Scripture for this Sunday:
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; Psalm 90:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30 (“The parable of the talents.”)
The parable of the “talents” can be challenging to interpret. Traditionally, it has been interpreted as a reminder to use fruitfully those gifts with which we have been endowed. This works because the Greek word, talanta, a measure of currency, coincides with our word meaning skill, or gift. However, the parable works at other levels, too.
A talanta would have been a vast sum of currency (about 35 kg of gold). Those listening to Jesus would have had no idea how to invest such a sum. One way to understand this is that what God offers through Jesus is of such great value that we have difficulty knowing quite how to deal with it.
Taken collectively, it could suggest that the message is about the inability of the church to understand the richness with which it has been endowed, and the need to invite God to help discern what to do with it.
Another message is that the “burier” has embraced his own shortcomings to such an extent that he anticipates failure, blames it on God, and wallows in self-pity.
Then again, if we look at the parable from another angle, the master is not God (the Abba addressed intimately by Jesus seems far from greedy and vengeful), but rather imperial Rome (and its modern equivalent, multinational corporations) – and first century citizens of Israel would have leapt to recognition of the imperial occupier from Jesus’ description. In fact, rabbinical teaching at the time instructed those entrusted with something of value belonging to someone else to bury it, for safety. In this case the one burying is showing some sort of integrity – and in fact behaving in a way in which Jesus himself behaved: putting principle before profit.
To discern a meaning for ourselves, individually, or collectively, is not easy, but needs to be done bearing in mind that, as Paul writes to the Thessalonians, we are, like them, “children of the day,” living in the light of God’s kingdom which Jesus has already introduced.
In the end, we have to be willing to read scripture illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and expect and accept that we may differ, one from another, in our interpretation; and even at different times of our lives, understanding may vary.
Answers may sometimes seem difficult to find, but we have to remember that asking the right questions is the important first step.