It is very important when reading the parables of Jesus not to always equate the master or king with God or Jesus. Sometimes there are similarities in the characters with the God but at other times the characters are entirely dissimilar to the God Jesus speaks of and reveals through his life. How we imagine God to be is very important for how we live our lives. It is very important for how we live in community as a congregation and how we relate to people who are not in our congregation. How do you imagine God? What do you think God is like? One interpretation of today’s parable could be that one of the characters totally mis-imagines God. He misunderstands the nature of God and the life God has given us.
In the parable of the talents a man goes away on a journey but first puts his servants in charge of his wealth. He gives five talents of gold to one slave, two to another and one talent to a third servant. At the price of gold today one talent could be worth almost five million Australian dollars. So, one would have got twenty five million dollars, another ten million dollars and the third five million dollars. These are incredible amounts of money. The master comes back after a long time and proceeds to settle his accounts with the servants. The servant with five talents, hands 10 talents back to the master, double what he received. The servant with two talents, hands four talents back to the master, double what he received. They are both commended as good and trustworthy and are further entrusted with charge of many things and enter the joy of the master. But the one who had been given one talent had been so afraid of losing his master’s money that he had hidden his talent in the ground. He gives it back to the master hoping that the master will be pleased to get what is his back safely, but the master has expected more. When no more is returned the master condemns the servant as wicked, lazy and worthless. The master orders the servant to be taken away and thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The parable reveals more dissimilarities with the kingdom of God than similarities. It illuminates the great contrast there is between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this earth, or the ways of this earth. The master in the parable bears little or no resemblance to the way Jesus has been speaking about God or himself. What is given to the servants is given in regards to their ability. But in the Gospels what Jesus gives to people is given freely irrespective of ability and without expectation of return. Jesus doesn’t give money to his disciples, quite the opposite, he sends them out without money. Jesus gives eternal life. Jesus speaks about entering the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, but this is not the reward for those who have done well or those who have lived a righteous holy life. The kingdom of heaven is opened to sinners, tax collectors, the undeserving, the outcast, the sick and the lame and the blind. The kingdom of heaven is opened to Samaritans, Romans, foreigners, gentiles. It is not a reward, it is an invitation to a journey, to a new life, to begin and enter now.
The servant imagines the master as a harsh man reaping where he does not sow and gathering where he does not scatter seed. Jesus is the opposite, Jesus sows and sows, scattering seeds of grace wastefully in the wind, to blow where they will and in response people come flocking to him. The similarity between the teaching of Jesus and the huge amounts of money the master gives is that the kingdom of heaven is priceless. Nothing is more wonderous, more valuable, more lavish than the eternal life Jesus freely gives. What the master says describes the unfairness of the world we live in: the rich getting richer and the poorer getting poorer, even from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The master orders that the ‘worthless’ slave be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be gnashing of teeth. This is not Jesus’ understanding of a loving God that he reveals in his teaching and ministry nor is it the way in the kingdom of heaven.
Perhaps the parable is telling us simply to be confident in God’s goodness, to not be afraid of God. God is generous and we are to be generous in love and grace, to use what has been entrusted to us, not to lock it away in fear for safe keeping. Perhaps the parable is encouraging us to do something great and incredible with what we have been given. To freely give as we have received.
What is given to us is good news for the world, wonderful news, life changing, life enabling news, far greater than any amount of gold or wealth. Will we keep on living the good news and being good news, or give it all up because we are afraid, because the world doesn’t seem to be getting any better? Shall we throw in the towel? Jesus has entrusted to us the secrets of the kingdom of heaven; secrets which look weak, insignificant and ineffectual against the might of empires and against the violence of this world and against the might of the dollar? But Jesus’ secrets bring abundant life.
At the beginning of time and at the end
you are God and I bless you.
At my birth and in my dying,
in the opening of the day and at its close,
in my waking and my sleeping
you are God and I bless you.
You are the first and the last,
the giver of every gift,
the presence without whom there would be
the life without whom there is no life.
Lead me to the heart of life’s treasure
that I may be a bearer of the gift.
Lead me to the heart of the present
that I may be a sharer of your eternal presence.
- from ‘Sounds of the Eternal’ by John Philip Newell
Photo; The Burren, County Clare, Republic of Ireland
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation