Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice
Second Sunday before Advent
Matthew 25. 14-30 :
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
How are we getting ready for Jesus to return? Do we still think he will – and how does the possibility affect our everyday lives?
Reflection on the text
A traditional understanding of the “Parable of the Talents” sees it as an exhortation to use our gifts and abilities to their utmost in the service of God – the landowner. It has also been seen as encouragement to convert new Christians, doubling their numbers within a community. The word ‘talent’ used in the parable comes directly from the Greek talanton, meaning a large quantity of precious metal, ie money.
But is Jesus, who goes on to say (Matthew 25. 31-46) that the nations will be judged by how they have responded to the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and imprisoned, likely to have described God as a rapacious absentee landlord who leaves his slaves to do his dirty work? Compare this with Jesus’ words to the rich young man in Matthew 19. 21 – 24 and, in Matthew 6. 24, about the impossibility of serving both God and Mammon.
Have these words about the slaves and the talents come to us as an example of what not to do? Or, are the characters players in an elaborate allegory that uses the dominant values of the rich and powerful to make a point about living in readiness?
The text is remarkable for its lack of information on how the first two slaves doubled their portion of the money. Wealth was finite in first century Palestine; to increase one’s share meant a decrease for someone else, which was not considered an honourable course of action. However the rich could get around this by having their affairs handled by their slaves.
From the peasants’ point of view, the third slave is the one who acts honourably, as burying a pledge was the safest way to care for someone else’s money. And they would understand how the rich would be expected to take care of their own, while the poor would be the ones to lose what little they had.
some questions for group discussion:
- Share ways that the current ‘credit crunch’ is affecting your life, and consider what Christians can do together to work for a better way of dealing with global economics – sharing the world’s finite wealth most equitably.
- Are you comfortable with the traditional reading of this story as an encouragement to use your ‘talents’ more effectively in God’s service, or does the inherent injustice and exploitation in it get in the way?
- How can we avoid being sucked into behaviour that exploits others? Can we ignore the question of how the slaves doubled their money?
- How should our faith affect the way we deal with our money?
- How seriously do we take the Second Coming? Have our churches lost sight of the Second Coming as a key aspect of our faith? How might the Advent season be used to help us regain it?
- Pray for those caught up in the global economic crisis as the effects begin to show in job losses, house repossessions, and family tensions due to financial worries.
- Pray for the readiness to do the will of God – and the courage to act as if every day is the one on which Jesus will return.
- Use this prayer:
Lord God, we live in disturbing days:
across the world prices rise, debts increase,
banks collapse, jobs are taken away,
and fragile security is under threat.
Loving God, meet us in our fear and hear our prayer:
be a tower of strength amidst the shifting sands,
and a light in the darkness;
help us receive your gift of peace,
in Christ our Lord. Amen.
More background information
- When considering whether to take the parable in its traditional sense read verse 27 on “putting money on deposit with the bankers to gain interest” in the light of the Ecumenical News International report last month of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s call for Christians and Muslims to work together to decide upon a fairer system of borrowing and lending. http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/7816
- Has the Gospel writer co-opted the views of the dominant culture to make his point? His audience would have had expectations that compliant slaves would do their master’s bidding, so he may have been using this example in order to exemplify faithful discipleship without expecting any critique of the practice (see Matthew and the Margins, Warren Carter).
- Malina & Rohrbaugh also suggest that the story is not directly about profit or wealth sharing but about how to behave in the period before the coming of the Messiah (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels). They comment that the elitist reading is congenial to Westerners conditioned to treat gain as legitimate and proper. How the poor would be expected to read it is harder to understand. Some consider that there may be an older version of the parable with a more equitable description of wealth sharing, but this is uncertain.
- See the Jubilee Debt Campaign website http://www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk for an article comparing the current credit crunch with the long-term campaign for debt cancellation for heavily-indebted poor countries. A major international conference, is meeting in Doha, Qatar, at the end of November 2008, to review progress in financing development, including tackling the debt crisis. There is an opportunity on the website to email the UK government and ask them to support efforts at Doha for a new system to deal with debts.