We read this story every three years, but we remember it frequently because of the use of the word talent. This year I wanted to learn more about talents in the Bible. A talent is a weight measurement, like a pound or a ton. Talents of silver and gold were often shaped in disks or loafs, like weightlifting plates or housebuilding bricks.
There were different weight amounts for different materials. A talent of silver weighed about 50 pounds. A talent of gold weighed 130 pounds. At today’s rate, a pound of gold is worth $15,400. Multiplied out, a talent would be worth about $2 million. It is such a large amount of money that it is mostly an accounting amount, used within the banks, and transferred between accounts and account owners.
A gold bullion brick weighs about 27 pounds. What would you do if someone gave you a stack of 30 or 12 or even 6 gold bullion bars? That is what the three slaves were dealing with. This amount of money is H-U-G-E!
In the parable Jesus tells, the man gives his slaves these huge amounts of money to manage: $10 million, $4 million, and $2 million. The first two slaves invest the money and double it, giving the man $20 and $8 million in return on investment. The third slave believes the man to be cruel, and he is afraid to lose the money. So, he does what he thinks is the safest thing; he buries it.
… After thinking about the physical appearance of this much gold, I started thinking about the man who would trust his slaves with this much money.
Would I like to work for a man who trusted me with that much money? I confess that I might be more like the third slave. I might be tempted to play it safe. I also know myself and that I would do enough research to find ways to invest the money and increase it.
We can assume the man knew these slaves, he knew they had lots of experience in wealth management, and he believed they could increase his wealth significantly. The man trusted these slaves with his money.
How, then do we understand the fear experienced by the third man? “I know you to be a harsh man, and I was afraid, so I took the safest route I could think of.” Is the man really a scoundrel? Is he Vito Corleone, the Godfather? If so, then the third slave is right to be afraid, and we should be wondering how the first two slaves managed to double their money. Were they unscrupulous as well?
Or, is the third slave simply paranoid, afraid he will fail, so he refuses to take any risks? The man criticizes the slave for the characterization of him as harsh and judgmental. Is the man really hard or is he simply responding negatively to the accusation of being harsh?
… I noticed something else this time I read the story. The man doesn’t give any instructions to the slaves. He just entrusts all that wealth to them. Hmmm, now we have some things to think about.
Maybe the image of God is what it important in this parable. The first two slaves did not fear the man. They happily worked to invest his money and increase the investment. The man praises them highly for their work.
If this is an image of God, then God is generous with us, and blesses us when we invest in divine purposes. God blesses us even if we don’t have millions of dollars to play with, even if we are doing simple things like feeding hungry people.
Our image of God is often based on our life experiences. If bad stuff happens to us and we blame God for it, then God is severe and punishing. This kind of God delights in judging our sins and loves to condemn us for them.
If bad stuff happens to us and we rely on God to help get us through the bad stuff, then God is loving and forgiving. This kind of God delights in seeing us grow in faith and in having a strong relationship with us.
… Mike and I love to watch the various versions of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. We enjoy the full range, Alastair Sim, George C Scott, Patrick Stewart, Kelsey Grammer, and the Muppets, all very different and engaging tellings of the story.
I think we can use the characters of Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit to see these different views of God. Scrooge has a really negative view of life because he had a difficult childhood. Despite being wealthy, he saves every penny he can, makes his employees work for pennies as well. He says “Bah, humbug” about Christmas. He says, “Let the poor die to reduce the surplus population.”
In contrast, Bob Cratchit and his family are poor, barely getting by. Tiny Tim has a crippling disease. The older daughter works as a housemaid to support herself. They go to church. Their Christmas dinner is a humble meal, with a small goose that provides each person a few bites of meat. As poor as they are, they pray before they eat, asking God’s blessing on everyone, including Ebenezer Scrooge.
Scrooge’s view of God is that God let bad things happen when he was young, and God won’t help him now. The Cratchit family believes in God’s presence with them and that God provides what they need every day.
I assume you know the rest of the story, that the three spirits of Christmas lead Scrooge to reevaluate his life experiences and he becomes a believer in Christmas. He doesn’t specifically pray or praise God, but his worldview has been altered. He has repented. He suddenly becomes generous and caring.
This week, I hope you think about the ways in which your view of life and the world reflect what you believe about God. And think about the ways in which your view of God reflects your view of life.
I hope you believe that God is generous and trusting in your abilities, your talents. I hope you recognize the gifts God has given you to use for God’s purposes. I hope you count your blessings every day and give thanks for them.
Please pray with me: Generous God, you give us more than we can ever use. Lead us to be thankful. Show us ways to use those gifts to help others. Above all, we thank you for your love given to us by the talent-load. Amen