I don’t usually do anything remotely approaching scholarly discussion of the Bible, ever, but today’s Gospel reading is one that I find interesting and troubling.
Here it is, starting from the part where the slave who was given one talent and hid it away, and now has to explain to the Master why he didn’t “double his investment,” so to speak:
Then 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; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But 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? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For 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 this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.‘ ” The Lectionary Page: Proper 28…Nov. 16
Here’s the scholarly, dare I say it – rationalist explaination of this parable, from Episcopal Cafe:
Speaking to the Soul
Now we need to look at the shadow side of this parable [of the talents]: the third slave who was given only one talent and did not do anything with it. Here is a somber warning without doubt. There are two ways of being unfaithful. There is the “hot” way, which is to abuse our powers and use them destructively. This is the sin of commission. Then there is the “cold” way of being unfaithful, which is to do nothing at all and therefore neglect and abort one’s potential. . . .
[It] may have been that the smallness of his talent led him to conclude that what he did with it did not matter. If I believe anything at all, it is this: in God’s universe, there is nothing that is insignificant. The great things were first of all little things that were lifted up to God in reverence and gratitude, and then used to the fullest. It is a mistake to confuse size with value. . . .
Now that is all well and good – the slave given one talent is castigated for not trusting his Master, and for not trusting himself to succeed at making it grow into two talents. But what often bothers me with this passage is first of all, the one talent is taken away from the slave, and given to the more successful of the other two slaves. Which, in a way, seems uncomfortably like “taking from the poor and giving to the rich” to me. In my mind, I identify the third slave with the poor, who have so little to begin with, they can’t afford to put their small amount of money to work for them, feeling the need to hoard it instead. Also, the advice to “give your money to the bankers” may or may not be wise depending on your interest rate or the financial health of your local savings institution, in these uncertain days – substantial penalties for early withdrawal, minimum deposit penalties, and all that! But I’m also troubled by the thought that this Gospel is used to support the doctrine of the Prosperity Gospel, and to justify blaming the poor for their poverty because they’re lazy, wicked, worthless… is that a dog-whistle inaudibly setting my teeth on edge?
However, no matter how troubled I am by this passage, there’s always somebody of the ultra-conservative bent who will take it to extremes of analysis that are simply astounding.
While casting around for a conservative or fundamentalist response to this reading, I came across this little gem from a well-known site full of yapping, basement-dwelling right-wing attack pups. A pastor posted a well-written sermon, describing God as a “good and gracious Master” and calls on us to be faithful stewards, doing such good works according to the talents given to us by our Creator, rather than being damned by our own unbelief like the third slave. That’s fine, a well-reasoned response.
But one of the first comments at the well-known site, to which I will not link, somehow turns it into Yet Another Condemnation Of The Gays. The reference to the protests is to the current anti-Prop 8 protests that took place Saturday all over the country. Note that there is no previous mention in the thread or in the sermon about gay people, yet the protests are now cast as “making war on God’s children.” The stupid, it is everywhere:
It’s interesting how the Gays in this country are now protesting, not realizing that this country is only blessed because of the contributions of Christians, to the philosophies that are the foundation of our constitution. Unfortunately, people do not understand that all blessings come through God and his son Jesus when people follow his teachings. Even people who live in wickedness are blessed only because of the goodness that coexists. These people are making a grave mistake by declaring war on God’s children. It says in the bible, that when it rains and the fields are watered both god’s people and those not god’s people benefit. Look what happened to Germany when they declared war on his children, look where it ultimately got them? It was only because of the intervention of the United States after the war, that they were delivered from that hell. Our nation was founded on the principals of Christianity. Those people should never want to find out what it would be like if they ever got their way. They don’t want to know, no they don’t!
Huh? This was about faith, in God and in one’s God-given talents. Not about spiritual warfare, wicked gay people, or Nazis.
Anyway, I’m still bothered that the whole rationale for the Prosperity Gospel seems to be made on the backs of the poor. But that’s enough bad Bible scholarship for me today. I turned in my packets of orders for Fannie May candy, and I’d classify myself as a two-talent steward, rather than a five-talent steward, as I was reluctant to flog the candy aggressively at work this last couple of weeks. But I got four or five orders in, and I’m okay with that.