The parable that we hear today is one of the most difficult parables in the entire Gospel. Unfortunately, because it is so difficult, we have, for years and years, tried to read the parable from our own experience and as if it were set in our own culture.
However, careful reading of the parable can point us toward a new understanding of this story. First of all, unlike almost all of the other parables, this one does not begin with the words, “The kingdom of God is like. . .” So perhaps we should not try to make it about the kingdom of God.
Secondly, the parable is about money. The Greek word “talenton” is not translated into our understanding of the English word “talent.” Realizing that it is about money, it might be helpful to read it taking into consideration the other things that Jesus has had to say about money.
The master is described as “a demanding person,” harvesting where he did not plant and gathering where he did not scatter; a man to be feared. Does Jesus describe the Father in this kind of language at any other time in the Gospel?
Perhaps the most telling of the clues in the parable is the case of the third servant who is punished because he did not invest the money and present his master with the interest that it would have earned. Usury or charging interest on a loan or an investment is strictly forbidden in the Law. Would Jesus have approved of someone violating the commandment against usury?
So perhaps we need to read the parable recognizing that it is the third servant who is held up to us as an example, someone who obeys the Law of Israel even when everyone else is concerned about their own gain. His fellow servants gave in to the master’s quest for wealth; he did not. Instead, he endured rejection and humiliation rather than giving in to the social order of the day. The evangelist has actually used the third servant to give us a glimpse of the future, a future in which Jesus would be rejected and humiliated, would be led out of the city and put to death.
This view of the parable may be difficult for us to accept. We all want to get ahead in life. This may be why the parable was actually interpreted as it has been. Interestingly enough, this parable appears in the Gospel in the last chapter before the beginning of the passion narrative. Each of the Gospels leads us to this story of Jesus’ sacrificial death for us, the death of a rejected, scorned, and humiliated servant.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator