This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
CHURCH OF ENGLAND AT LAST VOTES FOR WOMEN BISHOPS
13 Watch therefore, for you don’t know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
14 “For it is like a man, going into another country, who called his own servants, and entrusted his goods to them. 15 To one he gave five gold coins, to another two, to another one; to each according to his own ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 Immediately he who received the five coins went and traded with them, and made another five 17 In the same way, he also who got the two gained another two. 18 But he who received the one went away and dug in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
19 “Now after a long time the lord of those servants came, and reconciled accounts with them. 20 He who received the five coins came and brought another five, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five gold coins. Behold, I have gained another five besides them.’
21 “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
22 “He also who got the two coins came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two gold coins. Behold, I have gained another two besides them.’
23 “His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
24 “He also who had received the one coin came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. 25 I was afraid, and went away and hid your coin in the earth. Behold, you have what is yours.’
26 “But his lord answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I didn’t sow, and gather where I didn’t scatter. 27 You ought therefore to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back my own with interest. 28 Take away therefore the coin from him, and give it to him who has the ten coins. 29 For to everyone who has will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who doesn’t have, even that which he has will be taken away. 30 Throw out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
This isn’t a story about entrepreneurial capitalism, although it takes it for granted that the owner of an enterprise wants to see profit. Rather, it uses the taken-for-granted desire for commercial profit to make a devastating point about religious teaching. The master of faith leaves teaching with his servants. What are they to do with it? In the context of the story the timid, lazy, unadventurous servant who hides it in the ground is manifestly inferior to those who put it to use. But in the hstory of religions and even of Christianity, the founder’s teaching is often fossilised out of concern for its purity; and those who fight to preserve it immaculately consider themselves true believers. Jesus was saying that his teaching should be put to work in the world; communicated to new believers; adapted to meet new circumstances; developed by the experiences of new generations. Of course that involves the risk that the original tradition might get lost or adulterated.
That’s a real risk. I have such love for the teaching of Jesus that I would not want any of it changed. (Fundamentalists would have a point if only they stood by the teaching of Jesus rather than a mish-mash of cowboy Calvinism.) But then I ask myself whether the original teaching of Jesus is anywhere available. And the answer is no. The Gospels contain the teaching of Jesus as remembered, put to use, and developed in the first Chritian communities. The are themselves evidence of the evangelical entrepreneurism of Jesus’ first followers.
The invention of the printing press is significant in that for the first time in history it allowed all believers to compare the “original” revelation with its contemporary forms and fashions. The result was the Reformation of the 16th century, which began as an attempt to recapture the original purity of faith. That example serves to remind us that trying to recover the elusive original deposit, as if it had been hidden in the ground, is not possible, and has its own dangers, as the readiness of some reformers to approve the execution of opponents demonstrates.
If there is a choice between fearfully keeping the tradition in its untouched purity and putting it to work in the world, then Matthew’s Jesus (but is he the “real” Jesus?) has cast his vote in this parable. With all the risks of adulteration, this Jesus gives his teaching to his disciples so that it may grow and be fruitful in the lives of new communities. Indeed, it may be the case that this parable itself, in whole or part, reflects the creativity of these communities and their storytellers.
The interpretation of this parable as referring to personal “talents = abilities” is traditional but probably mistaken. The English word “talent s derived from the Greek “talanton” via this parable.