The Gospel According to Matthew – 2017.11.19
God is not a King, or a Banker, the Betrayal of the Church
It is heartbreaking to see the teaching of Jesus betrayed so completely by the writers of the Gospels.
The authors of Matthew, writing a hundred years or so after the death of Jesus, were more concerned with building up and retaining church property than they were with teaching the good news, that Christ has risen, that God loves the sinner, even the worst of them.
It is impossible to know how the way came to be betrayed in such a fulsome and complete manner, but I am thinking it has to do with the fact that over the course of a hundred years, after the destruction of Jerusalem, the leadership of Christian communities throughout the Empire fell to wealthy, bishops were selected from among leading merchants and tradespeople, landowners and people of status.
It is not surprising that in this time the way, that Jesus preached about came to be imagined as a kingdom, while abba, the father, became a king.
This parable views God or Jesus as a merchant, and a banker, instead of a fisherman, or a farmer.
The parable begins with the idea that God will distribute challenges and tasks to the people according their ability, that God knows both the powers and liabilities of God’s children, and consequently God knows what to expect from them.
Therefore, it is out of Character for the loving and knowing God to punish the servant who buried his one talent. God knew that this is what this servant would do.
According to the way of Jesus, the servant who buried the talent should be the recipient of mercy, and ministry, not cast out into the dark.
One hundred years after the death of Jesus, the leaders of the church had forgotten this.
The servant who hid the talent was not lazy, as “master” said, but was fearful because he knew that the man he was beholden to was a hard person, who took what he had not worked for and robbing from others the fruit of their labor.
This servant did not multiply his talent as the others had done because he did not want to emulate the corrupt practices of his master as the others were willing to do.
Again, the master, who represents either God or Jesus in this parable, does not deny being hard of heart, and does not deny the charge of being a thief, reaping what he had not sewn, and gathering what he had not scattered.
He is proud of it, and that is the type of behavior he intended to promote.
He charges the frightened servant with laziness, and neglect and stupidity, call him a good-for-nothing and has him thrown out into the dark, into the place of wailing and gnashing of teeth, into hell, the place of death.
Through this twist in the narrative the authors of this parable up-end Jesus’ teaching that the last will be first, and the first shall be last.
The true reading of this parable is this:
The man who was thrown out represents the figure of Christ. Like Christ he refused to emulate the wicked practices of the rulers, he refused to profit from the suffering of others, he knew that he would be punished, and he accepted the consequences. He was proven right, and he was killed for his convictions.
You have been faithful in small things: come and join in your master's happiness
Jesus spoke this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of Heaven is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out.
‘The man who had received the five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more. The man who had received two made two more in the same way. But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
‘Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents came forward bringing five more. “Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made.”
‘His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”
‘Next the man with the two talents came forward. “Sir,” he said “you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.”
‘Last came forward the man who had the one talent. “Sir,” said he “I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and lazy servant! So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered? Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest. So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.”’
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time