There are few things I think are important to say about this parable. We can’t see or hear Jesus. In coming to terms with that reality, we lose something. I think we’re missing some of the humor and irony probably embedded within these words. Jesus is a very funny guy. He invented irony. God created comedy. We shouldn’t be surprised when his words connect the human family with the inherent humor and laughter in the world around us. You and I both know this isn’t the case. We are surprised. Most religious writings and sermons go out of their way to hide anything funny about Jesus as a person, what he might of have said, or to understand God as the fun loving creator of the universe the Bible reveals God to be.
This is why I think we need to read out from the parable. It’s important to see the wider context of what Jesus has taught about wealth, poverty, riches, and eternity before we try to understand the punch line of Matthew 25:14-30.
A talent is a unit of money. It’s a great deal of money, far more money than the average worker would have ever seen or earned in their lifetime. One of the best guesses is that a single talent is worth about 20 years wages for the average worker. Let me say that again, one talent is worth about 20 years wages for a single worker. Allow that to sink in for a moment.
Jesus tells us a parable where a man gives one worker 5 talents, another 2, and another 1. He gave one man more money than he could expect to make or earn in a 100 years. To the second man he gave more money than he would expect to make in his own life expectancy (40 years). The third man received 20 years wages, a working life’s income, from Jesus. From the very beginning, do you see the hyperbole, the exaggeration, and the irony?
There is something more going on here. People just didn’t win the lottery. It’s the most extreme of extreme situations. It’s a fantasy. People’s lives are changed dramatically by getting rich and getting rich quick. You’ve all seen the stories on the news when people when the lottery in our day and time. How many of them are broke and worse off within two or three years?
So what do you do now that you’re supposedly better off than everyone else around you? Join the rat race? Move out of talents and get into gold? I’m not so certain. The Kingdom of Heaven is not about your ability to master wealth management. Obviously then we should read “talent” as we would read it in 2014, with no connection (but perhaps with a respectful nod) to its original meaning in the century. We can work our way out of this whole by interpreting our talents as our gifts, skills, and abilities which God expects us to utilize. You could do that but I’m still not sure we’d end up in the right place.
I believe Jesus is trying to tell us that money changes us and our lives. The dynamics of getting into the kingdom of heaven (whatever those dynamics are) are altered when money enters the equation. We have to work harder because the money is working against us. The irony is something that should be a blessing, an easy windfall for all three, ends up destroying one person and taking over the lives of the other two. The other two had to manage their investments. Even the guy who gave them the money says to the third man, “you could have gone to the bankers”. They couldn’t go back to their old lives. The third didn’t understand how much his life had changed once he accepted this cash. He, like the other two, was now in the financial rat race of the 1st century.
The kingdom of God is like three men who don’t need the money, despite what everyone says or thinks. The kingdom of God is like the way it was that day when everyone had all they needed before the man left on his trip. The kingdom of God is like Matthew describes it 20 chapters earlier, as he records a sermon Jesus is preaching from a mountain side in Galilee:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven,
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth.
I’m thinking the guy with one coin was the meekest investor I’ve ever met and if anyone is going to inherit the Earth, it’s going to be him.