Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Invalent Matthew 25

I can’t find “invalent” in any of my dictionaries. Apparently, I’m not the first to use the term. Most instances I can find in the vast writings found on the immense trade land of ideas of the internet are a misspelling of “invalid” or “indolent”. I have found a screen name of someone who calls him/herself “invalent”. Then I have found the term contrived for use in technical discourse in the areas of philosophy and chemistry. I’m contriving it for my own purposes and I’ll define it for you:

The prefix “in-” can mean “not” (negative) or “into” (positive). The suffix “-valent” means to have a valence specified by the prefix. Valence has the etymological definition “capacity” and is relate top words like “value” or “valid”. If something is invaluable, then it is priceless. If it is invalid it is worthless. (Someone who is an “invalid” is incapacitated in some respect.)

Since “invaluable” and “invalid” already have established meanings with one or the other meanings of the prefix “in-”, and since “invalent” isn’t likely to hit the dictionaries in general usage anytime soon, I’m coining it for my own usage. As such, it is unknown to any who understand any meaning of the suffix “-valent” to know which meaning of the prefix “in-” I intend. This is fitting, for I intend the meaning to be perfectly ambiguous.

Valence also has a couple of other interesting definitions that apply. In psychology, valence is the degree of attraction or aversion that an individual feels toward a specific object or event. Valence, in general, can also be the capacity of something to unite, react, or interact with something else.

So, when asked how I am doing today I may reply, “Simply invalent, thank you.” This will leave the questioner entirely in the dark. If they think about it, they may arrive at the conclusion that my response was intended to be ambiguous and that perhaps that is indeed how I am feeling today.

Which, by the way, is how I feel most days: both invaluable and worthless. Consider that this term could apply to some victims toward their abductors/abusers/attackers where they find a certain attraction to them. I’ve heard of it happening in hostage situations. There are people who stake their sociological claims by devaluing others. They often become popular among those they devalue. The reason is because the ones who are being devalued notice the popular attention that such individuals attract and unreasonably believe that sociological proximity to these people can obtain for them the sociological value that has been usurped from them. Another example may be the capacity to interact sociologically on one level but not another, which is what you get when people ask questions like, “How are you today?” They don’t often want the truth.

But this has theological value as well.

Linus is certainly trying to be contrite. I might believe it if this were written my Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown hopes beyond hope that Lucy will not pull the football away time after time. From him she merely obtains entertainment value at his physical and emotional duress. She doesn’t value his dream of kicking the football. Yet his desire is less in kicking the football as it is hoping that Lucy will value him enough not to pull it away at the last moment. Charlie Brown has been beaten down enough to see himself as less than valuable.

Enter the eschatological Matthew 25. I read this with the kids last night and realized something about the parable of the talents that I had never noticed before. I asked the kids if they had ever learned about the parable of the talents in Sunday School or some other class at church. Hope didn’t recall it, but Luke did. I asked if they had a side note in their study Bibles that expounded on this passage. Luke read one from his and I asked him if this was the lesson that he was taught from this passage. This, he affirmed, was the case.

The lesson is one I’m sure we’ve all heard if we’ve ever heard a lesson from this passage. This is that we should use the gifts and talents we have been given for building the Kingdom of Heaven. You may think of such abilities to teach, preach, sing, evangelize, etc, as the gifts and talents we have been given. This is a good lesson. We should want to serve God with those things we are equipped to do. However, I realized last night that this lesson doesn’t fit the eschatological context.

Matthew 24 establishes clearly that Christ is talking about the “end-times”. The first verse of Chapter 25 affirms that He is still teaching about the “end-times”. “Then [or at that time] the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins…” He then tells a parable about being prepared for the second coming of Christ. Immediately after the parable of the talents is the account of the judgment of the “lambs” and the “goats”. When does this take place? In the “end-times”. Why would we not understand the parable of the talents in light of Christ’s teaching of eschatology?

For the virgins, what is the price of admission to the wedding banquet? Oil in the lamps? Just to be on time? Well, we know that they needed oil in their lamps to get down the road to the place where they needed to be, but they didn’t keep their lamps filled. It doesn’t seem that the issue was that they needed money, but that they had not invested the money and the time they had in the very substance that would ensure their preparedness.

In the judgment, the sheep are admitted and the goats are excluded on what basis? The sheep gave to the least of these brothers of Christ and the goats did not. The sheep gave acts of simple grace to otherwise worthless people. They invested in Christ by doing so.

As an aside, why did Christ make the distinction between sheep and goats if He also made the distinction between giving and not giving? Could it be that there is an intrinsic difference implied between “sheep” and “goats” in this account? What if a sheep didn’t give? What if a goat did? Would the goat who gave magically become a sheep? Would the sheep who failed to give magically become a goat? How would Arminius answer this question? ‘Nuff said.

So what is the parable of the talents about? It is about investing, but what are we investing? When I realized this, I directed the kids to Romans 5:16-17. The gift, I argued is the gift of grace and the righteousness of Christ. I asked them what would happen if they give grace and righteousness away? Would they run out of grace and righteousness? I saw the lights go on in their heads. “No,” they replied, “God gives us more.” I explained that when we give grace and righteousness, we are given more. Plus, someone else has received grace and righteousness. The kingdom of heaven has been propagated.

On the other hand, if we have received the gift of grace and righteousness and have hidden it away for fear that someone else will have it, then we have not invested properly in the kingdom of heaven. It has not been propagated. As new creations, we have not been fruitful and multiplied. If it is grace, then it must be given away – or it is no longer grace. So, whoever does not give the gift of grace that has been given, from them will be taken the gift of grace. Lest you think I’m contradicting the perseverance of the saints, there is a matter where we have all been given some general grace. For those who bear the mind of the Master, they will give general grace and receive the particular grace of salvation. Like the virgins who gave their money and obtained oil early.

Grace and the righteousness of Christ are valuable. The investment of such in the lives of others yields extraordinary dividends in the kingdom of heaven. For the Charlie Browns among us who would hope for a Christmas present yet are convinced of their own lack of value, they may receive a gift that is more valuable than a toy that will break in a couple of weeks. They may receive the free gift of grace and righteousness.

It is a source of constant frustration that yields a feeling of worthlessness that my particular gifts and talents are underutilized for the kingdom of Christ. Yet, I know that have invested where I could if only with the “bankers”, among the people of God. Perhaps it is that my abundant gifts are a special blessing for the very few to whom I am able to offer them. Do you desire to use the gifts that God has given you for His glory? Especially, do you seek to give away the gift of grace and the righteousness of Christ that you have received? Are you worthless, but have been given the invaluable gift? This, you have to give. You also can be “invalent”?

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