There is a story told by Megan McKenna in her book Parables, The Arrows of God, which puts a different spin on Matthew’s version of the “Parable of the Talents.” It comes to us from the Middle Ages, from the Jewish community. I hope it will get us thinking about what Jesus is trying to teach his disciples.
“Once upon a time two men were born in the same village on the same day. One was born in the ghetto to a poor and struggling family, hungry all the time. All his life he wondered what it would be like to be rich. He was a good Jew, obedient to the law, and even generous to beggars who were worse off than he was. He looked at the rich man’s family, which lived on the hill above the town, and wondered what it would be like to have more than you needed or lots of options, and he was jealous of the life he was not given.
The other man was born to the rich family and he lived with wealth, privilege, and education. He too was a good Jew, obedient to the law, and generous to the poor and well respected in his community. He looked down on the village and the poor part of the town and saw all the poor people as pretty much the same, no one standing out at all.
And then, both men died on the same day. They got to the gates of heaven together and were very surprised to find St. Peter there waiting for them, with the gates wide open. St. Peter stepped forward and shoved the poor man aside and welcomed the rich man into the kingdom with open arms. In fact there was a red carpet rolled out, a band and trumpets, and all the kingdom of heaven turned out for a parade, speeches, and a dinner in his honor.
The poor man was stunned and only managed to slip in before the gates closed unceremoniously. He watched in fascination, and he grew more and more concerned and angry. This is not the way it was supposed to be! He’d believed that because his life was hard on earth, he would be rewarded greatly in heaven and that the rich on earth would have “hell to pay.” But this was looking just like earth, with the rich being treated specially and the poor cast aside and forgotten. Why nobody even knew he was in, was it worth it?
He stayed around for the dinner and became even more angry and annoyed. It was a feast, a banquet, with glowing accounts of the rich man’s life. Then came the last straw, the man was given keys to the biggest mansion the poor man had ever seen in his life— or his dreams. That was it! The poor man decided to tell Peter off and, if this was heaven, he wanted out. Hell couldn’t be any worse than this. He boldly went up to Peter as things were winding down and accosted him loudly reminding him that he was here too and that he was fed up.
St. Peter was stunned and chagrined and apologetic, profusely welcoming him and telling him he was sorry that he had forgotten all about him. But the man would not be eased or mollified— he has indignant and wanted out. He listed all the things that the rich man had received and pointed out that he had gotten nothing— except the gates of heaven nearly slammed in his face. Peter tried to reassure him, telling him he did have a mansion and it made the rich man’s look like a shack. That slowed him down some, and he thought he’d go see it before he left in a huff.
He was taken deep into the kingdom, close to the throne of God. He couldn’t believe his eyes—it was magnificent. Peter told him that the rich man’s house was way outside the inner court of heaven. But the man was still angry—He said, “Okay, so I have a really nice place close to the throne of God, but why didn’t I get the red carpet, and the fanfare and the music and the speeches and the attention the rich man got— it wasn’t fair.”
“I know”, said Peter, as he put his arm around the poor man, “ I know. But you have to understand. People like you come through every day, but do you know how long it’s been since someone like him got in?”
Like the Jewish parable Matthew’s telling of this parable seems outwardly is about money, power, a very demanding master and three slaves, but if we look deeper, we see issues of justice, economics, repentance, and community.
Today’s gospel story is about talents, but in Jesus’ day, talents were something different that what we call talents. A talent in the story is not a skill, a or a coin or money, it is a measure of weight, perhaps in silver or gold. Biblical scholar, William Barclay describes each talent as worth 15 years’ salary in the time of Jesus. Even the guy with one talent had a small fortune.
Obviously Jesus is using gross exaggeration and allegory to give us an important lesson about life. My friend, Deacon Warren Dorsch tells the story this way, “Jesus is the man going on the journey; namely his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. The servants he leaves behind are you, me, every person in the world. And the talent, the precious thing of great value that he gives us, is the capability to share the love of the Father with other people. And in his parable, Jesus goes out of his way to tell us that his gifts are always given according to our ability. And in Galatians 5:22-23 the Apostle Paul writes about the fruits of the Spirit or the spiritual gifts we are to develop. Those gifts that we are to grow are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
We can take the gifts God has given us, and make them multiply over and over again. Or we can say to ourselves, “I really don’t have that much to offer, so I’ll just get by living a good life while minding my own business. Or I’m not good enough, let someone else do it, etc.”
Thus we sometimes do not take the opportunity to magnify and share God’s love because we think we don’t know how to do it, or worse, we don’t want to do it. (Thank you Warren)
Today’s gospel story was told near the end of Jesus’ time on earth. Jesus is telling his disciples stories because they are close to Jerusalem and they think the kingdom of heaven is about to come. They think they’re going to be big shots. They are keyed up, hopeful, expectant; but they are not looking at reality, the reality of what is going to happen in Jerusalem.
Jesus is telling his disciples about how the world operates. Those who don’t play the games of power, politics, intrigue, and injustice may suffer. I wonder if the disciples could see the deeper meaning of the story about a boss and three people who work for him. Two of the employees doubled their money and one did nothing with what he had been given. On the surface, it looks like it is a story about a demanding boss and financial success. But Jesus was never impressed by monetary riches and in those days, the only way you could make that much return on your money in those days and probably now was by cheating people, usury, which is lending money and making people pay exorbitant interest. Jesus is talking about spiritual wealth, and encouraging his disciples to work to build a heavenly kingdom.
Let’s review those spiritual gifts, those fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 and grow them for the glory of God. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,, gentleness, and self control. Let us grow these riches in our lives and not worry about our neighbor’s stuff. Let’s work on spreading the wealth of God’s love with the world.
Please pray with me.