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You heard the parable in today's Gospel reading, but did you SEE it?
You heard the parable in today's Gospel reading, but did you see it? Put yourself in the midst of the parable and look around. What do you see? Who do you see? What is going through your mind?
It is widely accepted today that Jesus’ parables were intended to be interpreted allegorically. This does not mean that they are allegories in the full sense, such that all characters and events, right down to the little detail of time of day or weather conditions. Rather, there are a number of allegorical connections between all the parables. These parables, such as this one about the talents, is being told to those who are disciples and wannabe followers, and not the general public. Jesus spent most of his teaching career in and around Capernaum. And look at the photo and see the town and its relationship to other sites we read about and see the Mount of the Beatitudes. A place more than likely, Jesus would gather people and tell his stories. Picture yourself sitting on the side of the hill, the warm wind blowing, the sun is out, and maybe a few clouds.
What is happening? Visualize yourself sitting on the grass listening to this story; you are a Jew living in a Roman-occupied land.
Who are the people involved? Who is this rich guy? He has three slaves (servants) whom he must trust.
Who gains from this situation? Who loses? While you are sitting on the grass listening to this story, look around at the faces of the others; what do you see?
What is the situation doing to people? How is it making them think?
Why is it happening? Why does it continue? Does this story seem too far-fetched for you to believe? But do you understand the message?
The political situation in Jesus' time was complex and volatile. The Roman Empire ruled over Judea, which was the region where Jesus lived and preached. The Romans were a powerful and oppressive force, and they were not popular with the Jewish people. Many Jews hoped for a Messiah, a savior who would deliver them from Roman rule. When they heard stories of Jesus, they had hoped he would be the ruler. For a moment, think about people today and how we seek out those to lead based on what we want changed in our world. The same was true for the people at the time of Jesus.
In biblical times, the term "talent" had different meanings:
A unit of weight: A talent was equal to about 75 pounds (34 kilograms). It was used to measure the weight of precious metals, such as gold and silver. For example, the Bible says Solomon received 666 gold talents yearly (1 Kings 10:14).
A unit of currency: A talent was also a unit of money. It was the largest unit of currency used at the time, worth about 6,000 denarii. A denarius was a standard silver coin that was equal to a day's wages. So, one talent was worth about 20 years' wages for a laborer.
A biblical talent was enough money that a man who owned it could be considered wealthy. Ten thousand talents was an astronomical amount of money for the common man, an unforgivable debt. The servant begged the king for a “little more time” to pay it back, but both of them knew that he never could. The other man who owed 100 denarii could have paid off his debt, perhaps, in time and with a little good fortune, but not the ungrateful servant. It certainly would have behooved him to extend the same forgiveness he had received to his fellow man.
The Hebrew term for "talent" was kikkār, a flat, round gold or silver disk or circular-shaped loaf. In Greek, the word comes from tálanton, a large monetary measurement equal to 6,000 drachmas or denarii, the Greek and Roman silver coins.
The word "talent" is used in several parables in the Bible, But we heard it today in the famous parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. In this parable, a master entrusts different amounts of money to three servants. Now, most scholars agree this parable is relatively authentic.
The first two servants invest their money and earn a profit, but the third servant buries his money in the ground. When the master returns, he praises the first two servants for their diligence and punishes the third servant for his laziness.
Now, visualize these servants carrying around this heavy metal. It is unlike a few coins in the pocket, or bills rolled up. Think of a wheel barrel that would be required.
This is the synagogue where You prayed, and Jesus frequently taught (John 6:59; Mark 1:21; Luke 4:33). Here, Jesus cured a demon-possessed man (Mark 1:21-28) and delivered the sermon on the bread of life(John 6:25-59). He even restored the life of the daughter of one ruler of this synagogue (Mark 5:22; Luke 8:41).
The synagogue is near the lake and was built so that when the Jews prayed here, they faced Jerusalem.
Think about what you SEE in your life, your understanding of your history, and the history of your ancestors, all passed down through oral tradition. Jesus’ teachings were often subversive of Roman authority. He challenged the established religious and political order and attracted a following of people marginalized by society. As a result, the Roman authorities saw Jesus as a threat.
As you sit on the grass listening to this story, How do you feel about this situation?
Given our life, do you wonder if this ever happened to anyone? How did they behave or act in the situation? If so, what happened? Why? How did you and/or those around you who are involved feel about this story?
What do you think should be happening?
Are you understanding what Jesus is saying because it is so far-fetched?
Are you getting concerned about any Romans watching this and us sitting here?
What does my Jewish Tradition say about this story?
The Parable of the Talents can be interpreted in a number of ways, but one possible interpretation held by most scholars is that it is a commentary on the political situation in Jesus' time. The master in the parable represents the Roman Empire, and the servants represent the disciples, those who are to bring about the kingdom of God here and now. The master entrusts his wealth to the servants, but he expects them to use it to their full potential. If they do not, they will be punished.
This interpretation suggests that Jesus was calling on the disciples to use their gifts and talents to resist Roman oppression. He was telling them they had the power to change their destiny by instructing others to follow.
Of course, there are other possible interpretations of the parable, and it is essential to remember that it is a story told by Jesus and was not a political manifesto. However, the parable can certainly be seen as a reflection of the political situation in Jesus' time.
Here are some of the ways in which the Parable of the Talents can be interpreted in a political context:
The master represents the Roman Empire, and the servants represent the disciples.
The talents represent the gifts and talents of the Jewish people. The disciples have to make it grow.
The master's expectation that the servants would invest his talents represents the Roman Empire's expectation that the Jewish people would be good citizens and productive members of society, what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God here and now.
The punishment of the servant who buries his talent represents the consequences of not using one's gifts and talents to resist oppression.
The Parable of the Talents is a reminder that we all have a responsibility to use our gifts and talents to make a difference in the world. We should not be afraid to speak out against injustice and oppression. We should use our voices to advocate for change.
In Matthew 13:11-12, Jesus replies to his disciples when they ask why he speaks to the crowds using parables:
“The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has, will be taken from him.”
We have Jesus entrusting the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven to the disciples, to the ‘wannabe’ followers of Jesus sitting on the hillside like you and me.
Do we see ourselves in the parable of the Talents?
We have the master (the Son of Man) entrusting talents to his servants (the disciples). If we complete the message, it appears that it was Matthew’s intention that the talents be identified with ‘the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven’. This identification is further supported by noting that later in Matthew 13, the kingdom of heaven is likened to a treasure and a pearl of great value (Matt. 13: 44-46); equating the kingdom of heaven with talents – large amounts of money – also fits this pattern.
The parable of the Talents then teaches how Jesus’ disciples, You and I, are to be prepared: We need to have invested what we know about the kingdom and to have made a profit with our talents for the greater good of the kingdom. This is at the core of the work of Cardijn, Nolan, and others.
Now go back and re-read the parable, then go read 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, where Paul states:
“So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.”
What can we do to bridge the gap between what is happening (the reality of our world) and what should be happening (the ideal/what our faith says)? Are we following the teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount?
In the parable, Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God. He is talking about our lives in this world, how we live our lives, and what actions we take. The actions we take from this parable help us to know what actions to take when we do SEE-JUDGE-ACT.
What action are we going to take? What is our plan? What actions are needed, and how are they prioritized?
Who can we involve in our actions?
Then, keep in mind we have been entrusted with the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven – and anyone who has read Matthew’s gospel will have been given that very knowledge – then you and I are expected to put that knowledge to good use. This is what you and I call ACT. Matthew’s point is clear: it is up to you and me as to which response of the Master we will receive.
Talent Photo: Library of Congress / Public Domain
Coin: Bronze Sestertius of Nero Rome 62–68 CE
File:Synagoge in Kapernaum, Israel.jpg