The Parable of the Painters
Have you ever imagined what parables Our Lord might have offered if he came to this part of the world and in this particular time? Many of them still translate well for us.
I think the parable of the lost sheep would still resonate with many of us. We understand the connection between the farmer and his livestock. How important it is that he looks after, nurtures and protects his most special investment.
So too with the parable of the prodigal son. All of us have known families where things have gone awry. There has been falling out and grumpiness. We learn the very tortuous way that forgiveness is a very precious commodity and not always accessible, from those who ought to know better.
Today’s parable of the slaves who are left to trade requires a little more imagination. We could speculate that Our Lord would use our modern-day Stock market and financial institutions when telling this parable. And indeed we have that line from the Boss when he returns and becomes furious with the slave who fails to use his talent.
“Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return, I would have received what was my own with interest.”
But I’m pretty sure that Our Lord was not just referring to the way we use our hard-earned cash. He also expects us to use our talents, those things that we are good at and the things that we enjoy to give him glory.
So how would Our Lord tell this parable in 2023? Perhaps he might tell it like this.
Once upon a time, as all good parables go, a contractor needed a serious amount of painting done. 78 panels needed to have a total of 4 coats each. This is a serious amount of work.
The contractor, we’ll call him Barnaby, cheerfully employed one guy who he knew was an absolute gun. Kelvin was knowledgeable, handy with his hands, meticulous in his work and efficient to boot. What’s not to like?
The next painter was Esmeralda. She wasn’t quite as adroit but still showed a bit of acumen and was willing to put in the hard yards.
The third person was Daniel. He fronted up on his first day with a very candid admission that he hadn’t had much experience and yet, like the proverbial 50-cent piece, he just kept on turning up to work. His painting skills were lacking and he was as slow as a long winter. You could easily spot the panels Daniel had done by the missed bits and the heavy-handedness in other places, frequently on the same panel; which when you think about it, is very hard to do. It seems that all Daniel could do efficiently was wash out the brushes and rollers at the end of each day.
So the work progressed. Gradually, panel by painful panel the work went on. Kelvin and Esmeralda flourished and Daniel.. well … not so much. It got to a point where he was reluctant to even wash out the rollers and he stopped turning up altogether.
After all 78 panels were done Barnaby the contractor came along to give everyone their pay. He was of course delighted with Kelvin.
“Great work Kelvin! For doing such a great job you are now foreman in charge of painting all the local primary schools.”
To Esmeralda he said. “Well done Esmeralda`. You accomplished a great deal here. I’m putting you in charge of painting those two units that are being built in Church Hill.”
And then Barnaby quizzed Daniel. “Well, Daniel what happened to you.?”
“Well Barnaby, sir. I knew you were a harsh boss and I wasn’t doing anything particularly right and my painting was rubbish, so I just didn’t show up after a while. Here is the paint roller and overalls you lent me.”
Well, Barnaby just went ballistic. “So Daniel, you knew that I was a harsh boss expecting the best and yet you didn’t even have a go. I’m grumpy not because of your sloth, but because you failed to realise that washing up the rollers and brushes is one of the most important parts of the job. And I’m really sulky because your potential to go on to be something quite striking, grand and impressive was not realised. Not only have I missed out, not only have future clients missed out, but you have missed out in celebrating wonderful times and seeing yourself blossom into the professional you were called to be.”
Not all of us are called to be cracking painters. The important stuff is not just what we see at the end; the finished product. The little hidden jobs, those tasks that might seem menial, inconsequential and trivial are just as vital as everything else.
You can probably understand teaching from my mish mash and misappropriation of the Masters parable, but what of that last chilling line from the gospel?
“As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Daniel’s outer darkness is not the tongue lashing he got from Barnaby. Daniels darkness is the blackness of his self inflicted sadness, his not being able to see his own gifts and light. And the weeping and gnashing of teeth, is his writhing and regrets at what might have been.