peg and a hammer and drove the tent peg into his temple killing the monster Sisera.


But did she really kill the monster? Or did she become the monster?

       Is the monster Sisera, or the Canaanites, or is the monster violence and lying and deceit and enslaving people?


Can you defeat a monster of violence with violence, or does that just make you a new monster?


Good questions.


You see, stories like this in the bible, many years ago, I just read, with no thought, no critical study. It was a story. If God wanted Sisera dead, then how Sisera died was no big deal.

       I thought that, and maybe most of us thought that, because we had been raised with the idea that if someone was bad then it didn’t matter how you got rid of the bad guy.


We all had the cultural narrative that killing is okay and violence is okay as long as you do it to bad people.

       Killing Japs in 1941-1945 was okay because they were bad guys. Dropping a nuclear bomb on them was justified because they were the bad guys.

Killing Nazis during the war was okay. Even after the war was over the killing of Nazis was considered okay. There were groups who sought out and killed former Nazis after the war.


And our Christian narrative for many centuries had basically the same idea. If you were not a Christian, then you didn’t really count and you could be killed or executed or your land taken, because you were going to hell anyway, and were going to be tortured for all eternity where there would be a weeping and a gnashing of teeth.


How many of our television shows have basically the same idea. If you are supposedly a good person, a hero then it is okay to kill bad guys and break the rules.


Many cartoons were violent. Westerns were violent. Cops show were violent. Superheroes were violent. Science Fiction and Fantasy was violent.


But their violence was always okay.


The whole Star Wars series had tons of killing. But the forces were evil and dark and headed by Darth Vader and the evil Emperor who were monster figures.

       My friend Ron and I would remark about the stormtroopers in the Stars Wars franchise of movies and tv shows. They are the soldiers for the evil empire in the white armour. They are basically cannon fodder and die by the hundreds. They are hardly considered people.


There is even a television show where a serial killer is a good guy. Dexter is a serial killer, but he only kills bad people so he is supposedly a good guy, even though he is a serial killer who loves to kill.

So as long as there is someone who is a monster, then it is okay to use violence and kill.


And so, we come to another monster story. There once was a very rich man who was going on a journey and would be gone for some time.

So, to one of his servants, he gave five million dollars to look after. To another servant he gave two million dollars to look after; and to a third servant he gave one million dollars.

The one with five million dollars invested in various things and made another five million dollars.

Likewise, the one with two million dollars invested in various things and made another two million dollars.

       But the man with the one million dollars was scared of losing the money and kept it in a safety deposit box, to make sure he wouldn’t lose any of his boss’s money.

When the rich man came back, he commended the first two and scolded the third.

        But he did more than scold the third. He took his money and called him worthless and had him thrown into outer darkness.


So, if you didn’t know this story ahead of time, would you think it was the third servant who was the monster, or the rich man who was the monster?


The third man didn’t steal the money. He protected the money. Was he a monster, worthy of hell?


But we are so conditioned to see things in a binary way, with good guys and bad guys. We have been so conditioned by a narrative of hell, that for years we assume that God is the good guy, and is the rich guy, and sends the bad guy to hell.

And in order to understand the parable we don’t talk about money, we talk about our talents, or our abilities.


       If you don’t use your talents and abilities for God then you are kicked out of the kingdom and sent to hell where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, a line that the gospel write Matthew likes to use.


Maybe it is unfortunate that a huge sum of money was called a “talent” in Jesus’ day. Actually, a talent was a hefty piece of precious metal maybe weighing in around a hundred pounds, and worth twenty years wages. I am probably not far off in suggesting that in today’s dollars it might be worth something in the order of a million dollars.


       So, listen again, the rich man goes on a journey and give eight million dollars to his servants to look after for him.

How did the rich man get all that money? Well mostly the rich people in Jesus’ day in the land of Israel made money by lending it to poor Jewish farmers at exorbitant interest rates. Rates from 60% to 200% interest.


And when something would happen and the farmer couldn’t pay, the land would be expropriated, and even though the land was worth way more than the loan, the rich person would get all the land.

       Now, the rich person would hire a manager and put in a cash crop and pay low wages to a farmer or farmers to run the farm, sometimes to the farmer he had basically stolen the land from.


       The three servants or slaves in the scripture were actually not that bad off. They were the managers who ran the farms and hired the workers. They got a cut of the profits, in fact it was expected that they would cheat and take a slice of the top for themselves. So long as they turned in a good profit to the master, the master would overlook their greed and cheating, because that was the system.


       So, when Jesus told this parable, the poor Jews who first heard this would not look favourably upon the rich man, nor the servants who had the millions of dollars.


They would understand that the first two servants did exactly what the master did. They went out and invested in real estate and doubled their money charging exorbitant interest and foreclosing on poor farmers who couldn’t pay their debts.

How many lives did they ruin? How many farms did they take over? How many families were forced from their homes into slavery or poverty?

It doesn’t matter. As long as they turn a big profit, who cares who they have hurt.

       And when the master comes back, the master is thrilled with the first two servants. Enter the joy of corporate business in first century Israel, where you take from the poor and give it to the rich.


But is this not the opposite of the God who brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt where they were poor, and didn’t own the land, yet worked the land.

God brought them out and gave them manna in the desert, and provided water from the rock, and fed them quails.

Is this not the opposite of God who demands that when you harvest a field you leave the edges of the field unharvested so that the poor can have that grain, and that if you drop a sheaf of wheat, you are not to pick it up, so that the poor can have grain.


Is it not the opposite of Jesus who sows the good seed everywhere even among the stones and the weeds.


       The parable says that the rich man, the master is a harsh man.

Is that not the opposite of God who is merciful and compassionate and as far as the east is from the west, so far does God remove our sins.


And isn’t this parable seem to be the opposite of God when it talks about taking from those who don’t have and giving it to those who have. For the early church actually sold their stuff and pooled it together and appointed people to be in charge of giving food to those who didn’t have, the widows and orphans.


       In fact, the story is so bad, so monstrous in one sense that we metaphor the hell out of it and say it is not about what it talks about.


No, it is not about rich people getting richer at the poor’s expense and taking from those who have little money and giving it to those who have lots of money, and punishing the poor smuck who doesn’t know how to make lots of money.


       We say it isn’t about money. It is about talents and gifts and abilities.

Use it or lose it.

And while they may be some truth in that saying, the question is…

Is that what the parable is about?


One interesting metaphorical interpretation I kind of liked was specifically about gay people.


       James Alison suggested that the church’s teaching for centuries had bound up gay people by saying that God won’t love them, because of who they are.

       So, he interprets the parable as God setting free the first two servants to be themselves and invest their lives as they see fit, and when they are set free to be themselves, it makes them enjoy life doubly, while the third servant falls into darkness because he is afraid to be who he truly is…


       I like it and think there is some truth to what Alison says, about Jesus setting us free to be ourselves, but I just want to be careful, that we try to stretch this parable too far… even though there is truth to the idea of being yourself, and there is truth to the idea of using your gifts or talents.



So maybe we shouldn’t metaphor the hell out of this parable, and try to see what it might be saying on an actual more literal level first.


Maybe the third servant is the one who decides he doesn’t want to participate in the world of greed and corruption and exploitation, a system based on oppression and injustice.

       Maybe he decides he will not do anything shady or exploitative with the money and he will just give the money back to the rich person.


Maybe the third servant is the whistle-blower who tries to expose what it really going on.

       Maybe the third servant is the hero of the story.


Maybe the first hearers of Jesus’ parable of the talents would readily have agreed who the hero really is and what the monster is…

       The monster is the system that takes from the one who hasn’t and gives to the one who has.


It is interesting that Debi Thomas, a Christian writer, columnist and editor for the Christian Century and part-time minister at and Episcopal church read this parable to her son.

       And his comment was that this is what the Christian faith is all about. “I love it” he said. “What do you love Debie asked him. “Isn’t it obvious. I love how the third slave is the hero of the story!”

Maybe this is not a parable about the afterlife, but about this life.

A parable about what it might be like to turn against the system that oppresses the poor and the needy, the non-violent and the innocent civilian.

A parable that says the world is marginalizing too many people. A parable that says the world is using violence to enforce power and take wealth, and to get rid of people we don’t want.

       And maybe it is a parable of what Jesus did in response. Jesus said no to taking his wealth and using it to exploit others, gain more wealth, fit in with the system.


Maybe Jesus is the third servant is thrown into the outer darkness of the cross where he wept and gnashed his teeth and cried: My God, my God why have you forsaken me.

Maybe Jesus is the third servant who was deemed worthless and expendable by those in power…


But the secret truth is that those who lose their lives in loving all, making sure that everybody has a place at the table, in practicing peace, in sharing power, in making one human family, will find life, even though they might be thrown into darkness.


For the story of Jesus is not about getting rid of all the monsters in the world.

The story of Jesus is that all of us are capable of monstrosities, all of us are capable of violence and hurt, all of us have taken advantage of others, been greedy or selfish, and all of us have participate in the systems that take from those who haven’t to give to those who have…


But Jesus doesn’t kill us monsters. Jesus loves us and his love has the power to transform us, to save us, and free us to be ourselves and to love one another.


And it was his outer darkness, his weeping and gnashing of teeth on the cross, that was and is the proof that he would go to hell for us, to love us, save us and transform us.


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