Sunday, October 24, 2010

A bird in the hand...

(Steve holding a bird he caught in the house) 

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” is a proverb or idiom saying that it is better to stick with something you already have, rather than pursuing something you may never get. It is always better to have a small but certain advantage than a mere potential of a greater one. The phrase is extremely old and seems to have originated at some point in the 13th century, in a related Latin form: Plus valet in manibus avis unica quam dupla silvis.

Some people also respond to this proverb, not necessarily accepting the wisdom that a bird in the hand is in fact better than two in the bush. People who respond negatively to this saying are usually pointing out that while something that is known and possessed might be certain, the unknown could have a value far exceeding the known. A response might be something like, “a bird in the hand is good, but a bird in the bush might sing.”

What ever the spin on this proverb, it has caused me to reflect on what we have actually been given and the perception of what we don't have. I mean, I'm from America. Land of the free, the proud, the brave, the land of ME (in Generation Me, no less...thanks Rodney for that phrasing ;) A place to work hard. To have a career. To pull out pieces of PLASTIC and buy things when ever wanted, where ever wanted. A place where people are extremely talented, but you should be better than you are, you need to be twice a good at whatever you are and that is still not good enough. You need to have more and be fact, if we look at the proverb, it accurately reflects that whatever we have, we seem to always want the double that is potentially out there waiting for us. But this is not only an American condition. I see it here in Costa Rica, too. And I don't think this applies just in a monetary sense, either. I think it applies in all areas of life. We all want more, more, more and whatever we don't have.

Instead, I think we should think of it more like this:

14"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15To one he gave five talents[a] of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
 19"After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'
 21"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
 22"The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.'
 23"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
 24"Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'
 26"His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
 28" 'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (Matthew 25)

The servants who were given the five and two talents took them and invested them. They took the time to cultivate what they already had in hand and double what they had been given through hard work and wise investment. They didn't wait for more to miraculously appear or strive for something they were not entrusted with, they put to work what they had in hand and had been given. In the mean time, the servant who was given one didn't appreciate what was given to him. He didn't see the value or the potential in it. He was driven by fear and a misperception about the Master's character.

Assuming, for the moment, that the servant was correct in his assessment, why wouldn't be at least be motivated by that fear to make a profit for his master? If he were afraid to take any risk, then why wouldn't he at least put the money in a bank to at least make some interest off it? The servant wouldn't even have to be bothered to watch the money on a day-by-day basis. Maybe a small profit could have been gained without any risk or effort, but instead he chose to do nothing. And the longer the master was gone, the more interest was lost by the guy's inactivity. His perception of his master was all wrong, too. He looks at his master as a wicked, harsh, impossible person who would never think of the good of others. Almost as if he had said, “I knew you were unreasonable, and that there was no way to please you, and so I decided not even to try.” But the master DID provide. He gave the guy a bird in the hand. A physical way to make a profit. But this guy threw it back in the master's face. This guy didn't just not go after the two birds in the bush, but he also let go of the bird in his hand.

Traditionally, the parable of the talents has not just been about investing money. It is usally seen as an encouragement to Jesus' disciples to use their God-given gifts in the service of God, and to take risks for the Kingdom of God. These gifts include personal abilities ("talents" in the everyday English sense and translation), as well as personal wealth.This has definitely been a good reminder to me. To invest what God has put in my hands. To work with it. To double what the Lord has entrusted me with. It means not looking for the 2 potential bird in the bush, or what other people have been entrusted with, but taking the bird I have and  investing it in God's kindgom.

Yet I might also ponder, if a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,
what are four birds in a pocket and three in a backpack worth?

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