Saturday, January 17, 2015

Parable of the Talents

Joanne Solis-Walker gave a challenge to service at The Gathering based on the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. She was especially interested in the useless servant who is cast into outer darkness.

1. I know she found this parable puzzling, because Jesus is generally negative toward the accumulation of wealth (e.g., Matt. 6:24). Indeed, if we look at the context of this parable both here in Matthew and in Luke, it is one that is against the type of person who hoards wealth for him or herself. In Luke 19, the story of Zacchaeus comes right before Luke's version of this parable. Zacchaeus was someone who "took out what he did not put in" and "reaped what he didn't sow."

Here in Matthew, the story is immediately followed by the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, where those who are not saved are those who do not help those in need.

Joanne's focus was on the fact that this useless servant did not truly know what his master was like. But if you ever listen to the recording, she tactfully sidestepped what this parable cannot be about. This is not a parable about investment banking or a capitalist manifesto. That is an anachronistic reading that gets what we want to hear from the passage.

2. We should always keep in mind that most parables weren't allegories. That is to say, a parable often had only one or two points to it. I'm not saying you have to limit your preaching to that one or two points. I'm saying that most parables were not intended to be read as detailed allegories. There are points you can get from a parable that weren't the point.

What might we take of God from this parable? It is clearly a context of judgment in Matthew. This picture of the God who currently is absent but will be angry when he returns should not be taken too far. He is not really absent and his anger is a picture of the ultimate destiny for those who are faithless.

3. What does it mean to take his money to the bank? First, as Joanne pointed out, the parable pictures his money, not mine. And what does that money represent in context? My income? My "talents"? It is so easy for us to go there, because we live in a monetary economy. And of course we should use the resources God has given us wisely, as good stewards. That's just good theology. As Wesley put it "Earn all you can; save all you can [that is, buy the cheapest brand]; give [away] all you can."

But what comes right after this parable? It is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. And what is the point there? That those who have not used what they have to help the needy--the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, will be the ones judged! Amazingly, what it means to invest God's resources in the parable is to use the material possessions you have to help others!

What a truly subversive parable! It says, in effect, that those who do not share what God has given them--those who bury God's stuff in the ground (or in their own bank account)--are useless servants. By contrast, those who use what God has given them to help others are like those who invest God's money in a bank. Great will be their reward in the kingdom.

But those who hoard God's stuff, like by stashing it in a literal bank, are like the useless servant who buried God's stuff in the ground.

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