1 Judges 4:1-7; Ps. 123; I Thess. 5:1-11; Matt. 25:14-30
This truncated Judges story about Deborah is the only time we read anything from Judges in our 3-year cycle. It’s an interesting story AND I recommend you go read the whole chapter about Deborah and her bravery and Jael, another woman who is even braver. That is, if you can handle a lot of gore.
Judges was a strange time in the history of Israel. The people kept backsliding into the religions of the people who shared their land with them and God kept punishing them, then raising up judges to set them right. Maybe that is part of what Jesus is talking about when he tells the parable of the talents: that his contemporaries need to get their acts together and quit wasting the wonderful giftsGod has given them. And, this parable doesn’t convey the message that God is love, that is for sure and for certain.
When I am at the Westport Community Center, I always have a different filter on when I read scriptures with them. We only read the Gospel at the services at Westport and anyone can comment. First, I was still thinking about those bridesmaids and wondering why the ones with the oil were too selfish to share what they had with those who were more slipshod in their preparation. Or, maybe the lax bridesmaids weren’t lax at all, maybe they came with the little they had because they wanted to participate. Maybe they didn’t have resources to buy more oil.
And there is this slave owner in the parable we just read. There’s at least one mark against him in my book: slave owner.
Lance Ousley once wrote that one of these talent coins weighed 75 pounds and would represent a life’s work of wages for an average laborer. Wow! I wonder how he carried all those talents! That’s 8 talents weighing 600 pounds! He probably had slaves bring them. (I am thankful we have paper and really, electronic money, after reading this.) This master must have been extremely wealthy!
So, at Westport, I asked the people there to think about which person they identified with most in the story. After I read the story, I noted that the general response is that we are not to waste the gifts God has given us--that we are the light in the world. It is perverted to hide that light, much as those ancient Israelites in Deborah’s time were hiding their own role as God’s people in the world.
AND, I think of this guy who hid the single talent he was given because, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seeds; so I was afraid,...” And the master doesn’t deny that he is a thief who has ill-gotten gains and he berates the slave for not investing with bankers and obtaining interest, at least. It’s all about the return on the investment. He’s had a 100% return from the other two slaves--from 7 talents to 14, and he wants that last talent of earnings. 1125 pounds of gold bars is not enough, he wants 1200 pounds. Three houses aren’t enough, a villa in Italy is absolutely necessary for happiness to be complete.
This story is weird because most of the Christian scriptures are about the world being turned on its head--the rich being poor and the poor gaining power and wealth. This story tells about a frightened slave who knows his master is harsh and that the man will take earnings however he can get them without scruples and that frightened slave is the one who is made out to be the bad guy.
And the master says, “For 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.”
I asked the folks at Westport whose side they were on and they said they liked the guy with the one talent. No hesitation at all. And, I wonder how many times this story has been used to justify not helping the poor. I wonder how many times folks have read this and thought, “Well, I’m a saved believer so I’m using my gifts appropriately and if someone isn’t a believer, they will end up with nothing in the end.” It’s called “prosperity gospel”.
And, yet, so many people who are poor have followed Jesus devotedly. They have shared what little they have with others in need. They have endured great hardships and have attributed their survival to Jesus watching over them. How can we look at someone with little to no material wealth and assume that they are devoid of any faith? Their blessings are invisible, intangible so we assume they aren’t blessed at all.
I know we are expected to see this master as if he were God come to judge his people--whether they followed him or not—whether they hid their light or whether they offered that light to others. Whether they used the gifts God gave them to increase the Kingdom of God on Earth or not. Yet, I see a man who is extremely wealthy who expects those who work for him for little to no pay to bring him even greater wealth. And, when one of his employees calls him on his illegal business practices, he throws him out and leaves him with nothing.
So, call me crazy, maybe I have been hanging out with too many people in low places. Yet, I value the friendships I have made and I value the insights I have gained from those friends. And, I come down on the side of this oppressed slave--the one who buried the talent, who spoke to power and paid for it, and who lost whatever livelihood he had from his work. I believe that God is love and that grace is real and I hope I never lose that faith.
And, I hope I am not in the habit of burying my talents. I am not in the habit of forgetting that God provides us with all we have. Yet, it has always been my habit to go with the underdog, to defend the bully’s victim of the week, to stand up to oppressors and abusers, and to stand with those who are oppressed and abused. I doubt I am going to change any of that at this point in my life. Who do you find most appealing in this story? What is your take-away?