Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Faithful and sensible steward: The parable of Alfred the Butler

"And the Lord said, 'Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.'" Luke 12: 42-43 NASB

So far in this series, we've studied faithful and sensible servants, sharing the nourishment of obedience as we "feed my sheep." and healing broken hearts (those of the people around us) as one of the objectives of our service.Yesterday, we looked at the job of dispensing the grain. (Click the links to read the previous posts in this series.) 

Today, we are taking another little segue to talk about a literary technique. It's the idea of showing versus telling. 

Yesterday was a busy day and I had less time to work on my novel than I'd planned. I'm trying to polish it before it goes to the editor, and it's harder work than you might think. Late yesterday afternoon, I reached a difficult section. It was the very first part I'd written back in November. As I scanned it for corrections, I realized it was two pages of telling, not showing. The entire section has to be rewritten. 

I looked at my words, calculated how long it would take to fix it, and wondered if the editor would catch it if I left it. Duh. Of course he will. It has to be changed. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I left it for today. (I'm dreading the fix. Can you tell?)

In "telling", a chunk of information is relayed in narrative form. Example: He had a car wreck. In showing, the information is relayed in a way that can be visualized. Example: Jack's eyes scanned the road. A deer stood in the median. Please stay there. Don't run. He glanced back at his speedometer. 68 mph. Too fast if the deer started into the road. Jack hit his brakes, but not fast enough. The deer dashed for the pasture on the other side. No way to miss it. Jack jerked the steering wheel to the right. The car swerved. He slammed on brakes again and the car began to skid. Spin... 

You get the idea, don't you? We know a lot more information about the car wreck if I show you by describing the events that transpired. 

It's the way Jesus taught. He used parables to show, rather than simply tell. He told stories in such a way that His listeners could imagine them as they unfolded, imagine themselves in the midst of the story. It made the truth more palatable. He could ask questions about the people in His story and His listeners could recognize truth without being hammered by harsh words. The truth He shared was not diminished by His stories, but made easier to understand and harder to forget.

This little parable doesn't have all the visual impact of the story of the Good Samaritan, but I can see it in my mind's eye. For some reason, the servant I see is a stereotypical English butler. We'll call him Alfred. 

Alfred is meticulous about his suit. It's always perfectly pressed without a speck of lint or dirt. His shirt is snowy white with heavy starch. His shoes are free of scuffs and polished to a shine. 

Alfred arises before dawn to have coffee ready for his master when he awakens. He hears the sound of running water. My master is awake. He puts coffee into a carafe, then places the carafe, a mug, and napkin on a tray, and carries it up stairs. He knocks on the master's door. "Sir, are you ready for your coffee?" 

He anticipates every need. (I won't take the time to show how he meets the needs. I'll tell to save time, but you've seen Alfred, so you can imagine it.) Stiff Alfred the butler spends his entire day anticipating his master's needs, responding to his wishes. He stays up long hours after his master goes to bed, preparing for the next day. 
* * *
(three asterisks indicates a scene change) 

Alfred is a hard worker and his master appreciates it. He needs someone to help him with an important task. Master says to himself, "I want someone I can count on," and he thinks of Alfred. Alfred is dependable and a hard worker. He has never let his master down.

"I'll promote Alfred," the master decides, so he calls for his butler. "Alfred, I've made a decision. You're such a good worker, I've decided to promote you. I want you to hand out the grain to my other workers."
* * *
"Hand out grain?" That doesn't sound like a promotion. That sounds terrible. Arthur can't believe it. Haven't I done a good job? Haven't I worked long and hard? Now I have to hand out the grain?

You get the idea, don't you? Alfred, a household servant who's had close access to his master for years is not at all sure he wants a job in the warehouse (where the grain is kept) doing manual labor (moving the bags of grain, distributing the food). He's not at all sure about wearing coveralls and work boots (he's always worn a suit). Life is about to change, and Alfred is not sure it's for the better.

What Alfred can't see is that his master is giving Alfred the work that matters most. The master is happy to have coffee first thing in the morning, but he is most concerned that the people who work for him have the food they need to stay strong and healthy. He can't trust that job to just anyone. Only the most reliable person will do. Only Alfred.

Alfred sees how hard the work will be, how different his life will be. 

The master knows how strong his workers will be if they have the food they need. He knows how much they will accomplish. He's going on a trip, but when he returns, he has a big reward for Alfred. He's not going to mention the reward to Alfred. Not yet. It's a surprise.

Alfred stands at a crossroads. He can embrace the new work with joy and throw himself into it with the same precision and enthusiasm of his butler work, or he can seethe in anger that the job is not the one he wanted. He can be a good steward of the grain, distributing it carefully and correctly, or do a slipshod job, taking advantage of the opportunity to skim grain and selling it for a profit on the black market.

Which will he do? We'll talk more about Alfred tomorrow.

For today, let's consider how we would feel in Alfred's place. God has something for each of us to do. It may not be as attractive a job as the one we envisioned for ourselves, but it is no less important to God. The attitude with which we embrace the work God gives us determines the quality of the work we do. 

How's our attitude?

I'm a better servant when I serve with joy. I'm a better servant when I serve from love.

How well are we serving? What changes do we need to make?
Our Father, forgive us for our unwillingness to serve you in difficult circumstances. Help us to embrace the job you have for us and to serve with a cheerful heart. In Jesus' name, Amen.