Gospel Reading, Sunday 13 November: A second look at the talents
Gospel Reading, Sunday 13 November: A second angle
The most common understanding of the parable in Matthew 25:14-30 is that we must use our talents or suffer the consequences. It is indeed important that we use our God-given talents. However, “talent” at the time was simply a large sum of money – enough money to live for about 15 years. There is also the jarring note that the “master” in the parable is described as a hard man, who reaps where he has not sown and who gathers where he has not scattered.
We could however point out another theme. Society at the time was not capitalist-driven, and the parable could be seen today as an uncritical endorsement of capitalism.
The following example of capitalism today is a true story. You can find their own story on http://www.donegalinternational.net/. (There is no indication of why the company is given that name.) The “About Us” page describes the director as “an expert in debt restructuring”. The “Zambian Debt Project” page offers their account of good capitalist management. In 1999, the company, based in the British Virgin Islands, bought a “distressed asset” for $3.28 million. This was a loan of $15 million taken out by Zambia in 1979, on which few repayments were made. After various negotiations, in 2005 Donegal International went to court in the UK. In 2007 they claimed the sum of $55,568,545.74, including interest and penalties. “You entrusted me with $3 million; here are $52 million more that I have made!”
The court awarded Donegal “only” $15.5 million.
Our Lectionary makes the parable begin with the words “The kingdom of heaven is like …”. These words are not here in St Matthew’s gospel – they have been transplanted from the previous parable of last week, of the wise and foolish young women waiting for the bridegroom. The Greek simply has “As for a man …” The first two servants play their master’s game, and reap the rewards. The third servant refuses to comply, and buried the money (the recommended best way to keep it safe). Interest on loans was problematic. He is thrown out into the dark where there is weeping and grinding of teeth.
The parable immediately following tells of people to whom it is said, “Come you blessed of my father … I was hungry and you gave me food ..”
The following chapter tells of a Servant who has nowhere to lay his head, yet he has fed the hungry, and he has pointed out the hardness of religious leaders. He risks far more than a large sum of money. He experiences great fear and anguish in a garden. The little he has is taken from him, and he is cast into the darkness outside the city, where there is much weeping and grinding of teeth. Following this, he is called to join in his Father’s happiness.