Monday, November 20, 2017

Pentecost 24A

Matthew 25:14-30

14"For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.

19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then 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.' 21His 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.'

22And 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.' 23His 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.'

24Then 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; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 26But 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? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For 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. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

The church has almost cycled through another year of grace! Today is the next to last Sunday for this liturgical year. In the Revised Common Lectionary that provides our scripture readings we're concluding Year A, Matthew's year, that like the others intersperses some readings from the gospel according to John. The RCL is ecumenical, meaning many different church bodies and denominations follow it. Next Sunday we'll celebrate Christ the King / Reign of Christ / the Sovereignty of the Crucified and Risen Jesus of Nazareth. And then it will be Advent.

Today we hear another famous parable, this one's about talents and has received a wide range of interpretations. Originally a talent was a huge amount of money—one source I found said it was about twenty years' wages, but of course that would vary depending the person's job and skill. Using that guideline, five talents would be 100 years' pay! We get the word talent that refers to someone's natural gifts and abilities from the Greek word in this parable.

Jesus does not open with "the kingdom of Heaven / God is like," so this is not a parable of the Kingdom or Reign of God. The account starts out about money and a worker's wages; the master in the story is not God or Jesus. The way the money economy still goes down, if money is making money, someone is being exploited, so Torah and Jewish culture forbade charging interest on a loan. Not only excessive interest or usury—forbidding any interest percentage whatsoever. So the concept of "investing" money in a securities, commodities, or any other market would have been against the counsel of Torah.

A class member pointed out the master gave no instructions, but simply handed out money. One commentary I read (that Pastor Peg also had seen and mentioned) suggested the guy who got only one talent had been a good and faithful steward and held onto the money, had not violated Torah guidelines by trying to make more money with it, and even informed the master about the master's reputation, prophetically speaking truth to power, and got cast out of society. Commentary suggested that guy could be a model for Jesus himself! Someone mentioned they'd only heard this (stewardship?) parable applied to our native gifts and abilities, and that's definitely one type of talent we need to invest and cultivate in time, training, education, practice, some of which take actual money, too.

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