Many years ago when Nora and I were engaged to be married, we hardly ever argued. When she spoke, bluebirds sang. When she walked by, roses floated under my nose. When she kissed me, my toes tingled.
That’s the way I remember it anyway. Let’s call it the pre-honeymoon honeymoon period.
Then we started to plan the wedding. I wanted the reception held in the Grand Ballroom of the DuPont Country Club, she wanted a space that wouldn’t dwarf our medium-sized group. I wanted an ice sculpture (!), she wanted anything but an ice sculpture. I wanted alcohol, she wanted to save money for a down payment on our new life together. “You only get married once, right?” I said. No answer. Not a good sign.
Then planning for the wedding ceremony itself. We knew we’d have a couple scripture readings, but which ones? Nora led with “Love is patient, love is kind…” from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
“Everyone uses that one,” I said, “And besides it’s not about romantic love but the agape love we should demonstrate for all people. And it’s sort of like the Lord’s Prayer – it’s repeated so often that it becomes rote and devoid of meaning for most people.”
Then I blurted out: “What about the Parable of the Talents?”
Silence. And no eye contact. Definitely not a good sign. Was she upset I rudely rejected her suggestion, or was the parable the problem?
I’ve always liked the Parable of the Talents. You know the story where the Master entrusts different sums of money to his three servants, then, when he returns, judges how well each did managing the money. It is told a couple times, with variations: Matthew 25: 14-30 and Luke 19: 12-28.
From a literal perspective, the lesson is obvious: When blessed with material resources, don’t hide it under a mattress, but put it to work, so that the money will be multiplied. Basic Investment 101, right?
Of course, Jesus didn’t come to Earth to teach personal finance lessons. Parables always have deeper meanings and I felt good about that too.
Nora doesn’t like conflict, but she doesn’t like feeling she is being taken advantage of either. The next day, as gently as possible, she says “Are there any other scripture verses that are meaningful to you?”
I hadn’t yet become an expert in woman-speak, but this was obvious. You know, how “How do I look?” means “Tell me I look good” and “Do what you want” means “If you love me, you won’t do that”?
In other words, “I don’t like the Parable of the Talents, let’s use something else.”
Do I take the easy harmonious road, or the one with big potholes that threaten to tear out the undercarriage? I’m feeling bold, perhaps dangerously so. “What don’t you like about it?”
“Where do I start?” she says. “Why does the master give his servants different amounts to manage? That doesn’t seem fair to me. And why does all the investment benefit go to the master, while the servant shoulders all the risk? And why is the master so harsh to the servant who carefully maintained his principal, albeit without growing it? That sounds like something I would do!”
Nora concluded: “And do we really need to have ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ read during our ceremony?”
That did seem like a bit of a downer.
Fairness has always been a cornerstone of Nora’s approach to life. If I spent $40 on a Christmas gift for my brother, I’d better not spend $20 on my sister – it’s not equitable.
That’s a good philosophy for sibling harmony, but it’s obvious that God does play favorites. He’s got a covenant people. Jesus had an unnamed disciple that he loved above the others. King David was clearly a favored servant. And, as in the parable, he gives and expects more from some people. It calls to mind Luke 12:48 – “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.”
I could see how Nora could sympathize with the servant who hadn’t grown the money he was entrusted with. She can be wild and super fun, but when it comes to money, she is very cautious. To the likes of Billy the Kid, Ivan the Terrible, Dora the Explorer, and Peter the Great, you could easily add ‘Nora the Fiscally Conservative & Risk Averse’. That’s too long to ever catch on, but you get the point.
As a fiancé and future husband, that conservative approach warmed my heart. I had a similar philosophy. They say that financial differences are the #1 marriage killer, so I felt comfortable that neither of us would gnaw our finger nails off while the other engaged in wild day trading of stocks.
But were we in union with God’s approach? What’s good for the marriage is not necessarily beneficial for our relationship with Him. Rereading the passage, it’s obvious that God doesn’t want us to play it safe. He wants us to enthusiastically employ the gifts He gives us in His service.
Also, it’s clear that the rewards and punishment are great for those who do – or don’t do – God’s will. Including weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Despite Nora’s initial reservations, the Parable of the Talents made the final cut, beautifully read by Nora’s graduate school roommate Hannah. I’m not sure, but I think I saw Nora clench her jaw when Hannah got to the ‘weeping and gnashing’ line. Not typical wedding material, but maybe it would jolt someone out of their complacency.
And no, I wasn’t a complete steamroller. Nora got her wish regarding the grand ballroom and alcohol (both nixed). And by the end of planning, she was as enthusiastic as I was about commissioning a small ice sculpture. Two fiscally-conservative people committing to a lavish and unnecessary purchase – maybe we could get outside our comfort zones after all.