A COP assignment has led me to rethink certain parables Jesus told. Whether it's the parable of the talents or the parable of the minas, there's been a debate over what it means to be "faithful."

Some have equated faithfulness with making an increase in the capital which the Master had given his servants to use in his absence. Others reject that interpretation, fearing it leads to church growth emphases on numerical growth. I think a careful reading leads in another direction.

Consider the servant judged to be faithless. Why that verdict? He simply took the capital that was given to him and either buried it or hid it in a napkin. Now it is instructive to learn that this is exactly the counsel given by rabbis when someone had entrusted valuables to you. The peasant outlook was a universe of limited resources. So if one makes money, he has had to take it from someone else. Prudent servants did not risk another’s resources that way; they kept them safe so as not to lose them. Doing business with another’s capital did not always lead to growth. The loss of another’s resources was an unacceptable risk that servant was unwilling to take.

So faithfulness equates to taking risks for the master rather than playing it safe by conserving his capital. What does that mean for us? What “capital” has been given to the Church with which to do business in the Master’s absence? I can’t think of anything other than the Word and Sacraments. So a faithful use of these treasures means putting them to work in the marketplace. If you think Wall Street is a rough and tumble place, fraught with risk, what do you think about today’s culture? Will we invest our capital only in those who are like us? Will we invest in risky ventures, as Jesus and the apostles did? Going to Samaritan villages, touching corpses, speaking the Gospel to non-Jews, tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, setting foot in the homes of Gentiles or those engaged in less-than-kosher work (read Simon the tanner) – these were the risk-taking ventures that marked servants as being faithful. Where do we find 21st-century equivalents? And what we do once we have identified them?