Sunday

11 November 2007

"After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them." (v.19)

Background

This parable is one of the hardest parts of the Gospel to understand as it can be read in a number of different ways. One of the biggest problems is that the figure of 'the man who went on a journey' comes across as exceedingly unpleasant - a greedy, harsh and cruel master who lavishly rewards financial enterprise but condemns and punishes caution. Not quite an image of Jesus we may be comfortable with, if we want to read the parable as referring to his future return.

But lying behind Matthew's version (Luke has a slightly different version - Luke 19:12-27) there may well be an original story told by Jesus for a very different purpose - to caricature and condemn the kind of wealthy absentee landlord who exploited and abused his tenants.

How different, says Jesus, from the 'Son of Man' in the next parable who declares that it is those who feed the hungry and clothe the naked who are truly members of his family - in contrast to those who neglect the poor and the weak. And Jesus' hearers would have understood very well what he was saying, for they would have been all too familiar with the gap between rich and poor in first century Palestine. And they would have laughed too, because of the fantastic sums of money involved - one 'talent' is about a quarter of a million pounds today. It is a satirical story with a serious message.

However, as we read the story here it serves a rather different purpose. Matthew is writing for a Christian community facing times of great uncertainty and danger. Jerusalem has fallen and the Temple has been destroyed by the Roman occupiers. The young Christian sect is vulnerable both to Roman and Jewish attacks. The message is 'stand firm and be ready for the return of the Messiah Jesus', for when he comes he will identify those who are truly faithful to God and declare them to be his own people, and he will punish their (and his) enemies.

Perhaps Matthew goes even further, and suggests that their faith will be rewarded in some way, which may sound a little strange to Christians who believe that all of God's blessings are undeserved (which is what we call 'grace').

You can see why this parable is one of the hardest bits of the gospel to understand - and it has nothing at all to do with whatever 'talents' we may, or may not, possess!

To Ponder

A passage like this can be read in many ways. How do youdecide how to read it?

How important to you is the Christian belief that Jesus will one day return? Why?

How do you feel about the cursing of the servant with the one talent? Is it fair?

Bible notes author: David Rhymer

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