Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


A Different Take on the Talents

In tomorrow's Gospel reading, Jesus tells what is known as The Parable of the Talents, in which a master entrusts slaves with his wealth while he is away. Some use the master's money to make much more. One slave buries it in the ground afraid of his master's ire if he loses anything.

Dylan has a different and very interesting take on this passage at her lectionary blog. I have enjoyed reading her reflections from time to time and was glad to get to know her through the Ministry Innovator's meeting I attended in New Orleans recently. Dylan says in part,
This Sunday's gospel is yet another reason to get out of the habit of seeing all of Jesus' parables as allegories in which one character represents God or Jesus. That isn't what's happening here. Take a hard look at the behavior of the master: he's an absentee landlord who doesn't do any work himself, but lives off of the labor of his slaves. Take a look at the behavior this master wants of his slaves: the profit-making that the master demands would be seen in Jesus' culture would of necessity come at the expense of other more honest people; it would be seen as greedy and grasping rather than smart or virtuous. The master tells the slave whom he treats most harshly that the punishment is specifically for refusing to break God's commandment against usury (Matthew 25:27), a practice consistently condemned in both the Hebrew bible and the New Testament. And the Greek word for "talent" very specifically means a unit of money; it has no relationship whatsoever to the word for an ability, so this is NOT a parable about us being the best we can be, no matter how much our culture of achievement wants to twist it into that. There are versions of that message that can be helpful, but it just isn't what the parable is about.

So what's the message of the story, if it isn't about us using the abilities God gave us? Jesus gives it to us explicitly in verse 29: "to all who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away." In other words, "the rich get richer, and the destitute lose everything."

Is the behavior of the master in the parable something that God would commend, let alone imitate? Is this kind of behavior what Jesus expects of God's people? Heck no! If you've got any doubts of that, read what comes immediately after this story: read the prophesy (it isn't a parable) of the sheep and the goats, which tells us that when the Son of Man comes, judgment will not be on the basis of how much money we made, or for that matter on how religious we were or whether we said a "sinner's prayer," but rather on whether we saw that the least of our sisters and brothers in the human family, whether in or out of prison, had food, clothing, and health care. We serve Jesus himself to the extent that we do these things, and we neglect Jesus himself to the extent that we don't.



  • At 11/15/2008 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm not so sure I agree. The gospel reading actually says that the master was going on a journey and so he summoned his servants to give instructions. That doesn't sound like an irresponsible absentee landlord. It sounds like the boss, who is usually there, is going on vacation is trusting his servants to take care of business while he is gone. That's a big difference than an absentee landlord profiting from the toil of others.

  • At 11/15/2008 12:07 PM, Blogger Tom Sramek, Jr. said…

    My take is going to be slightly different than Dylan's. I think that one of the barriers to giving as much money as we normally might is that we think that God is like the absentee landlord, "reaping where [he] does not sow." In other words, what's mine is mine. That is reinforced by our culture. If what is mine is really God's, that mandates an entirely different attitude towards "our" money.

  • At 11/17/2008 8:26 AM, Anonymous kenny said…

    Burying our gifts in the ground is equivalent to throwing it away. We may not have as much as someone else but we have to do the work God calls us to. God equips us each differently. Seeing as how we are not God and not able to give ourselves the things He can, it is our calling to use those gifts and not let our wish for some "better" gift get in the way of utilizing what we do have.

  • At 11/17/2008 8:34 AM, Blogger King of Peace said…

    I posted Dylan's thoughts on this parable as I respect her as one who is well-trained, thoughtful close reader of the text and I was thinking about her different take on the text. In the end, she did not persuade me. My take for Sunday is now online here: Risky Business.


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