Updated: Feb 3
Jesus said, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 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.’ 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.’ 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.’ 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.’ 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; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 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? 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. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
The is the Gospel reading selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for Year A, Proper 28, the twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost. It will next be read aloud by a priest in church on Sunday, November 15, 2017. It is important because it addresses being given the talents of the Holy Spirit and one’s use of those in God’s service, as told in the Parable of the Talents (or Minas).
In reference to this reading, it is one that I feel is most important to grasp. I have posted on WordPress about the meaning of the parable of the talents twice before. Once on two previous blogs I had.
They both address my feelings on this allegory told by Jesus; and the posting on Bus Stop Sermons addresses this Gospel reading being joined with the other readings on that Sunday – the prophetess Deborah and Paul’s encouragement for vigilance. That was in October 2014, when Proper 28 fell during “stewardship month,” so few sermons were preached on any of the readings, although “talents” was a lead-in to pointing out how much savings the congregation was sitting on, not giving all they could to the church.
It must be clearly understood that this reading has absolutely nothing to do with money, just as Jesus was not trying to preach to Jews how to build silos to store grains, nor was he teaching how to store lamp oil for future needs. The use of “talents” must be seen as the immensity of power that one receives when blessed by God’s (the Master’s) gifts of the Holy Spirit.
All that glisters is not gold. (The Merchant of Venice)
The Greek word “talanta” is plural number of the word “talanton,” which actually refers to a weight of silver or gold – roughly 75 pounds. This weight equates to about 6,000 silver denarii, but increases to 180,000 denarii (30x more) if the weight was in gold. There is nothing in the words of this parable that differentiates this weight of value as one or the other. Nowhere does the words “gold” or “silver” appear. This means a “talent” is meant to be understood as a general statement of value, which (as the money commercials for silver say) “Will never be worth nothing!” Still, a “talent” should be read generally as a precious commodity, one in which time usually yields increased value to fixed amounts held.
For this writing, I will try not to repeat what I have already posted; but because I strongly want to expound on a greatly ignored and misunderstood (or misrepresented) parable, I will add a few tidbits that I now see exposed.
(Isn’t it wonderful how re-reading Scripture always has something new to offer?)
First of all, we are presented a translation in verse 14 (the first verse of this reading), where we read: “Jesus said, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them.” The Greek text literally states, “Just like for a man going on a journey called their own servants” , “and delivered to them the possessing of him.”
As two segments, the implication of the masculine plural “tous” allows me to see this as a statement of God using man as His servants, so “man going on a journey” becomes not the Master, but the Apostle(s). The journey will be a commitment of servitude, and that service to the LORD will lead to their being called “slaves.”
By reading the segment that says, “delivered to them the possessing of him,” this makes clear (in Christian ideology terms) the possession of the Holy Spirit. Because these three men have promised to serve the Master, that allowed them the addition (“and”) “of him” within. The Master never left them as they journeyed; he was in their hearts and minds. That presence means the three became elevated in Spirit by the gifts of “talents.”
Second, when we see the talents have been dispersed unequally (five to one, two to another, and one to the third), we read: “to each according to his ability.” The impact of those words makes one think in terms of “how much the slaves can handle.” This is not the only way the word “dynamin” should be read.
For such a “servant” to have some level of proven “ability” with money, it begs the question: “If the slave was so able to wisely invest money, why is he a slave and not a rich man in the first place, with his own slaves?” This possibility becomes the most likely, after one sees the “man on a journey” is a volunteer for God, sacrificing self-serving goals for the Father. Therefore, all three men should be equally able.
I imagine three children of a father being given their allowance. To the nine- year-old the father hands a five dollar bill. To the seven-year-old he hands a two dollar bill; and to the four-year old he hands a one dollar bill. After the father walks away, I’m sure the conversation between young boys would be something like this:
“Hey!” said the seven-year-old, “How come you get five dollars and I just get two?”
“Its cause you’re just little!” replies the nine-year-old.
Meanwhile, the four-year-old looks at the one dollar bill and says, “I’m going to buy lots of candy with my money.”
None of them could spend any of their money, since the father left. Without any ability to do anything with pieces of paper, there would no way the boys could spend it (much less invest it).
This is why “according to his ability” means what each had done to get the allowance – through chores and responsibilities that had been previously demonstrated. It has more to do with what one has earned, than being a statement of how able one is to run a farm or a household with land.
In the scenario of three sons, the older boy would have done more work than the younger boys. They were given an allowance that was proportionate, based on age. Thus, the nine-year-old was able to do more work and it was that experience that made him wiser, thus more capable of earning more. The youngest would have done the least, and therefore would be the least experienced mentally and be less physically adept. His lack of age and maturity would make him incapable of knowing how to volunteer for extra work (for pay) and he would not know how to do any unlearned work (for any bonuses that might come with pay).
This comparison to children and those immature of minds and bodies does not work as a comparison to this parable, once one sees the reaction the Master has when the slave given one talent does not produce a yield. When we hear the Master say to the one given one talent, “You wicked and lazy slave!”, we are told all three were equal mentally and physically. There were no lowered expectations from this third slave.
That third slave is then addressed based on the mind-body equality of the other two. By being called “Wicked” (from “Ponēre“) this becomes a statement of personal thought and the brain’s control. By being called “lazy” (from “oknēre“), that becomes a statement of personal effort. The capitalization of “Wicked” and the lower-case spelling of “lazy” is a subtle way of saying, “Where the brain leads, the body follows.”
That man admitted he had been “afraid” (“phobētheis”) and his only action was based on fear. That act was “to hide” (“ekrypsa”) the talent given him. To admit to burying it in the “ground” (“gē”), he confessed to feeling more secure with worldly values, than the spiritual gift he had been given.
This view of the Master’s, based on the misuse of a talent, says that the three slaves were the equivalents of people saying they served God, with all their heart and all their mind.
The first slave is then the example of one who had studied the Laws, prayed for guidance in understanding, gave a fair share of his wealth to the poor, raised his family to be faithful, and shared his knowledge of faith with others of like mind, who sought answers.
The second slave also studies the Laws and prayed for guidance, but he had no money, so he had no family, and had no influence because of that.
The third slave simply memorized the Laws, well enough to become wealthy from it, but that was his only positive. Otherwise, he prayed loudly in public, so his prayers were answered by those listening on earth (not God); he invested his wealth in the Temple, so he became richer as a business associate; he married for pleasure, to a woman only pretentiously faithful; and he never had children (at least of faith, none who could not see through his façade).
This unspoken way of seeing the Jews of Jesus’ day makes the allegory of the parable have real dimensions that helps to explain the symbolism of the Master giving different amounts of wealth to his slaves. While this view is not to be taken as “the Gospel,” it shows how the works of the slaves merited the dispersal of talents. Since many of the parables and stories told by Jesus were intended to slap the faces of those “wicked and lazy slaves” that were the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and Temple priests, this would then be how to see the one slave who did nothing to take a talent and make it grow.
Understanding this parable in that light then makes it possible to direct that light on today’s Christians. There are those who do the works necessary to warrant multiple gifts of the Holy Spirit. There are those who do what they can in limited circumstances, which thereby limits how many gifts they can use, so nothing goes to waste (their ability). Those are the ones whom the Master says, “Well done!” (“Eu“)
Then, there are those who know Scripture, but for all the wrong reasons. They are the ones who are afraid of losing what they can gain in the world, simply by telling people how to find God. They could “witness for Christ,” but there is no money to be made from that sacrifice. Some might call this group the “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
When the Master told that last slave, “You ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest,” this points the finger of guilt towards the ones who claim their success is proof that it had been given to them by God.
The beneficiary is “God.”
While those Christians may contribute to have beautiful churches to call their own, no church has ever saved one soul from damnation (as only people can). This means it would be better to give “one talent” of cash ($19.8k in going silver rates; $2.34 million if gold) to a local cab company, which would then instruct their drivers to wait outside the places of the night, with instructions to drive the guilty of sin (free of charge) to that man’s church. They the drunken bodies could be dumped on the church steps, so that maybe one in a million would actually go inside and pray to God for help. That one soul would then represent some R.O.I. as interest on the worth some man reaped from professing to believe in God. Instead, the analogy is that the wicked slave just paid bills for his or her church, which kept the lights and A/C on, the water bill paid, and a new roof in place every 20 years, while writing all that off on his income tax.
Finally, I would like to comment on the condemnation, where the Master gave the order, “Throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This gives the impression that God has some “bouncer angels” that stand by His side, when He comes to visit the wicked and lazy. It gives the impression that God punishes people for evil deeds. That is wrong, simply because it takes the actions of a weak soul and makes God seem like a vengeful deity.
The word translated as “Throw” is “ekbalete,” which is fully shown as “throw out,” or “cast out,” or “banish.” It means “to drive out,” which makes this command not for someone else to administer, as it is done by the Master speaking. The slave immediately became an “outcast,” based on self actions (or inactions).
With this parable from the Gospel of Matthew being linked with the epistle of Paul, which spoke of sleeping at night and being in darkness, as opposed to true Apostles being “sons of light” and “sons of day,” the same use of metaphor is stated in this expulsion. All three slaves of the Master had the benefit of light and day, from which their talent(s) could grow and expand. However, because the one slave “hid” his talent “in the ground,” he covered that light up.
This is then an enactment of the English proverb, “to hide one’s light under a bushel.” That saying was rooted in Matthew 5:15, which states: “nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” Because the one slave was more in love with the darkness and drunkenness of the earthly realm, he was the one who sealed his own fate by his confession of his deed. He got what he preferred. He sought an external light (the meaning of “exoteron,” or “outer”), rather than one that shines within his or her own heart and mind. Unfortunately, that external illusion of light is the darkness of mortal death.
When God, as the Master said, “Where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth,” an alternative translation of “weeping” is “lamentation.”
No, say it ain’t so! Make this failed election go away!
As Jeremiah wrote of the cries and tears that came from the Jews who had lost their precious land to invaders, the “weeping” was known by God. It is the moans and cries of those who realized their mistakes too late. God had ‘been there, done that’ with the Jews and Israelites, who wept and gnashed greatly; so Jesus could safely project that was the way of all losers – speaking for the Father.
The “gnashing (or grinding) of teeth” is what people do when they are angry, in one or two ways. Either anger causes teeth to grind because one faces a complete loss of control, when one wants to do something other than what one is being forced to do; or the gnashing of teeth comes when one has no one to blame but oneself. <Cue picture of Homer Simpson saying “Doh!”>
Both scenarios equally applied in this man’s case. Therefore, the Master simply pointed out what people bring upon themselves, where the 20/20 of hindsight means lots of tears and eroded enamel are typical. It is that fuzzy line between prophecy and high probability.
The moral of the story is to put oneself into this man’s position, where God presents one with a talent to use wisely. Then, rather than taking the money and running (or digging a hole in the ground and burying it), one needs to prove to God you will not waste away a good thing. A talent is a heavy responsibility (75 pounds); but you have to bear that load well and say, “Thank you Sir. May I have another?”