And so his servants eagerly rolled up their sleeves. It was their chance to shine, and they knew what he wanted for the company. They learned how to cozy up to the Federal Trade Commission and minimize their criminal risk, and how to pay politicians for their elections, and the media reported prosperity for all, as they hailed the steady climb of the almighty markets. Those entrusted with 2 talents made 4, and those with 5 talents turned it into 10. It was all working, and they sat in the lap of “abundance” more and more. No one said anything about how the loans they made weren’t backed up by much of anything, and practically no one knew how the company stood to gain even more if the CDS’s were defaulted on – basically they were a trade that has a high probability of doing nothing, but a small possibility of producing a nice return. Upside with no downside. (Wikipedia)
But the one who had received the one talent went off and hid it in a plain old savings account, in his neighborhood bank.
After a long while the banker returned from his cruise to settle accounts. The ones who had doubled their money in the markets, and by making loans to new home-owners, were praised by the bank owner. ‘Well done good and trustworthy vice presidents. You have been trustworthy with just a few of my billions, I will put in charge of many more.’ “Come on in and share my happiness.” (Edward Sweitzer trans.)
But the one who received the one talent was not so lucky. Master, I knew that you were a harsh man and you didn’t care about bending the rules to earn more and more money, even from those you didn’t know, and in neighborhoods you’ve never set foot. So I was afraid to lose it and I went and put it in a conservative savings account where I live. But I’m sorry to say, because the bank defaulted and was closed in the Great Recession, and my house is under water, it’ll be a while before I can pay you back.
But the rich owner said, you “lazy” bum. I knew you didn’t have it in you. If you knew how I was passionate about making money, why didn’t you learn how to invest, and bundle CDS’s in the market, and show me you’re worthy of living like a king? I’m sorry, but you’ll have to give your house to J. P. Stanley Sachs over here with the 10 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.” And another thing, you’re fired.
How do we view God in this gospel parable today? Although it is about money – a Talent, by the way, equaled at least 15 years of annual earnings – still, the purpose of parables, is to teach us, and challenge us, about the kind of God that is revealed in Jesus.
This is one of only two parables in Matthew that do not begin with the familiar, “The kingdom of God is like…” introduction. Does it make a difference? Is the rich owner to be compared to God, and to Jesus, in this parable, or not? There are so many ways to turn it and see it, yet, nothing seems to add up in the parable, if you know what I mean, to make a coherent picture of who God is! If the rich owner is God, the analogy is often made to the generosity of a God giving us good gifts, like the 5 Talents, an amazingly large sum. But how does this square with a God who punishes a guy, who only tried to hold on to the master’s money and not risk losing it. Especially when you compare it to the parable shortly before this about the Unforgiving Servant who was also entrusted with large sums of the master’s money, and though he squandered it, wasn’t thrown into the outer darkness, but gets pardoned – instead of being punished, was given generous grace! And, turning the parable another way, we find that the one who hid the money in the ground, was only performing what was the standard practice of the day. Believe it or not, people did bury their money for safe keeping. While “usury,” on the other hand, investing your money with a banker to make interest, was expressly prohibited in the Hebrew Bible. And so, as we try to get a handle on who God is, nothing adds up in this story.
But, in trying to read this parable with fresh eyes and an open heart, it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks, when I heard the rich owner say, “For to those who have, more will be given and they will have an abundance; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” In our context today then, the rich owner is just the opposite of what Jesus has been preaching throughout this gospel. This might very well be the story of greed in the world, told through the down to earth example of a very unfair bank owner, who rigged the system in his favor, invited in all those who wanted to play his game, and didn’t care about the losers, in fact, blamed them, called them lazy, and deserving of what they got. At least on one level, it’s a parable about the Great Recession we’re in, and how our society is stuck.
It’s no coincidence either, that this story falls right before next week’s gospel for the last Sunday in Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday, and the story about the separation of the sheep and the goats. Today’s story is really just Part I of a two part episode. Stay tuned! In next week’s gospel, Jesus reveals the real judgment, reminding and amazing us once again, who God is. Jesus welcomes the sheep -- those who care for the ones who have lost their savings, their pensions, and their homes, while the goats who ignored them, get anything but eternal happiness!
Jesus’ practice has been to reach out to the marginalized, and bless the poor in spirit, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. He never preached that ‘the rich deserve to get richer, and those that have nothing should lose everything.’ You might hear that from a pulpit preaching the Prosperity Gospel. But the God we know from Jesus’ words and deeds, is a God who welcomes all servants of healing and loving, giving and sharing. And that’s a whole different banquet of joy than the invitation to come on in and share the happy spoils of the rich owner. If we know nothing else from Jesus’ teaching, we know that his giving knows no ending, and that it is his love for us, that is a deep well of endless riches – a whole different banquet! Come on in and share the joy of this feast!