13 November 2011Matthew 25:14-30
"I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground." (v. 25)
Jesus' parables are incendiary. On the face of it they appear to
be simple stories, like Aesop's Fables, with lessons on how to live
good and faithful lives. But we don't need to think about them for
too long to begin to realise that many of Jesus' stories are deeply
troubling, even morally ambiguous. Rather than telling us nice
tales to make us good people he speaks in such a way that we are
compelled to take his words in, to mull them over, and to allow
them to confuse and challenge us. They confront our preconceived
ideas and strike a blow to our comfortable perception of reality.
If we carefully contemplate his stories, and struggle with them -
not to work out the answer but to experience them deeply - they
will transform us as they break open the way in which we see the
world and the way that we understand God.
This parable is preceded by Jesus telling us that "the kingdom of heaven will be like this ..." (Matthew 25:1). Then he tells us a story that seems to celebrate and reward the work of investment bankers. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Clearly the world works in this way, but does the kingdom of heaven? It's troubling that the reason the slave who is given one talent (a considerable amount of money) goes and buries it because he is afraid of his master, who it seems has a fearsome reputation. Moreover - it seems that this reputation is justified as the master, full of anger, casts the "worthless slave" (v. 30) out into the darkness when he realises that there is no return on his cash.
Perhaps there is a more subtle and richer way of engaging with the parable. Rather than trying to dissect it in a rational manner we enter into the story imaginatively, experiencing deeply what it feels like to be each of the different characters. In doing so we can find that there are aspects of the story that resonate both positively and negatively with our experience of God and what it means to be human. If, in stillness and prayer, we hold those parts of the story that find an echo in our own lives - however comfortable or uncomfortable that might be - we open ourselves up to the possibility of the Spirit teaching and changing us; a risky endeavour indeed.
Is the kingdom of heaven really like this? Why? Or why not?
Why do you think that Jesus so often taught in parables - wouldn't it be better for him just to tell us what he really means?