This passage of Matthew has a tradition all its own. It is traditionally used as source of inspiration for work, for development of strong personal growth, of the overcoming of fear of retribution and the strengthening of personal courage in the face of risk. It is traditionally used as a teaching to make the point that the talents that we have received from God require us to make every effort to bring them to greater and greater fruition toward the ultimate goal of eternal salvation.
The traditional position taken by the teachers is that the first two servants are the stars of the story and the third one is weak and afraid. This is generally underlined by the description of the final state of the third person, he is left destitute and suffering out in the cold. In the following paragraphs, I intend to break with tradition and present a way of reading and understanding the parable based on a long period of time of reflection and conversation concerning the story. I am not a professional exegete, just a simple believer with a view about a very well known Gospel story.
I listen to the description of the master that comes out of the man with one talent. Notice that the description resembles another one that we have read before in the Sacred Scripture. Such as: “So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.” [Joshua 24;13]
We also can read similar words in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 6, verses 10 and 11.
Furthermore, the very next verse in Matthew’s Gospel begins the story of the last judgment. This is the story that exhorts us all to share what we have with those who are “in the dark, where there is weeping and the grinding of teeth” because of the daunting penury that exists there. The story of the Last Judgment does not belittle the poor, the hungry, the naked and not even those in jail. In the meditation on the Last Judgment, even those in jail are not being judged as unworthy of receiving graces from God and help from God’s people for the sake of the Kingdom. It is therefore in view of these elements that I now transition to my thoughts about the parable of the man who entrusted part of his treasure to his servants while he went on travel.
We move on to a story about a rich man who gives a different amount to three of his “employees” or acquaintances, who knows. He leaves them with the expectation that they will make the investment that he has made in them grow. When he comes back he takes from them what they made, but it does not say what he gave them back. What we do get to know about this man is what the third fellow tells us. He is a hard man. He takes what he wants from whomever, whether it was due to him or not. “You harvest where you have not sown…” The man agrees and repeats the exact same words and then tells the man that because he knew that he should have put the money in the bank so that the hard nose, avaricious exploiter could have earned the interest. He is now real angry and has the poor guy thrown out into the darkness.
Isn’t that what happens when the “little guy” speaks truth to power. The one talented man had one very precious talent, in my book. He did not co-operate with what he considered to be immoral behavior. Not only did he not co-operate, he resisted and he said why despite knowing what the consequences would be. I admire that. I’ve been there. It is a very interesting situation.
I notice that Jesus does not elaborate on the lesson that he wants to make here. Like I said earlier, tradition has the lesson going the way of putting the rebel down. Lately, I’ve been allowing my mind and my heart to wonder about just what it really is all about. Maybe you should ask yourselves too. The answer may just convince you that I don’t deserve to have you crying at my funeral.