Today we read the parable of the talents. The way I want to look at this story is to subvert it.
As with other parables in Matthew I want to read this as a social comment to the hearers of the day.
This parable has traditionally been interpreted as a comment on the ‘end times’. The inference being that God is the landowner, we are the slaves and how we live our lives will be reflected in the ‘rewards’ we will earn in the ‘end times’.
What are the problems with this interpretation?
1. Would we want to describe God as harsh?
2. Would we want to picture God as absent?
3. Would we want to picture God as leaving all the work to slaves whilst reaping the benefits?
4. Would we want to picture God as enormously rich and wanting to get richer at the expense of others “reaping where one does not sow”?
Comments on the culture of the day
1. A Talent is specifically a unit of money. Please don’t try and interpret this parable to say that if God makes one good at singing, speaking, art, etc then use the gift! This is not a parable about using one’s abilities for God. It is a parable about moneymaking.
2. Biblical scholar John R. Donovan, S.J., tells us a single talent was equivalent to the wage of an ordinary worker for fifteen years. A talent was 3,000 shekels.
3. Burying one’s possessions was a common way of keeping them safe. This was normal practice in the time.
4. Those who make money were often seen as greedy and unscrupulous. Money making allowed the rich (in this case, the person who owned property and had much money) to get richer. This usually caused the hardship to the poor.
5. The landowner actually was asking the third slave to make money by investing. Usury was against God’s law. There are many references in the OT forbidding this. (eg. Ex. 22:25, Lev. 25:37, Neh. 5:10,11)
Where are we going to find God in this parable?
May I suggest in the third slave . . .
the one refusing to exhort from the poor and suffering greatly as a result
the one who refused to be caught up in the money making schemes of the world.
the one who is rejected and thrown out (the cross?)
Who should we strive to imitate?
Again may I suggest the third slave . . .
that we have the courage to resist the money making schemes of the day that disadvantage the poor and outcasts
that we follow God’s way even when we know it will cause us to be ostracized and rejected.
PS, An interesting exercise to do is to read the parable and whenever you see the words "The Master or landowner" substitute "The Emperor" or "Ceasar". You will be surprised how differently it sounds.