Sunday

19 November 2017

Matthew 25:14-30

“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.” (vv. 24-25)

Psalm: Psalm 90


Background

All of us carry around certain expectations that can help us to understand and interpret situations. When we see three chilli peppers next to an item on a menu, for instance, we immediately understand that the dish is probably not for the faint-hearted.

The same is true when we approach Bible stories. When we hear a parable with an 'authority figure', we often assume that that character must represent God, whether it's the father of the prodigal son, the owner of the vineyard or the bridegroom at the wedding, and we interpret everything that happens in light of that assumption. The parable of the talents has often been interpreted according to this framework, thereby becoming a cautionary tale against wasting the gifts that God has given us.

But in recent years, some people have begun to approach this story with other frameworks, not least because the slave's description of the master as "a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed" is hard to reconcile with a just and loving God.

Some people have noted that in storytelling, when there's a set of three characters, it's usually the third one who does 'the right thing', like the third little pig or the third passer-by in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Liberation theologians, who read the Gospels in terms of oppression and liberation, have read the story as a cautionary tale about how difficult it can be to speak truth to power, and how those who stand up to corrupt systems are often unfairly punished.

Perhaps the most important reason to approach the story with fresh eyes is that two millennia after Jesus washed the feet of his friends, we still assume that in any given story, the character with servants must represent God. Like Peter (John 13:6) many of us are still struggling to get our heads around the idea that God would choose to take the form of a servant, "not to be served but to serve, and give [his] life that we might live" (Singing the Faith 272).


To Ponder

  • If you have read or heard this story in the past, what has it meant to you? What assumptions and expectations did you use to help you interpret the story?
  • How do you respond to the character of the master in the parable?
  • Has your view of the story changed at all? If so, why?

Bible notes author

Naomi Oates

Naomi Oates has worked for the Connexional Team in a variety of guises since 2012, currently as the Executive Officer to the Secretary of the Conference. She is also training part-time for presbyteral ministry.