The Parable of the Talents
14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 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. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Talent. It’s an interesting word. In this morning’s gospel lesson, it is talking about money, or the currency of the day. It’s a famous parable, that historically has been interpreted as taking what you have, and then taking risks to have it multiplied. This would please the master.
And, this is certainly true in our culture. If we work for someone, or a company, if we increase their money making ability, or increase the organization, then we are oftentimes rewarded.
It does take faith and risk…and, that’s one of the lessons from this parable. There is also a second, deeper one, but we’ll get to that in a minute or so.
When I go rock climbing outdoors, say to Red River Gorge or up in Yellow Springs, I make sure to prepare and gather everything that I need to climb…rope, harness, carabiners, chalk, food, water, etc. I haven’t climbed outdoors as much in the past few years, but, when I do, there’s a certain risk at stake…but, the reward is great…a feeling of accomplishment, and usually a great view.
When I have been a part of exciting projects in the past, same thing, lining up a team to support, co-lead, and co-create with, find our objective, and work to get there. It takes time, faith, and some risk. But, again, so good to be on a team that works together.
So, there is a lot of truth to this parable that we should pay attention to…and, it’s interesting that this parable almost always seems to come up in the lectionary around the time of many church’s stewardship drives!
Now, having said that, let’s dig a little deeper. These servants are not just paid servants or employees. This is the first century. They are slaves, owned in some way by a master. A shrewd master, who was apparently pretty deceitful and had unscrupulous business dealings.
It’s important to note, that, like last week’s lectionary gospel on the 10 bridesmaids which wasn’t about weddings, this gospel lesson is not about “successful business practices”, it’s about seeing the system as it is and calling it out.
The first two slaves did take some risk and were rewarded, but they were still slaves beholden to a system and a master.
The last slave, which in western interpretations has been called lazy, wicked, incompetent, actually saw the master for what he was. In a sort of biblical backhand, or even passive-aggressive way, the 3rd slave calls out the master for reaping what he doesn’t sow, for gathering, or stealing crops, who’s seed he didn’t plant. He admitted that he was afraid, but instead of hiding it, used it to confront the master, the wealthy slaveowner.
In response, the master doesn’t have much grace…it’s a ruthless world or system…so, he casts him out, into the darkness.
I’ve been reading a lot of commentaries about this, and they all seem to point towards this third slave somehow being freed from the system that had enslaved him…he was probably disoriented for a while, nothing was certain, he was thrust out, into the darkness.
But, maybe, just maybe, in that darkness, he found a deeper awareness, a sense that God is with him. And, maybe he found abundance is much deeper than how much money he had or bigger and better than any rewards that this slaveowner could give him.
You see, we have to remember something. The bible was written by persons that were not in the power structure of the day, they were on the margins. And, we have to remember that we live in a society that might interpret this passage one way because we are used to transactional relationships…but, the majority world, and especially Jesus followers in the majority world, places like India, Nicaragua, Mexico, etc. would read this passage differently.
We also must remember that Jesus is sharing this passage, Jesus who bears no resemblance to the slaveowner, who’s actions and life were polar opposite. A Jesus who says all are welcome and come to me, lay your burdens down, etc. A Jesus who suffered and struggled and is in the suffering and struggle with us, right now…this Jesus is trying to convey to folks who are listening, those marginalized, that sometimes we are given our freedom when it seems like everything is taken away from us…that we may be scared, but God is with us, even in the darkness. And, in the process of getting to this God, may help us to see the world, again, the systems of this world, as they really are…and to not be afraid to confront them.
We live in a transactional world, and there are times that we engage that world throughout life, but God is calling us to be transformed and transformational, which is a different paradigm, one that leads us towards growth, freedom, and love for ourselves, others, and God. We can live in both, but strive to be aware and to live towards a higher ideal. It can be done, and it is being done in our midst, in this church, and all around us.