“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then 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.’ His 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.’ And 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.’ His 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.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten 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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Let’s take a walk through this parable. First, the master leaves and gives money to his slaves to make the master more money while he is gone. Five talents, two talents, and one talent. A talent in Jesus’ day was a hefty precious metal, usually gold or silver, that weighed about 100 pounds. One talent was said to be worth a year’s wages of an ordinary person. A talent, therefore, was an inconceivable amount of money. This means that the master was very, very wealthy. The master goes to his yacht to cruise around the Mediterranean while his slaves make him even more money.
So up next on our tour of the parable are the two slaves who work and work while the master is away to make more money for the master. They double their profits. I was wondering what exactly it meant to increase your money so significantly in the first century and as I was digging I found some disturbing things. There were two common ways for the wealthy to make more money during this time. The first way was through currency exchange at the Temple. You would lend money to the Temple that they would then exchange at an exorbitant rate with people, usually Jews, visiting Jerusalem from all over the world. This might make you remember a little story about Jesus, a whip, and some upside down tables…
The second way for the wealthy to make significant money during this time was through investing in loans to local farming families who were struggling in the declining economy of the time. Most loans had huge returns for the investors because the interest rates were between 25 and 50 percent! These loans made money one way or the other. Either the farmer would pay the interest on the loan or they would foreclose and the investor would gain their property. (Stan Duncan – Blog) So when the parable says that these slaves invested their vast sums of money, the most likely outcome was that they built up their master’s wealth by exploiting others.
The third slave however takes a different route and opts out of his master’s plans. There are several ways that this parable has been read historically. Some claim that this slave was lazy. This is a very capitalistic reading which demands that the only value a person has is in how much money they make for themselves or others. I have also heard this slave called scared. This was one of the primary readings I heard growing up, where pastors would try and allegorize this parable to say that talents are really skills we give to God instead of being about money.
However there is a third reading that comes from liberation theologians and is becoming increasingly popular as people take more and more exception with the traditional readings of this parable. The third reading says that the third slave intentionally disobeyed his master. The third slave sees the way that the master makes wealth, calling him “harsh” and saying that “he reaps where he did not sow, and gathers where he did not scatter seed.” The third slave looks around at the possibilities for making money either through currency exchange or loans and decided that he could not go along with these immoral practices.
The master finally returns from who knows where after who knows how long and immediately demands an accounting of his money. The slaves who made the master rich, you’ll notice, do not get a vacation or even some of the money as a reward but rather are given more work to do so that the master can make even more money! And then the master turns to the third slave and severely punishes him because he did not make him any money! The greatest sin in the eyes of the master.
So the parable ends. The master is rich. The two hard working slaves now have to work harder to maintain their position or end up like the third slave, stripped and kicked out. Which character looks the most like Jesus in this parable? I would advocate that Jesus is lifting up the third slave as the example for us to live by. I say this because this is the same Jesus telling this parable as the Jesus who says blessed are the poor and the Jesus who says whatever you do for the least of these you do for me and the Jesus who said I came to proclaim good news to the poor and set the oppressed free.
I advocate that this parable is not about working harder or better or smarter. It is not about how much money you give to the church or how you use your skills for God. To me this parable is asking us how we are engaging with the violent and oppressive systems in our world today. How do we spend our money in a time when billionaires have increased their wealth while people are dying in a pandemic? How do we value human life, by the hours they work or the love of God in them? Are our actions lifting up our community or are they oppressing others?
This year during the biggest shopping times in our country, I would encourage you to buy local instead of giving money to billionaires. Shop at the mom ‘n’ pop stores if you are able. If you have retirement savings or stocks, try and invest them in green energy and in companies that support living wages. Use your money in furtherance of your faith. Do not let money tell you how your faith should look or who should be deserving. Let’s divest of the violent systems of empire and capitalism and instead invest in building a community filled with grace and love and abundance for all. There is no community I would rather be with to work for welcome to all, for safety to all, for love and grace to be given freely to all. Let us opt out of the violent systems and help build up a world filled with justice and love. Can I get an amen?