We’ve heard this particular parable ever since we first went to Sunday School. Back in our very young days, the teacher probably had a lesson plan that led toward exploring all of the kinds of things we have inside us that we could learn to identify as our talents. And then the process would move on to how we use those talents… and the very bad outcome for our not making use of those talents.
And we’d also learn that back in the Bible days, a talent represented an amount of money that had a huge value. That made the concept of the talents even more weighty. And then add that idea to what it says in the parable about what happens to the person who doesn’t discover or grow any additional talents from what he or she was given, and then surely as a really young person, the story got our attention. Especially, if you were worried about being cast into the outer darkness.
One way to look at the talents has to do with the investment side of things because really that’s what the rich man was doing. He was looking for a return on his investments. He allotted funds to his ‘servants’ according to how effective he thought they would be in increasing the value of his holdings. He was looking for profit.
Now when I start to think about how super rich investment-schemers have acted in recent years on Wall Street, where they contrived plans for profit that duped those who entrusted their money to them, I still become a bit agitated. There have been a number of movies about that financial crisis and how it came about. And, I know that it’s not really a kind thought, but when I began to learn how these moguls twisted and turned regulations circumvented regulation and ethical practice, I wonder if the outer darkness is not a place to where such dishonest Ponzi’s and mortgage derivative re-packager should be cast. … I guess that is a bit agitated.
But in the parable, it seems that was what the business man wanted. Profit from those he gave the money. Maybe that makes him more like us though than like the Wall Street gurus.
One of the dangers of transposing a story from the Bible time to the current day is that things can easily be taken out of context and easily manipulated. This removes the integrity of the scriptural text.
Sometimes when I hear sermons created with a very closed, conservative theological perspective, I notice how the preacher actually takes things out of context to push the point he or she is trying to make. That makes me a bit agitated too.
If the person listening doesn’t have much background in theology and the teachings of faith, when they hear this biased point of view, they take it as the actual teachings of the Church. That often misrepresents to the public what the Bible actually says and gives the Church and theology what I would call some pretty bad press. The media often use that to decry religion and faith.
So, in the case of the scripture today, I do not think it is about Wall Street or about investing – notwithstanding my thought about calling high-level white-collar crooks to account.
When the master returned, he settled accounts with his servants. The one to whom he had given five talents reported a one-hundred per-cent return and gave back ten talents. And similarly with servant to whom two talents had been given.
“Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will put you in charge of much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
If we return to the other notion of talents, we can look at the parable from another perspective. When we think about riches, there may be parts of our lives that hold riches at a different kind of level. We may not at first see it that way, but there are elements of ourselves that are saved within that we can invest. Much is given to each of us: a capacity to care, to empathize with others, feelings that inform us about life and about the experiences of our sisters and brothers, a capacity to understand and to forgive, to give hope, bring acceptance.
The question is how to identify those coins of the realm, the realm being the kingdom of God. Maybe it is not solely about actual finances in the parable but about this deeper level where each person can participate based on the God-given riches bestowed on each individual.
So then it would appear that the two servants who returned a profit were equally rewarded by the master. The measure was not by the amount of the talents. The measure was that something had been done. Both of these two servants had enough trust in their master to be able to take a wisely calculated risk. It would appear that the quality of their relationship with their master enabled them to venture forth, to risk, and to grow to make a positive difference in the Kingdom.
On the other hand, it would appear that the other servant was paralyzed in his relationship. It seems to me that that relationship was founded upon fear. Although there is no such direct indication in the parable except the servant’s words: “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you do not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow.”
That is the third servant’s opinion about the master. He was afraid and became paralyzed and he hid any talent that he was given because of his fearfulness. The others were able to see beyond any fear to identify the talents and to build on those talents to develop more.
Think about it for a minute. First of all, fear in itself is not a bad thing. In fact fear can be a good thing. Fear tells us to get off the railway track when a train is headed toward us. Fear tells us, at the edge of the top of a building, to tread carefully. But a fear that paralyzes a person is not a good thing.
You can’t have a positive healthy relationship that is founded upon fear. If that is the dynamic of a social system then we have to deal with it but the relationship most certainly will not be healthy… as in the relationship of a people with a despot or dictator as their leader. It’s unavoidable until the time of an overthrow comes.
It seems to me that we should be on guard for when fear is used by any government or authority figure to control us. Take for example the rationalization for invading Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction that never were found. Be wary of how fear is used.
In spite of the master’s being an authority figure, the other two servants were able to function in a healthy manner with him. It appears that the relationship with the master even grew through the process. And they were given more.
It is the same in any relationship. If there is underlying fear in a relationship such as with a friend or loved one, you cannot speak freely, you cannot stand on solid ground to feel accepted for who you are.
And that I think is the teaching of the parable. Or that’s the direction that the parable points. We can discover more deeply who we are, as creatures of God, by letting go of fear and trusting in a goodness that we may not always be able to see or understand.
Maybe the parable is more about being called to love ones neighbour as oneself, as an example, and practising the business of daily life in that way.
Each person in her or his own way can explore life to find ways to put the qualities that they possess -- the person who they are -- into action.
And then, the Master’s response will be to say, “Well, done my good and faithful servant.” You began with little, but you will tend much because you have risked to learn and discover your relationship with one another and with the Master.
So the gift of this parable, it seems to me, is to see how letting go of fear is a crucial step into discovering what pays dividends in the journey of faith, in deepening our relationship with the Master, and in nurturing our relationships with others.
Maybe that too was what our Sunday school teacher was telling us all along.
The Rev'd W Glenn Empey