Since his death just over a month ago, the name of Steve Jobs has been much in the news – over the past weeks we have heard a good deal about his life. Of course Jobs was the founder, and until fairly recently, also the CEO of the very successful computer firm Apple. This morning, as we begin, I’d actually like to rehearse just a part of his story. Steve Jobs was born in 1955, and when he was still a young child, moved with his adoptive parents Paul and Clara Jobs to the community of Los Altos, California. In terms of the life story of Steve Jobs, that move to Los Altos was a significant one because the community of Los Altos is located in Silicon Valley – a region of California that for decades has been home to a significant number of very successful electronics companies.
Indeed, on account of that concentration of electronics companies and employees in the area, it’s probably not surprising that Jobs took a very early interest in electronics – and it’s not surprising that as a boy in fact he found himself hanging out with a neighbour who was an electronics hobbyist. That early interest in electronics continued into his teen years when Steve Jobs took an introductory High School class in electronics by day and sat in on after-school lectures at the Hewlett Packard Company by night.
His first job as a young adult was, not surprisingly, also in the area of electronics – he began as a technician with the video game manufacturer, Atari. At the same time Steve Jobs also joined a computer club for hobbyists who would take apart and build computers. This was just the time when personal computing was starting to spread – and much of that early work on personal computers was being done in Silicon Valley.
From those early life activities and opportunities – from those early career moves – Steve Jobs went on with his business partner to create what would become one of the most successful computer companies in history – Apple computers. A huge part of the success of that company resulted from Steve Jobs’ very early perception both that personal computers were the future and that user-friendliness was the name of the game. The key to successful computers was making them accessible and easy to use. From being just a startup company in 1976, Apple Computers was a Fortune 500 company just 7 years later. No other company had climbed that quickly up the ladder of corporate success. Today Apple is worth some 340 billion dollars – and before his death Steve Jobs was worth around 8 billion dollars.
Over the past weeks we have heard a great deal about Steve Jobs. For many he was a compelling and significant figure. Indeed, about 20 million people have watched a youtube video of a commencement address that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford University in 2005. And as we begin to make the transition from the story of Steve Jobs to our scripture passage, I’d like to focus on the words with which this significant entrepreneur and culture figure concludes his address. He concluded with these words, a kind of motto of his own life: Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
What’s interesting about those words is that we probably can’t really understand them unless understand Steve Job’s successes and his failures. There were a number of failures along the way of the Apple company. There was the Lisa, a personal or business computer that in the end would have cost some $20,000 dollars in today’s money – no surprise it sold very poorly. There was the Apple III computer that was so poorly designed that the company advised owners to pick it up and drop it a few inches whenever it stopped working. There was the Apple G4 Cube, that failed miserably when it went to market. Along the way to the great successes of ipod and iphone and ipad – there were also costly and significant failures.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
What exactly do those words mean? We could look at each part of that statement, from an entrepreneurial perspective.
In an entrepreneurial sense, stay hungry means be persistent. It means, be on the lookout for new ideas, be on the lookout for new possibilities, be on the lookout for new ways of doing things. Stay hungry – it means there’s always more to be learned or accomplished. Stay hungry for it. Watch for it. Live it.
On the other hand, in an entrepreneurial sense, stay foolish means this: to be willing to make mistakes. Stay foolish means that for every mistake you make (the Apple iii, the Lisa), there will be another idea that takes off (the ipod, the iphone). Stay foolish means; be willing to stick your neck out with a new idea or a new product, when everyone else thinks its crazy.
Stay hungry – strive to learn and accomplish new things.
Stay foolish – take risks and be ready to make mistakes.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us another parable about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says: The kingdom of heaven is like a man who is going away on a journey – and as he goes he entrusts three servants each with a small fortune. Now two of those servants showed an entrepreneurial spirit – they took that small fortune and in the time that the master was gone, they were able to double its value. These two servants invested the money, they put the money to work, and made a profit for their master. But the third servant, he took his fortune and he stuffed it in a mattress – he didn’t lose any of it, but neither did he get a return for his master.
Now when the master comes back he is more than pleased with the first two servants: “Well done good and trustworthy servants, you have been faithful with what I gave, and as a result I will put you in charge of even more.”
But what of the third servant, who buried the small fortune he was given. He comes to the master and he says: “My master, I knew you were a hard man. I knew that you expected a great deal. I knew that in your own life you are a real entrepreneur. And that all made me afraid, so I went and buried the money, so as not to lose any of it.”
What does the master make of this? Not much. He says to the third servant: “You lazy, wicked slave. You knew I was a hard man. You knew I was a successful entrepreneur. The least you could have done was put the money in the bank, to earn interest. But you didn’t even do that. So you know what. I’m going to take what I gave you, and I’m going to give it to the servant who was given the most and earned the most.”
Stay hungry. Stay foolish.
At the heart of this parable is the idea of risk-taking. The first two servants who were given a small fortune – they had to take risks with what was given in order to get such a good return. In today’s economic climate, especially, we understand that there is no obvious or easy way to double your investment over the medium term. To make that kind of a return requires, yes, wisdom in investing. But it also requires a degree of risk-taking. The text says that when the first servant was given that small fortune, he went off immediately, straightaway, and began to trade. The first two servants stayed hungry, going after a good return. They stayed foolish – they took the necessary risks to get that return for their master.
I’d say that the life of Steve Jobs represents a modern parallel to those first two servants. Steve Jobs had a unique opportunities
he grew in Silicon Valley in the 60’s
he had a neighbour teach him about electronics as a kid
he could sit in on evening lectures at Hewlett Packard
he could join a hobby club at the moment personal computers were taking off
Being born in that place and time was a one-of-a-kind opportunity. But on top of that, Jobs had unique life experiences and natural abilities. Steve Jobs is like that first servant, who was given 5 talents – a small fortune, real opportunities – and who took it and risked it and built on it. Willing to make mistakes, he translated his natural opportunities and abilities into a massive return on investment.
But now we’ve got to stop for a moment – because so far this morning we have totally missed the point. This parable of Jesus isn’t about being a business entrepreneur, whether in the ancient or modern economy. The parable of Jesus isn’t about getting a good return on an investment. Indeed, there is much in the gospels that calls into question the economic framework that Jesus uses as a metaphor for the coming kingdom. With this parable Jesus is not endorsing any particular economic system or practice.
In the same way, we don’t have to remain unquestioning when it comes to Steve Job’s successes. It is fair to ask, for example, whether the creation of ever new and improved electronic devices has contributed to a throw-away culture that fills up our landfills with electronic equipment that is less than year or two old. And while these technological devices can certainly be helpful tools, we have to ask whether they are as significant as we sometimes think. We could ask whether the sale of 4 million of the new iPhone 4S over three days just last weekend – whether that will do anything to deepen human relationships and build communities of love and service. We could ask whether the recent release of the iPad 2 has done anything to give deeper wisdom about what it is to be human.
Jesus’ point is not simply to endorse entrepreneurship or a specific economic framework. And the contemporary point is not that Steve Jobs’ entrepreneurial accomplishments represent the height of success for our culture.
What Jesus does with his parable, rather, is to translate the logic of the entrepreneurial spirit into the real world of the kingdom of God. Jesus’ message in today’s passage is really a continuation of the message from last week. From the parable of the bridesmaids we learned that we are to live now in ways that correspond with the coming reign of Jesus.
We are to live now in the justice of his coming kingdom.
We are to live now in the peace of his coming kingdom.
We are to live now in the holiness of his coming kingdom.
And with the parable of the talents Jesus extends his thinking on this – with this parable Jesus invites us to live in an entrepreneurial way, in relation to his coming kingdom. In essence what Jesus does with this parable is invite us to make Steve Jobs’ motto our own – but to adapt it for life in the real world of God’s kingdom.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
It is so easy for us to let ourselves become satisfied with a comfortable religious existence and to bury our treasure. Rather than using the gifts and abilities God has given each of us for the purposes of his kingdom, we just bury those gifts and abilities – opting instead for a little bit of religion some of the time and a generally comfortable Canadian existence the rest of the time.
But Jesus invites us to stay hungry for the kingdom of God. In our individual lives and in our shared life as a community of God’s people – we are to stay hungry for the kingdom of God. We each have particular gifts – our community of faith has particular gifts. We aren’t responsible for what we don’t have – but we are responsible for the gifts we have been given. And in using those gifts we are to exhibit a hunger for the kingdom of Jesus Christ:
Using what we have to pursue the justice of his kingdom.
Doing what we can to participate in the peace of his kingdom.
Striving in our own context to embody the forgiveness of his kingdom.
Living personally, day by day in the holiness of his kingdom.
In the power and grace of the Spirit, we are to stay hungry for those things that embody the kingdom of the risen Jesus. Using the gifts we have for his purposes.
And at the same time that Jesus invites us to Stay Hungry, Jesus invites us to Stay Foolish. Staying foolish means taking risks for the kingdom of heaven. It means being willing to look foolish in the pursuit of Jesus’ way. Remember, the third servant was unwilling to take risks. The third servant was unwilling to stay foolish for his master. He thought it was too hard – he wanted to keep it simple and easy. And for his failure he received those difficult words of judgment. What you have been given will be taken from you.
In our culture, we might look foolish if we waste our time with people who are ‘insignificant’ – but we know that it is through the insignificant the wisdom and love of God often comes to our world.
In our culture, we might look foolish if we resist acquisitiveness and consumerism – but we can invest our time and resources alternatively, in people and organizations that might bring a return of justice and hope.
In our culture we might look foolish if we speak the name of Jesus as if he’s someone who actually matters – but speaking the name of Jesus can bring a return of faith and hope in a world where few know what really matters.
With the parable of the talents, Jesus encourages us to be like that first servant – the one who went out immediately to seek a return for his master – the one who went out immediately and took risks on behalf of his master. The return we seek is not a financial or economic return. What we seek is a return of the love and justice and goodness and holiness of Jesus’ coming kingdom.