Monday, November 13, 2017

Reaping and Weeping

Below is a rough translation of Matthew 25:14-30, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost. This text causes me much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

If you like weeping and gnashing of teeth, you might read my essay on this text in Political Theology Today. There, I give a litany of reasons why I think this parable needs a hard re-assessment. Mostly, I think the unchallenged descriptions of the master in vv. 24 and 26 below are not genuinely biblical ways of thinking about God; and I think the principle in v.29, that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, is almost the opposite of the chiastic teachings of Jesus elsewhere in the gospel – like Mt. 23:12, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” I’m certainly not the first to suggest that this parable is not what many stewardship sermons want it to be.

Below, I will just deal with textual matters and leave the hermeneutical questions for other occasions. It’s a long text and the translational challenges are enough for one post.

14  Ὥσπερ γὰρ ἄνθρωπος ἀποδημῶν ἐκάλεσεν τοὺς ἰδίους δούλους καὶ 
παρέδωκεν αὐτοῖς τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ,
For as a man who was going away called his own slaves and gave to them his treasures,
ἀποδημῶν: PAPart nsm, ἀποδημέω, 1) to go away into foreign parts, go abroad
ἐκάλεσεν: AAI 3s, καλέω, 1) to call  1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice 
παρέδωκεν: AAI 3s, παραδίδωμι, 1) to give into the hands (of another) 
1. The γὰρ (post-positive “for”) connects this story with the story of the ten bridesmaids and its (odd to me) conclusion in vv.1-12 and 13. An interpretive question will be what the significance or meaning of that connection is. I think the KJV goes way too far in translating the γὰρ “For the kingdom of heaven is …” I’m even wary with the NIV’s “Again, it will be …” and the ESV’s “For it will be …” I think the NRSV is truer to the text and less presumptive with “For it is …”
2. The reason why the γὰρ matters is because a question will be whether this parable is another parable about the Reign of God, or another popular assumption about the Reign of God, or an explanation of the previous parable and/or its conclusion. The γὰρ connects it to something.  
3. τοὺς ἰδίους δούλους (his own servants) I wonder what the significance of this phrase is, particularly the adjective ἴδιος. Matthew could have easily used the genitive form of the pronoun αὐτοῦ to show possession, as he does with “his treasures.” The definition of ἴδιος, is given as “pertaining to one's self, one's own, belonging to one's self.” I suppose it is the origin of the English term “idiom.” Is the use here to show that these servants are long-trusted, rather than late hirelings? Given the enormous sums of money at hand, that might be the case.

15 καὶ ᾧ μὲν ἔδωκεν πέντε τάλαντα,  δὲ δύο,  δὲ ἕν, ἑκάστῳ κατὰ τὴν ἰδίαν 
δύναμιν, καὶ ἀπεδήμησεν. εὐθέως 
And to one he gave five talents, then to another two, then to another one, to each according to his own power, and went abroad. Immediately
ἔδωκεν: AAI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone 
ἀπεδήμησεν: AAI 3s, ἀποδημέω, 1) to go away into foreign parts, go abroad 
1. Again, instead of using the genitive case, Matthew uses the adjective ἴδιος to signify each of the servants’ “own power” (or “ability”).
2. This model of giving to each according to his own power sounds reminiscent of how Paul describes God’s distribution of spiritual gifts. I suppose that is why so many people immediately assume that the man in this story is a God-figure.
3. Whoever imposed verse divisions on this story included the word “immediately” in v.15, while whoever imposed punctuation on this Greek text assumed that it goes with the action of v.16.
4. I am wary of using the literal Greek word “talent” because it has nothing to do with abilities or skills.  But, the flow of the story gets skewed when one tries to substitute values of money. The NIV makes a good attempt with “bag of gold.”

16 πορευθεὶς  τὰ πέντε τάλαντα λαβὼν ἠργάσατο ἐν αὐτοῖς καὶ ἐκέρδησεν 
ἄλλα πέντε:
… the one having received the five talents having gone traded them and acquired another five;
πορευθεὶς: APPart nsm, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer 1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on  one's journey 
λαβὼν: AAPart nsm, λαμβάνω, 1) to take 1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing  in order to use it
ἠργάσατο: AMI 3s, ἐργάζομαι, 1) to work, labor, do work 2) to trade, to make gains by trading, "do business" 
ἐκέρδησεν: AAI 3s, κερδαίνω, 1) to gain, acquire, to get gain 
1. As a rough translation, maintaining the two aorist participles (having received having gone) makes for an awkward beginning of this verse, but that pattern keeps happening throughout the parable.
2. It is hard to know how exactly to capture what Jesus/Matthew means by ‘trading’ the five talents. Obviously there can be enormous payoff. But, as the other servant will point out, there is enormous risk. Should a refined translation try to capture the risk/reward possibilities with “gambled” or “day-traded” or something like that? There is nothing to suggest illegitimacy, only high risk.
3. The phrase ἄλλα πέντε would literally be “other five,” if one uses the most common translation of ἄλλα, as the KJV and YLT do. Later translations use “more,” even though there are other common words for “more.”

17 ὡσαύτως  τὰ δύο ἐκέρδησεν ἄλλα δύο. 
likewise the one with two acquired another two.
ἐκέρδησεν: AAI 3s, κερδαίνω, 1) to gain, acquire, to get gain 

18  δὲ τὸ ἓν λαβὼν ἀπελθὼν ὤρυξεν γῆν καὶ ἔκρυψεν τὸ ἀργύριον τοῦ κυρίου 
Yet the one having received one having gone dug ground and hid the silver of his lord.
λαβὼν: AAPart nsm, λαμβάνω, 1) to take 1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing  in order to use it
ἀπελθὼν: AAPart nsm, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart 
ὤρυξεν: AAI 3s, ὀρύσσω, 1) to dig 
ἔκρυψεν: AAI 3s, κρύπτω, 1) to hide, conceal, to be hid  2) escape notice  3) metaph. to conceal (that it may not become known) 
1. Again with the two aorist participles beginning a sentence. The main verbs are “dig” and “hide.”
2. The initial meaning of ἀργύριον was “silver,” and over time more generally became “money.” Ancient coinage is beyond my pay grade, but fascinating.
3. It is clear that the money in this story belongs to the lord, not the servants. 

19 μετὰ δὲ πολὺν χρόνον ἔρχεται  κύριος τῶν δούλων ἐκείνων καὶ συναίρει 
λόγον μετ' αὐτῶν. 
Yet with a long time the lord came to those slaves and settles a word with them.
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  
συναίρει: PAI 3s, συναίρω, 1) to take up together with another 2) to bring together with others 2a) to cast up or settle accounts  2b) to make a reckoning  
1. The phrase πολὺν χρόνον (a long time) picks up on the “delay of the bridegroom” of the previous parable, but is not the critical factor in this story of why anyone has gotten drowsy and fallen asleep. If anything, it seems at odds with the “immediately” of v.15. (See v.15, n.3). Maybe the versifier was more correct than the punctuator in terms of whose actions “immediately” describes.
2. συναίρω means “to bring together” and only becomes “settles” when applied to money. λόγον is most commonly “word,” but can mean quite a few things. I would agree with most translations that in this case it should be “account.”

20καὶ προσελθὼν  τὰ πέντε τάλαντα λαβὼν προσήνεγκεν ἄλλα πέντε τάλαντα λέγων, Κύριε, πέντε τάλαντά μοι παρέδωκας: ἴδε ἄλλα πέντε τάλαντα 
And the one having received five talents having come brought five other talents saying, “Lord, you gave to me five talents; Behold I acquired another five talents.”
προσελθὼν: AAPart nsm, προσέρχομαι, 1) to come to, approach 2) draw near to
λαβὼν: AAPart nsm, λαμβάνω, 1) to take 1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing  in order to use it
προσήνεγκεν: AAI 3s, προσφέρω, 1) to bring to, lead to 
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
παρέδωκας: AAI 2s, παραδίδωμι, 1) to give into the hands (of another)  2) to give over into (one's) power or use 
ἴδε: PAImpv εἶδον (to see) a particle serving to call attention
ἐκέρδησα: AAI 1s, κερδαίνω, 1) to gain, acquire, to get gain 
1. You know this dude’s very excited to give this account.
2. Like vv. 16 and 18 above, there are two aorist participles to begin the verse, then the main verb (brought).

21 ἔφη αὐτῷ  κύριος αὐτοῦ, Εὖ, δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ, ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς πιστός, 
ἐπὶ πολλῶν σε καταστήσω: εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ κυρίου σου. 
His lord declared to him, “Excellent, good and faithful slave, you were faithful over a few, I will place you over many; enter into the joy of your lord.”
ἔφη: IAI 3s, φημί, 1) to make known one's thoughts, to declare
ἦς: IAI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
καταστήσω: FAI 1s, καθίστημι, 1) to set, place, put  1a) to set one over a thing (in charge of it)
εἴσελθε: AAImpv 2s, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter 
1. I like to use “declared” for φημί to distinguish it from the more common λέγω, such as in v.20.
2. The word Εὖ is often an adverb (“well”) or an adjective (“good”). It has an interesting history in philosophy and theology, where it is used in phrases like “the good life” or “fare well.” Here and in v.23 are Matthew’s only uses.
3. The phrase “enter into the joy of your lord” sounds so … heavenish. But, is that because it is meant that way or because we’ve made it routine to read it that way? The “joy” here is a wealthy lord who is ecstatic about getting wealthier. That could be heavenish if we make ‘wealth’ something other than wealth (which a parable might allow us to do and an allegory would certainly allow us to do). But, it could also be a sign of a really greedy person who is already exceedingly rich getting richer. Is that how Jesus would portray God to peasant people?

22 προσελθὼν [δὲ] καὶ  τὰ δύο τάλαντα εἶπεν, Κύριε, δύο τάλαντά μοι παρέδωκας: ἴδε ἄλλα δύο τάλαντα ἐκέρδησα.
 [Yet] also the one with the two talents having come said, Lord, you gave two talents to me; behold I acquired another two talents.
προσελθὼν: AAPart nsm, προσέρχομαι, 1) to come to, approach 2) draw near to
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
παρέδωκας: AAI 2s, παραδίδωμι, 1) to give into the hands (of another)  2) to give over into (one's) power or use 
ἴδε: PAImpv εἶδον (to see) a particle serving to call attention
ἐκέρδησα: AAI 1s, κερδαίνω, 1) to gain, acquire, to get gain 

23 ἔφη αὐτῷ  κύριος αὐτοῦ, Εὖ, δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ, ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς πιστός, ἐπὶ πολλῶν σε καταστήσω: εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ κυρίου σου. 
His lord declared to him, Excellent, good and faithful slave, you were faithful over a few, I will place you over many; enter into the joy of your lord.”
ἔφη: IAI 3s, φημί, 1) to make known one's thoughts, to declare
ἦς: IAI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
καταστήσω: FAI 1s, καθίστημι, 1) to set, place, put  1a) to set one over a thing (in charge of it)
εἴσελθε: AAImpv 2s, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter 

24 προσελθὼν δὲ καὶ  τὸ ἓν τάλαντον εἰληφὼς εἶπεν, Κύριε, ἔγνων σε ὅτι σκληρὸς εἶ ἄνθρωπος, θερίζων ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρας καὶ συνάγων ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισας: 
Yet also the one who had received the one talent having come said, “Lord, I knew that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering from where you did not winnow;
προσελθὼν: AAPart nsm, προσέρχομαι, 1) to come to, approach 2) draw near to
εἰληφὼς: PerfAPart nsm, λαμβάνω, 1) to take  1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing  in order to use it  
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ἔγνων: AAI 1s, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel 
εἶ: PAI 2s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
θερίζων: PAPart nsm, θερίζω, 1) to reap, harvest 
ἔσπειρας: AAI 2s, σπείρω, 1) to sow, scatter, seed 
συνάγων: PAPart nsm, συνάγω, 1) to gather together, to gather  
διεσκόρπισας: AAI 2s, διασκορπίζω,1) to scatter abroad, disperse, to winnow

25καὶ φοβηθεὶς ἀπελθὼν ἔκρυψα τὸ τάλαντόν σου ἐν τῇ γῇ: ἴδε ἔχεις τὸ σόν. 
And having been afeared having gone I hid your talent in the earth; behold you have what is yours.”
φοβηθεὶς: APPart nsm, φοβέω, 1) to strike with fear, scare, frighten.
ἀπελθὼν: AAPart nsm, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart 
ἔκρυψα: AAI 1s, κρύπτω, 1) to hide, conceal, to be hid
ἴδε: PAImpv εἶδον (to see) a particle serving to call attention
ἔχεις: PAI 2s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
1. Again, two aorist participles, followed by a main verb, “to hide.”
2. I use “afeared” in the rough translation because it is a passive participle and not deponent.  

26 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ  κύριος αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Πονηρὲ δοῦλε καὶ ὀκνηρέ, ᾔδεις 
ὅτι θερίζω ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρα καὶ συνάγω ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισα; 
Yet his lord having answered said to him, “Evil and slothful slave, you had known that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I did not winnow?
ἀποκριθεὶς: AAPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι,1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
ᾔδεις: YAI 2s, εἴδω, The tenses coming from εἴδω and retained by usage form two families, of which one signifies to see, the other to know. This verb is the root of the word ἴδε, or “behold” that each of the servants have used.
θερίζω: PAI 1s, θερίζω, 1) to reap, harvest
ἔσπειρα: AAI 1s, σπείρω, 1) to sow, scatter, seed 
συνάγω: PAI 1s, συνάγω, 1) to gather together, to gather  
διεσκόρπισα: AAI 1s, διασκορπίζω,1) to scatter abroad, disperse, to winnow
1. The verb εἴδω (“had known” here) is the root of the word ἴδε, or “behold” that each of the servants have used. It has the double meaning of “see” and “know,” similar to how one might say, “I see what you’re saying.” As ἴδε, it is a particle for calling attention. Here, it is in the pluperfect tense.  

27 ἔδει σε οὖν βαλεῖν τὰ ἀργύριά μου τοῖς τραπεζίταις, καὶ ἐλθὼν ἐγὼ ἐκομισάμην ἂν τὸ ἐμὸν σὺν τόκῳ. 
Therefore, it was necessary for you to throw my silver to the bankers, so having come I obtained that which is mine with interest. 
ἔδει: IAI 3s, δεῖ, 1) it is necessary, there is need of, it behooves, is right and proper.
βαλεῖν: AAInf, βάλλω, 1) to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls
ἐλθὼν: AAPart nsm, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
ἐκομισάμην: AMI 1s, κομίζω, 1) to care for, take care of, provide for 
1. This verse is a bit of a doozy to translate.
a. The verb δεῖ is often translated as “must,” such as when Jesus says, “I must go to Jerusalem.” My practice is to translate it as “it is binding” or “I am bound” since the related δεω is “to bind with chains.”
b. The verb βάλλω is incredibly versatile, originally meaning ‘to throw.’ I like to keep that usage in the rough translation. That verb will be back in v.30.
c. The word I translate as “bankers” (τραπεζίταις) is only used here in the NT. Of the suggestions available, I felt like it needed something that suggested a production of interest (τόκος). The word τόκος actually is a term for giving birth, so that the interest is like the offspring of the original money.
d. While I routinely translate καὶ as “and,” here it seems to be a result of the previous action, with “so that” (NIV) or “then” (KJV) as a result.
e. The verb κομίζω means to care for or to provide, such as when a woman brought a box of ointment to Jesus in Lk. 7:37. But, here, it is in the 1st person voice, which makes it, not ‘provide’ but ‘receive.’ I am using ‘obtain’ to distinguish it from λαμβάνω, which is used in vv. 16, 18, 20, and 22.

28 ἄρατε οὖν ἀπ'αὐτοῦ τὸ τάλαντον καὶ δότε τῷ ἔχοντι τὰ δέκα τάλαντα: 
Therefore, take from him the talent and give to the one having the ten talents.
ἄρατε: AAImpv 2p, αἴρω, 1) to raise up, elevate, lift up 1a) to raise from the ground, take up  1b) to raise upwards, …3) to bear away what has been raised
δότε: AAImpv 2p, AAImpv 2p, δίδωμι, 1) to give 
ἔχοντι: PAPart dsm, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold 
1. We are not told to whom this command or its corollary in v.30 is uttered. A couple of strong bystanders, I suppose.   

29 τῷ γὰρ ἔχοντι παντὶ δοθήσεται καὶ περισσευθήσεται: τοῦ δὲ μὴ ἔχοντος 
καὶ  ἔχει ἀρθήσεται ἀπ' αὐτοῦ.
For to everyone who has will be given and will have abundance; but to the one who does not have even what that one does have will be taken from him.
ἔχοντι: PAPart dsm, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
δοθήσεται: FPI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give
περισσευθήσεται: FPI 3s, περισσεύω,1) to exceed a fixed number of measure, to be left over and  above a certain number or measure 
ἔχοντος: PAPart gsm, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
ἔχει: PAI 3s, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
ἀρθήσεται: FPI 3s, αἴρω, 1) to raise up, elevate, lift up 
1. The first part of this sentence is awkward because there is no identification of what, exactly, is given.
2. The verb περισσεύω actually means “abound” but it is hard to put that into a future passive form without turning it into “have abundance.” It is the term used to describe the leftover bread from the feedings of the 4,000 and 5,000 in Mt. 14 and 15.
3. This verse is a repetition of Mt. 13:12. There, Jesus is describing why he speaks in parables, so that his disciples may know the secrets and that others will not. Then, he says, “For to 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,” which is followed by the equally curious quote from Isaiah, “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.” (That may describe me at this point.)
4. This verse also seems to interrupt the flow of vv.28 and 30. As such, we should treat it like the utterance of the lord of the story, not like a “Jesus Maxim” that concludes the story. (Yes? Isn’t this important?)

30καὶ τὸν ἀχρεῖον δοῦλον ἐκβάλετε εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον: ἐκεῖ ἔσται  
κλαυθμὸς καὶ  βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.
And throw the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness; there will be the weeping and the gnashing of the teeth.
ἐκβάλετε: AAImpv 2p, ἐκβάλλω, 1) to cast out, drive out, to send out 
ἔσται: FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. The only other use of the adjective ἀχρεῖος in the NT is Luke 17:10, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants, because we have only done our duty.'
2. Matthew uses the phrase “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” in 8:12, 13:42, 13:50, 22:13, 24:51, and here. “Weeping” is used in 2:18 as a noun and a verb. 2:18 – This is part of the story of the aftermath of the Magi’s visit to Jesus, when Herod massacres children two and younger. Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31 to speak of Rachel weeping for her children. The noun and the verb are in the quote from Jeremiah.
8:12 – Jesus has just marveled at faith of a Roman centurion, saying that many will come from the east and west to sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the reign of heaven. But, he adds, “ the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13:42 – In his explanation of the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (the parable is in 13:24-30, the explanation is in 13:36-43), Jesus concludes with “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”
13:50 – And so, just a few verses later, Jesus concludes 3 parables – treasure in a field, pearl of great price, all manner of fish in the dragnet – with this, “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
22:13 – At the conclusion of the parable of the wedding feast, there is the curious incident of the person wrongly dressed. The king says to his attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus concludes that many are called but few are chosen.
24:51 – In a parable that is part of the cc.24-25 discourse, Jesus concludes the parable of the abusive overseer who is surprised when his master comes in unexpectedly saying that the master “will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The only other use of this phrase in the NT, outside of Matthew, is in Luke 13:28. That pericope (vv. 22-30) contains many of the phrases and allusions that the collection of Matthew texts above and the discourse of cc.24-25 address:
 Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’


  1. I have read your essay, the Politics of the Talents, and am quite intrigued. You raise excellent points. I (an Anglican Lay Reader) am preaching on this text Sunday and would like to address the characteristics of the supposed divine master. But who is it? Can it be any oppressive leader? If Jesus uses the expression 'weeping and gnashing of teeth' so many times, why wouldn't it be him this time? The parable does seem harsh but the common interpretations of not wasting life/gifts, fear/trust, grace/judgment helps it overcome that. Any comments are appreciated!
    Thanks you

  2. I read this as, I think, you do, Mark. It's a story about 'a man'.. If you live the kingdom way, then 'the man' will treat you like he treated the third guy who refused to sing the profits are what life is all about mantra. Traders don't get good biblical press (cf the expression 'rip-off merchants!!. Jesus never applauds those who make profits for themselves. The other two guys play his way and of course get promotions. That's how it is with 'the man', but of course, he sacks the one who refuses to play that way.

    I wonder whether the parable really ends at v40. v41 shifts to another 'man', The Man, who comes in the kingdom and offers the kingdom to those who 'visit me when I was imprisoned' (cast out into outer darkness) for not playing by the rules of the man in the previous parable etc etc.

  3. In First Century Palestine, the people who reap where they do not sow, and gather where they do not winnow are the Roman overlords. I wonder if Jesus here is just giving some peasant advice here: Don’t be overly fearful of the occupiers, work for them and give them what they want. If you’re successful, they will reward you; if you hold back, you’ll lose the little that you do have. This is the advice of render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. When it came to money and material things, Jesus was no zealot.

  4. our discussion of what the text means by the first slave having "traded" the money alerted me to something I'd never noticed before - that this is a parable about interest. Perhaps there is a key to (an) interpretation by reminding ourselves that the Bible already has a fairly consistent position on usury...

    I wonder whether the emphasis on "his *own* slaves" is intended to alert us to the fact that the landowner regards these three men not as people but as property or assets. Each slave succeeds or fails not by how good he is at farming, or how hard he works, but simply by the amount of interest his allowance has generated (or not). And the slaves themselves are simply investments which must generate interest; unprofitable slaves are bad investments, destined to be sold (into outer darkness). The first two slaves buy into the system; they are happy to be exploited, and therefore profit from it. The third commits an act of resistance - he names the unjust system of interest-gathering for what it is (reaping where you didn't sow), and will only give back what was invested. One could even say that he has chosen to be a prophet rather than a profit...

    Granted, this is not a parable about our "talents" (gifts/skills), but since congregations are likely to hear it this way, perhaps there is some mileage in reflecting on what it means when God 'invests' in us. When Paul talks about the distribution of spiritual gifts, it's not actually an investment based on our own ability, but on the ability that the Spirit gives us. And elsewhere, Paul is clear that God is an unwise investor, putting his riches in the hands of the weak, the stupid and the nobodies.

    God doesn't need his investment back with interest - he's already infinitely wise and loving, what's he going to do with our 125% exhortation or 117% gentleness? God's gifts to us are not a loan to be repaid with interest, but a grant to be used - if we so choose - for the building up of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is a completely alternative (diametrically opposed) system to the one of investment and interest; it's a system in which the notions of profit and loss are turned on their heads, where treasure doesn't rust or get destroyed, where the idea of ten, three or one pot of cash is completely meaningless, because everyone has more than enough and wine and food are free.

    Given that a slave cannot serve two masters, perhaps the question here is: which system do you want to buy into? Which boss would you rather work for? Which lord is actually going to give you more joy? (And I guess if you're still stuck on that question, you could always read on to the next parable....)

  5. I appreciate the work you have done on this, Mark. It has really clarified this parable for me, showing to me that we are not one of these slaves, but we are all of them. When we try to position ourselves as one or another of them, we devalue our faith history. The issue is not whether we are the 5, the 2, or the 1, but whether or not we are committed to waiting for the eschatological hope of the future. Some days we are better at it than others. This will be even more apparent next week.

  6. Thanks for all of the insightful comments and thoughtful questions, friends.

    I've been mulling over this story more this week. I've come up with 3 possible interpretations:

    1. This is a parable about God's way of giving gifts to each according to their ability and requiring us to make the most of the gifts. Those who do will be given more and the one who buries the gift will be treated as a lazy, worthless slave.
    This is, I suspect, the most common interpretation of this story and I have scads of problems with it. But, it seems to be "the plain reading of the text."

    2. I could buy into a version of #1 - at least the form of it - if it went something like this: Jesus is the treasure that God entrusts to us. Not Jesus the person, but Jesus the person and the Reign of God and the movement and the values and the power and the wholeness that Jesus brought with him. We have been entrusted with that, to some degree or another. There were some - remember this discourse follows the entrapment conversations with the Sadducees, Pharisees, Chief Priests, and Herodians - who perceive God wrongly, and who did not want any part of this treasure. So, they are doing their best to bury it (perhaps even in the literal sense). And to take God's gift of welcome, justice, etc. and to bury it instead of investing in it and spreading it as far and wide as possible - that is horrific.

    3. Following Ched Myers and others: There is no way that this master is a God figure. It is clearly a Roman system figure and the 3rd servant is the one who is faithful by refusing to be coopted by the system and to make it stronger. And, when you stand up against tyrants of this sort, there is a price to pay.

    Now ... which direction am I going to take on Saturday and Sunday?

    1. I know this is now too late for you, but here is a story I wrote, in part, due to your comments.

  7. I'd suggest the man should be seen as Herod who had to make sudden visits when the Roman leader changed with the deaths of Ceaser and later Antony. If a talent was about 1.5 million dollars he'd be the sort of man to have that amount of money. The third servant loses his job for sticking to the command in the OT to avoid usury. Just like the Apprentice? But god says you're favoured


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