An Unrecognizable Conundrum
Who among you has a hard time with the parable of the Talents because a quick reading of the analogy implies that God is a hard taskmaster, at best, and a rotten, thieving mob-boss type at worst?
What if I told you there’s another version of this parable, even more confusing, in the gospel of Luke? The familiar parable of the Talents comes from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 25: 14-30; Luke has another version in chapter 19: 11-27, called the Parable of the Minas. There are subtle differences:
There are ten servants at the beginning of Luke’s story, although we only ever hear the results of three of them,
all servants are given the same amount of money, no favoritism to a servant with a talent for making more with their investment
the master goes away for a time for a specific purpose, but the purpose is muddied by a slight revolution
the master gives a hint to the cautious servant as to the least the man could have done to prevent his punishment
When Jesus taught with this parable, who was his audience? Scribes and Pharisees who had been entrusted with the law for generations. It had been their job to keep, preserve, and expand the law to encompass all variations of situation so that all Jews could know beyond a shadow of a doubt if they might even accidentally break it. God, as expressed in the Torah, often appears to be a harsh taskmaster. The analogy would be familiar, and the Scribes and Pharisees would see their behavior as being rewarded. The irony of the story is lost in a system of reward and punishment. But Jesus represents a different model - a loving God, who would not exact the punishment evident in the parable.
What happens to these parables when we reverse the figure of the master - instead of a ruthless, greedy boss, we assert the free giving nature of God? Suddenly, we have stepped outside the narrow confines of the parable. We no longer have the choice of playing it safe OR investing, we can take risks without fear of punishment, we can wait, or shore up, until the right moment to act without worry that we might be doing the wrong thing. We are assured of God’s love without the need to earn it. The parable is as confusing as it is terrifying, because it tells us the old ways of punishment and reward are destroyed. How do we live without that structure?
~Rev. Andrea Joy Holroyd