While wrestling with me and my hesitations, down along the riverbank, God whispered in my ear, “Barb: If you are going to tell a story, tell my story.” Ever since that day, honoring that stipulation has been part of the privilege and part of the burden in this vocation called ministry.
An emphasis on the decision character of faith has a long and deep history in the American psyche going back to our Puritan and evangelical ancestors. From Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney to Billy Sunday, Billy Graham and their successors, faith, as encountered in the idiom both of born-again revivalism and of religious “progressives,” has served as shorthand for “I have decided to follow Jesus.” But the biblical meaning of faith cannot be reduced to individualistic voluntarism.
Next to the window in my study, where I can’t but see it every day, there’s a framed cartoon from an old edition of the National Lampoon. It’s a spoof of a Medici rose window from the cathedral in Florence, and depicts a laughing camel leaping with ease through the eye of a needle. The superscription reads: “a recurring motif in works commissioned by the wealthier patrons of Renaissance religious art,” while the Latin inscription on the window itself is “Dives Vincet,”or “Wealth Wins!”
The best storytellers paint pictures with words, using them to fill our minds with vivid imagery. I remember reading the first Harry Potter novel to my first-grade son. Each time we completed a chapter and I turned the page to start a new one he would shift in my lap and look away from the book. Finally I asked him what was wrong. He replied, “I don’t want to see the drawing on the first page of the chapter because I want to think about what things look like all by myself.”
In these days of Enron, Martha Stewart and wars waged over phantom weapons, we know better than to defend dishonesty. Then why would Jesus offer a parable lauding it? Upon closer inspection, however, this parable is just one in a long line of stories that Jesus tells about how to handle wealth.