I don’t think our great spiritual teachers really want you to disappear up your own clacker.
Some one sent me this charismatic young man’s interpretation of The Parable of Talents.
In case you weren’t perfecting spit-balls in Sunday school like I was, the Parable of Talents is one of Jesus’ more mysterious stories.
In short, a nobleman is going on a long journey. Before he leaves he gives three talents to one servant, two talents to another, and one talent to a third, “each according to their ability.”
A talent was the common term for a shi!tcan of money. Like 4 years wages. So it was serious coin.
(The modern word talent meaning “special skill set”, seems to derive from this parable!)
When the nobleman comes back he asks the servants what they did with the money. The first two traded and invested their money, and doubled what they were given.
The master is pleased.
The third however buried his talent in the backyard, and so only has the original talent that was given to him.
The master is pissed. You could have at least stuck it in the bank and earnt interest. (He actually says that.) He then takes his one talent and gives it to the one who already has the most.
There’s nuance I’m glossing over here, but this is the idea. The third servant wasted his talents, and wasted his life. God’s rewards go to those who make the most of their “God-given talents”.
This story struck me in Sunday school. I wanted to know what the first servant had invested in. How long was the master gone? What was the annualised rate of return? But it also stuck out from the other parables. It just felt different.
So coming back to our charismatic young friend. I’ve heard this one before. Not this one specifically, but this kind of new-agey interpretation.
In this version, the talents are a metaphor for what we currently call “talents”, and God wants you to take your talents and share them with the world. Don’t bury them inside you. If you can sing, then sing. If you can paint, then paint. If you can knit clothes for small dogs, go and take that sh!t to the Flemington flea market.
And shine, star bird shine.
This interpretation is getting a bit of play these day. It resonates with the times. But the fact that the word talents transitioned from a word meaning, “weight, unit of currency” in Jesus’s time, to the current meaning of “skills and abilities”, probably means that you could say this is, more or less, the standard interpretation.
I guess I used to run with that line as well.
(No, I will not come inside! God wants me to play soccer, mother!)
But these days, something doesn’t ring right.
I mean, why does Jesus place the whole story in a commercial context? The whole trading story just complicates the picture.
I mean, why not say the master gave his three servants a trombone. Two of them played, but the other did not. “Wicked and slothly servant. Why hast thou not made use of the trombone given unto thee?!?”
That’d be cleaner if that was really Jesus’ point. But no, he made it about trade and investment.
Of course I have seen people put a free-market spin on this as well, but I’m not sure I buy that either.
Historians are divided as to whether the Lord Christ ever said, “You’ve got to risk it to get the biscuit,” but I tend to side with those who don’t think the bible was meant to be a substitute for a Cert IV in financial planning.
And remember this was a man who lost his nanna and started whipping the merchants and money-changers who had set up shop in the temple.
So it’s really interesting that he chose to make this story about money.
I don’t pretend to know why, but as someone who knows money on a first name basis, I have some thoughts.
First I think that money, trade, finance, commerce, all that – that’s the human world. We’re not about ethereal dimensions here. We’re not talking divine qualities like justice and grace. We’re talking the nitty-gritty of messy humans living in a messy society, playing out their greed and selfishness and selling animals for sacrifice in the temple and all that.
But this is where our work is. This is where we should be engaging.
We could just say, nah, I don’t want to get involved in that. I’m just going to stay here and cultivate my righteousness. Or I’m just going to devote myself to my singing and macramé doggy vests.
But that is not what the gift of life is for.
We’re here to play the game. We’re here to fully engage with this messy, painful and constantly disappointing world.
And as much as we can, we should bring the talents that we were born with to the table.
But the other point I’d make is that when we’re talking about talents here, we’re not talking about the genetic dispositions we are born with. In the context of this parable, our talents are not ours. They don’t belong to us.
They are the things that are bigger than us – those higher ideals. They are our generosity, our grace, our charity, our faith, our giving people a second chance, our love.
The things that seem to come from beyond.
And so I actually wonder if this means exactly the opposite of what young mate is talking about. Jesus isn’t saying, go and invest in and cultivate the things that make you ‘special’.
Rather, it is a warning against disappearing up your own clacker. It’s not about you. Don’t make it about what you’ve got. And don’t withdraw from the world either. Don’t think you’ll win any browny points for keeping the browny taint of the material world off your talents.
Get out there and get messy.
That’s your job.
But I don’t know. Maybe I’m just getting grumpier and more conservative in my old age.
What do you reckon?