Matthew 25:14-30 – The 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – for November 13, 2011
“Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward…” (Matthew 25:22)
This is the Gospel According to (Not A) Saint Larry 22:12-23 . . .
12“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 13to one slave he gave five talents, to another two talents, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 14The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 15In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 16The one who had received the one talent went off and invested with the master’s stockbroker. 17After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 18Then 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.’ 19His 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.’ 20And 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.’ 21His 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.’ 22Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a kind-hearted fellow, generous to a fault, and always willing to share your wealth; 23so I was emboldened, and I purchased stock in Jerusalem Investments and lost everything. And you actually owe another half-talent to your broker . . .’”
Perhaps you’ve read a version of this story in Matthew 25:14-30 or Luke 19:12-27. Now you’ve read “part” of the Gospel of Larry’s story.
The Gospels have different versions of the parables, along with variations on the miracle stories, prayers, pronouncements, healing accounts and when or where Jesus did certain things.
Matthew 22:1-14’s wedding banquet parable (compared to Luke 14:16-24) includes a dramatically different ending that—some would argue—changes the nature of the wedding banquet tale.
Another “easy” example: why don’t Matthew and Luke agree on what Jesus said about the poor?
- Matthew: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
- Luke: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
The simple addition of “in spirit” is a not-so-simple perspective shift.
Since Matthew and Luke (along with buddies Mark and John) play loose with Jesus’ parables and statements and more, why can’t I?
The Parable of the Talents could be summarized as a judgment story, a way of understanding that the end-of-the-world is near. Some will be rewarded (because of their actions) and others punished (because of their actions/inactions.) It is placed within the lectionary* when the scripture lessons emphasize judgment. The end of Ordinary Time and start of Advent are fraught with apocalyptic hints and hammer blows.
But most of my use of the parable of the talents has focused less on judgment and more on encouragement. The first two Gospel “slaves” are darn good examples of using money to make more money. In churches I’ve served, I’ve told this parable as a prelude to fundraising. I’ve known pastors who happily use the talents parable for the annual budget drive. The five and three talent fellows are great cheerleaders for inviting folks to make a financial commitment. I’ll bet you, or someone you know, has used the talents parable by literally providing money to church members. A kid gets $5, buys ingredients, makes chocolate chip cookies (with walnuts, of course), and sells ‘em. He or she earns $10 and gives it back to the church. A congregation could dole out money to eager laity and double (or triple or quadruple) the initial investment.
Take a talent and use your talents! Give money, make money! Everyone dares, everyone shares! I could go on and on with all the snappy slogans influenced by Mr. Five Talents and Mr. Three Talents. Not once, as money is raised for a church, would judgment be mentioned. Mr. One Talent and his buried bundle are ignored.
Inspired by different versions, I decided to view this parable from more than a go-earn-money or some-will-be-punished interpretation. The story’s uncomplicated nature irks me. Two guys do good (and never say anything nasty about their master). They are rewarded. One cautiously hides cash (whilst grumbling about his master’s vengeful nature) and spends the rest of his life in the “outer darkness.”
What if Mr. One Talent takes a risk (like the others) and fails? What if, instead of bad-mouthing his “boss,” he makes an honest, complimentary statement about his benefactor’s generosity? That makes the scenario a tad more complicated, no longer two upstanding citizens and one low-life jerk.
What would the boss/master/judge do in my new version? Regardless of the answer, isn’t it foolish to “change” this parable? It can be used in a positive way to motivate a community of believers. Agree or disagree with God as “The Holy Punisher,” Christians shouldn’t avoid wrestling with that common Biblical position.
And yet right now I don’t feel like being a cheerleader for talents or a purveyor of impending gloom. Some of the hardest decisions I’ve made about relationships in my life involve a variation of Mr. One Talent. Most people aren’t “heroes” like Mr. Five Talent (who gets to be “in charge of many things…”). While folks often bury the money and/or their heads in the sand and blame others for their actions, there are those who really try, and fail. Then what? Here, I don’t care what God would do**. What will I do? In the complicated and ambiguous Prodigal Son parable, I don’t wonder if God likes or doesn’t like the father, younger son and older son. I wonder why I—and people I know—are often like the father (too generous) or the younger son (fancy words, bad decisions) or the older son (judgmental and self-righteous). We are all good. We are all bad.
I’m often like my re-envisioned Mr. One Talent. I try. Sometimes I fail. How ‘bout you? In the Gospel According to (Not A) Saint Larry 23:12-23, we really should add a few more verses to conclude the parable. In Matthew (and Luke), Mr. One Talent is hurled into the outer darkness as the story ends.
Have you been like or known others like my Mr. One Talent?
If so, how would you conclude my story? What might happen next . . .
*If you don’t know what a lectionary is, ignore this and keep reading…you’ll be fine (though, here’s a swell definition from my colleagues in the Disciples of Christ denomination).
**Not really true!