There’s a story that pastors like to tell. I think I first heard it when I was in seminary. It’s the story about a preacher who was leading a children’s sermon. This preacher told the children all about how squirrels gather nuts and hide them away for the winter. He explained to the children how important it was for the squirrels to store up nuts while they were available so that they’d have something to eat when the cold weather arrived. When he was finished, the preacher asked the children if they knew what his lesson about the squirrels was. One small child raised her hand, and she said, “I know, I know, it’s all about God.” The preacher was a little surprised, because he wasn’t talking about God at all, so he asked the little girl why she thought the lesson was about God, and she said, “because you’re the pastor and it’s always about God.”
Unfortunately, many of us have the same reaction when we hear Jesus’ parable of the talents. After all, it’s a story from the Bible, and Jesus told it, so the master handing out the talents must represent God. The only problem is, the master in Jesus’ parable is a real jerk! The kind of jerk, I for one, wouldn’t waste my time trying to worship.
The story says that the man gave the talents, which represent a huge amount of money, to his slaves. If the master in the story is God, then God must be very greedy indeed; expecting massive financial returns, without even bothering to communicate that expectation to the slaves. Fortunately for the first two slaves, they manage to double the master’s investment and the third slave managed to keep the master’s initial investment intact but couldn’t quite manage to earn any interest at all. Now, even given, the precious little I know about the stock market, I’d say the master had nothing at all to complain about. The master entrusted all he had to slaves, and they might have lost a great deal of money on their investments, but they managed to make their master richer than the master had a right to expect.
Let’s do the math. A talent represents about 15 years salary. Most scholars suggest you use a figure of $50,000 per year–times 15, that’s $750,000.00 per talent. So to the first slave the master gave 5 talents, that would be about three million seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars toady. To the second slave, the master gave two talents, that’s about a million and a half dollars today. To the third slave, the master gave, one talent; and that’s about $750,000.00.
According to the story this master had quite the reputation; upon the master’s return the third slave explains why he was so cautious with the master’s money. “Sir, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.” According to the master’s reputation he is a thief who isn’t above taking what doesn’t belong to him. The third slave was prudent with the master’s money and did what was considered appropriate in the ancient world were banking methods were crude at best, and many people buried treasure for safekeeping; The third slave didn’t loose so much as a penny of the master’s money, and despite the fact that two of the his slaves have just returned to him an additional 7 talents, that’s a whopping great profit of about 5 and a quarter million dollars. Just imagine, that three of us managed to make our boss 5 and a quarter million dollars on an initial investment of 6 million dollars, that’s a return of 75%, well I don’t know where you do your investing but 75% profit is nothing to sneeze about. But instead of rewarding the trio, this master doesn’t deny his own reputation for reaping where he doesn’t sow, and he takes the talent from the fearful salve and gives it to the one who already has ten talents, and then declares that: “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.” As for the fearful slave who played it safe, the master calls him worthless and orders that he be “thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
If this were all about God, then to say that God is harsh would be an understatement indeed. If this were all about God, then why in the world would anybody love God? For who can love such a cruel master? But more importantly, if this cruel master is God, then Jesus’ is describing a god that cannot be compared to the God Jesus boldly calls ABBA. For Jesus’ Abba would never be so greedy as to steal from another’s labour, nor would Jesus’ Abba take from the one who has the least, nor threaten to cast out the least of Jesus’ brothers for the crime of taking care of the gift that was given to him. Such a view of God is inconsistent with all that Jesus’ taught about Bod. So just because Jesus told a story, it doesn’t mean the main character in the story is necessarily God. Continue reading