My wife and I attended a birthday celebration for a friend of decades last night and caught up with some old acquaintances of the politically liberal type. I was stunned to hear them speak with some disdain about the “sense of entitlement” they were seeing in certain groups of people. The irony ran thick when I considered some long past interactions I had with them in other settings and for other purposes. Party manners, of course, prevented me from pointing out the irony but it has occupied my thoughts.
What is a “sense of entitlement” anyway? It is the absence of gratitude when presented with grace – it is the expectation of grace without the understanding that grace is undeserved – it is, bluntly, a deficit of humility. A “sense of entitlement” is exhibited by the beggar who, when presented with a chicken sandwich, says he would prefer ham.
Grace and entitlement are opposite sides of the same coin. Grace is the presenting of plenty in the absence of such plenty being deserved while entitlement is the expectation of plenty in the absence of such plenty being deserved. Which makes me wonder – is plenty presented to those who feel entitled to it really graceful?
Sometimes I wonder if that question, about what actually makes grace graceful, is not the essential difference between liberals and conservatives – whether we are speaking politically or theologically. Liberal theology focuses on God’s infinite grace, but generally fails to discuss our inherent and bottomless need for that grace. Liberal politics tends to focus on public largesse while failing to recognize that in most cases the need for such largesse is generally, but not always, born of a failure of some sort on the part of the recipient.
I honestly do not know any conservatives, politically or theologically, that are not generous to a fault. It is just that they want to make sure that grace bestowed is truly graceful. Sure there are hard-hearted, miserly, uncharitable people among conservatives, but I certainly do not know them and they are a small group regardless.
It is Sunday morning and as always my thoughts turn to scripture. In light of these thoughts on grace and entitlement I find myself reconsidering the Parable of the Talents. I hope you will join me.
“For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
“Now after a long time the master of those slaves *came and *settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
“Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
“And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’
“But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’
“For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.