Matthew 25:14-30

Nick Welford considers a different interpretation.

Nick Welford
Nick Welford

The parable of the talents is one I have always struggled with. Elements of it always seemed at odds with popular interpretations.

Often it's been applied to how we use our gifts, or money, with the master described as God. The trouble I have is twofold. It seems a bit convenient that the currency in use was called 'talents', which in our self-centred culture is easy to read as our own abilities. Secondly the nature of the master as a 'cruel' man seemed at odds with other pictures of God in the Bible.

Looking into the parable a bit further I found that theologian Joachim Jeremias believed that the parable was not an ethical one for every person, but instead aimed at the religious leaders who had withheld the good news from their fellow humans.

Something about this rung true for me. If we are to believe that the master in the parable represents Jesus or God, then we need to ask what God and Jesus hold as incredibly valuable.

It is not a stretch to suggest that this might be a way of living that is based on love (what you might call the kingdom of God), or in tangible terms people - especially those who are rejected (who you might say are members or potential members of said kingdom.)

So how does the parable play out if we take this assumption?

God asks three members of his Kingdom to go out and increase his Kingdom, expecting each to bring something back according to their ability. Already this seems more in line with other Biblical themes than assuming this parable is about an individual's gifts or wealth. God then leaves these people to it. Two of them leave the safety of the Kingdom, take some risks and see a return on it - expanding the Kingdom and bringing something back into it. One however, is scared and buries what he has within the walls of the Kingdom - he doesn't even leave. The Greek for 'hid' here could be translated 'made invisible'. So this person's actions made the Kingdom invisible for all intents and purposes.

Then God comes to see what they have done with the things they have been entrusted with. The first two have tales of success, but the third says something strange, "I knew you were a hard (or demanding) man who reaps where you have not sown."

It is hard to think of God as hard or demanding at times, particularly when we like to focus on love and grace, but what God asks is hard to do. How easy do you find it to put others first? To love your enemies? To be a representative of the Kingdom of God outside of the safety of its walls? If we do this is God not reaping what God has not sown? Aren't we the ones doing the work of sharing the good news? God tells this person that they could have at least done something. Told one person perhaps that they are a member of the Kingdom. One small step or gesture to show someone else a glimpse of God.

If we weren't put off the idea of the master representing God so far then the final part of the passage might finish the job. The master/God throws this person out of the Kingdom - the very place they were afraid to go with the backing of the master, they end up going anyway.

I'm aware this is a different interpretation of the passage than usual, but the more I consider it the more it seems in line with other parables and passages. I also find it more challenging than the personal application interpretations - the challenge is to expand the master's Kingdom, to go out with the master's backing and blessing, and to extend the reach, reputation and the awareness of that Kingdom. CR

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