Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Speaking In Tongues

The Parable of the Talents

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 

“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

(Matthew 25:14-30)

There is a lot that could be unpacked from Jesus' parable above.  But I am going to skip over (not gloss over!) most of that and key in on the servant who was given the one talent.  He didn't have what the other had - perhaps you might say it wasn't "fair" - but he had what he had.  His problem wasn't that he only had one talent whereas the other servants had much more than he.  It was that he didn't do anything - at least, not what he had been called to do, with the talent that he did have.

So...what on earth does this have to do with the title of this post, "speaking in tongues?"

Ah...a parable-within-a-parable!

There are segments of the Christian church, and individual Christians as well, that believe in "speaking in tongues."  This is the phenomena of speaking in a language one does not either natively know or have learned and studied, either expressing prayer or praise to God.  The concept of speaking in tongues is mentioned several times in the New Testament, the first time being in the book of Acts, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit comes and empowers the 120 in the upper room to be Jesus' witnesses and to go on mission for God, seeking the lost and serving the world.  The followers of Jesus begin to speak in other languages that other people in the city can speak but they themselves do not know.  Thus they are able to supernaturally give their testimonies about Jesus to all those in the city who can hear them but speak in other languages.

There is not time here to go into all of the theories about tongues speaking, and whether or not it was something special for only a few occasions and for specific followers in specific situations, or something that should be applied more broadly for many or even all Christians of all times and in every culture.  Suffice it to say that the Church as a whole is divided on this issue, with a full range of beliefs and opinions on the matter, all the way from speaking-in-tongues-is-evil-and-should-never-be-accepted-again, to speaking-in-tongues-is-the-only-proof-that-you-really-a-Christian.  Some believe tongues are always in an existing, known-to-someone language, while other believe in the more mysterious, unknown-to-anyone, "prayer language" version. 

There is a lot of diversity on this issue, and while my own branch of the Christian tree does not generally believe in or practice tongues speaking in today's world, and I myself have never had such an experience (and don't expect to!), I don't dismiss or judge my brothers and sisters in Christ who have (although I have been known to gently tease from time to time!  Jesus disciples should be allowed to poke a little fun at each other now and then, don't you think?).

Still waiting for the tie-in with the parable of the talents?  In the spirit of the parables, it's not direct, but here goes:

We all have "talents" - and although of a different type than the parable, we can make the connection and learn something about the use of our talents just the same.  Some of us have enormous talents, yet like the servant in the parable who only had one talent, we waste them because we don't use them.  Others seemingly have only one talent, and perhaps what most people would consider not a very "worthwhile" one at that - yet do incredible things with that which God has gifted them.

But all of us - every one of us - regardless of the talents we have or don't have, can speak the languages of those around us, just like the first followers of Jesus did as recorded in the book of Acts.  But here I do not mean Portuguese, Spanish, English, Arabic, German, or whatever other language the people around you may speak.  In fact, many of us only interact with, supposedly, one or at best two languages in our daily lives. 

However...there are many more languages spoken today then what we might first assume.  The language of your toddler in much different than that of your great aunt.  The languages spoken by men and women have been reported to be quite, quite different!  The language of the recent immigrant is substantially different than that of indigenous person, even if the immigrant has learned the indigenous official language quite well.  The language of Lutherans, Nazarenes, Baptists, and Catholics are often very different.  Postmodern and modern cultures and philosophies speak vastly differing languages.  And there are many, many more examples.

No matter how many or how great our talents are, we'll never effectively learn from and help each other, and for the Jesus disciple, you will never be an effective witness of the living Jesus, unless you learn to speak the languages of those around you.  It can be quite difficult work.  But it is worth it; and truthfully, it is the only way to do what we are called to do, whatever the particulars of your specific calling may be.

We all need to learn to "speak in tongues."  It is an essential and necessary ability, and even if it isn't our strongest talent, we all can, and should, become at least competent in exercising this ability.

You do not have to be limited in your ability to help others, do good, and bear witness to the living Jesus and the in-breaking Kingdom of God, just because you may or may not have the greatest "talents."  If you faithfully do what God has called you to do, with whatever resources and talents God has given you, and learn to at least competently "speak in tongues" (90% of which is simply listening to the languages others around you are speaking), you can make a difference in our world and an impact on the advancement of the Kingdom. 

I'm hoping, planning, and praying to use my talent and "speak in tongues" myself more and more in the days ahead.

Just don't expect me to break out in any unintelligible babbling anytime soon.


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