I don’t know about any of you, but I feel like I’ve heard today’s Gospel Reading preached on about a gazillion times. It’s not just because it’s in the Lectionary, but it’s also one of those ‘standbys’ that offer a lot of mileage for sermons. Especially when the preacher starts comparing the talents in the parable to our own individual talents. And no matter how many times it gets pitched that way, it still seems to be somewhat affective…even if it is pitching underhand.
The problem is that this sort of interpretation is kind of surface—it’s a bit sentimental, really, and it misses a wealth of things that can be found in the passage.
The parable starts with Jesus telling of a master who leaves his estate to the care of his slaves. Before he leaves, he gives one slave 5 talents, another he gives 2 and a third he gives one talent.
Now, just so we’re clear—while this might seem extremely unequal, we have to remember that the talent was worth a ridiculous amount of money. So, to compare these three slaves would be like talking about the inequality between billionaires…
Well, as we know, when the Master returns he finds that the one who had 5 talents had done some investing and doubled the Master’s money. This makes the Master very happy, and he rewards the slave.
The second slave had also done some investing, and had also doubled the Master’s money. He also makes the Master very happy, and rewards him.
The third slave, however, was not quite as forward thinking as his colleagues. He had taken the Master’s money and hidden it. Not only that, but when the Master asked about it, the slave insults the Master to his face!?
Either the Master really isn’t very nice, or this slave had a terribly skewed image of him. But considering the generosity of the Master to his slaves in the beginning, I’d have to assume that the slave has the wrong idea. However, our perspective might be different after what happens to the slave at the end of the parable. It’s almost as bad as throwing a guy out of a wedding feast because he isn’t wearing the right clothes…
But before we completely start trying to creatively dismiss the judgment part of the parable, we have to remember that parables are illustrations. They’re highly metaphorical and rarely have an exact correlation to reality. Also, this being a parable about eschatology (the end of the age), the metaphors are far more exaggerated. So, someone always ends up cast into the outer darkness…what can you do?
Another important thing to note is that the Gospel of Matthew is concerned about the Kingdom of God. We’re told that both John the Baptist and Jesus were preaching the coming of the Kingdom, and most of the parables and lessons of Jesus refer back to this Kingdom which is both “already and not yet”. So, when we read that the Master leaves his slaves in charge of his estate, we can begin to draw the conclusion that this is the Gospel: the promise of the Kingdom of God.
If all of this is makes sense, then what would it mean to invest in the Kingdom of God, and how do we do this? Well if the lesson here were only about using our talents, then we would simply need to use our killer recipe for nut bread, or our amazing gymnastic skills. However, I’d like to posit that there is even more to it than just our abilities.
I’m reminded of a great scene in the movie “Cool Hand Luke”. You might remember that Luke (played by Paul Newman) is in a prison work camp. And, like many other times, the inmates begin quarreling about something. Suddenly, Luke announces that he can eat 50 eggs. In response, the group stops fighting, and begins taking bets on whether or not he can do it.
Over the next couple of days, Luke trains himself and prepares for the challenge. When the day finally arrives, we see that everyone is involved—not just the prisoners, but the guards, too. What follows then is almost too painful to watch as Luke eats egg after egg. This continues in montage as Luke goes from spirited eating to being carried around by two other inmates and all but force-fed.
In the end, Luke eats all 50 eggs, and the crowd settles their bets. Luke however, is left alone, lying on a table to recover from over-eating. But the inmates and guards are no longer at each others throats…
The reason I think this is such a great image is because it wasn’t Luke’s talent for eating eggs that made the difference. The egg-thing was just about getting the inmates to stop fighting each other