While I was growing up, the pretty china with the pink rose pattern lived a life of static beauty in a glass-fronted cabinet in the dining room. We could watch the plates while we ate from the other, everday ones. The rose pattern china never left the cupboard, except to be packed in newspaper and packing cases when we moved house, moved dining rooms.
On the one hand, this preserved, pickled state of being meant that the rose pattern plates, a wedding gift, survived the forty-three years of my parents’ marriage and beyond. Still, I hankered to use them, just once. I wondered if they had really been created to sit in stacks in a cabinet, or whether they were once destined to feed a family, to serve sweet foods for celebrations, for sustenance, for occasions of hunger and grief.
The word “squander” comes to mind. To squander the gift of this rose pattern dinner service might have meant, to my parents, to use it profligately, to allow it to be stained, chipped and broken by use and familiarity. To me, its beauty was squandered by restricting its usefulness, restraining it from living up to its promise and as a delicious backdrop to delectable food.
Reading this Sunday’s gospel, I wondered what else we hoard and squander by its under-use.
We buy food and take it home then throw it out because we gathered up for ourselves more than we could eat, and shut it away instead of sharing it out. A 2007 cnn.com story remarked that 5% of the food that Americans throw away could feed 4 million people for a day.*
I have a coat which I inherited from my mother, which I have worn once in the five years since she died. I am ashamed to think of the warmth and comfort it might have offered someone in the countless winter evenings and nights that have passed since her passing.
We sing in the shower and dream of stardom, but murmur our praise in church for fear of astonishing our fellows. We embarrass ourselves out of passionate praise for the God who gave us voice, and fail to encourage one another.
We hoard our stories. We hide our tears. We stifle our laughter and joy. We are embarrassed to share the beauty of our miracle stories. We murmur the gospel which calls our names aloud and bids us not only follow Jesus ourselves but go out and make disciples of all nations, to share the good news that we have heard, and broadcast it as virally as we spread cute cartoons and smart jokes on facebook.
My parents did not preserve their plates out of selfishness, or out of prissiness, or out of miserliness. They were afraid of breaking, chipping, soiling their gift, because it represented to them the generosity of the giver, and the celebration of their marriage. Still, I believe that they were wrong. The gift is not diminished by use. The joy of consuming and sharing the gift may well be greater than the satisfaction of a set well kept.
The danger of squandering a gift is not only present when the gift is opened and spent, but also when it is hidden and hoarded.
Thinking about it, we do that to this parable all too often. We allow its figures to decompose into fear; we set its drama as dogma, its exhortations into extortion, instead of allowing it life and light, the power of a story, the humour of a riddle, the wisdom of a fable. Perhaps, instead, we should share it out, risk breaking it open, spoiling it and chipping its edges, along with the rest of the gospel gifts which Jesus left us.