Psalm 90:1-8, 12
“Who is Trustworthy?”
Rev. Joshua D. Gill
I really wrestled with the parable this week. This parable is a little uncomfortable especially the response given to the third servant. It is a familiar setup. A man has gone on a journey. He entrusts three slaves with some vast sums of money. To give you an idea of the amount we are talking about 1 talent was equivalent to 15 years of wages. So, handing someone 5 talents or 75 years of wages, 2 talents 30 years of wages or 1 talent 15 years of wages. The man continues on his way. The first servant and second servant both double their talents, which to say nothing else is a pretty impressive return on his investment. The only compensation they seem to receive is a pat on the back. “Well done, you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of the master.”
But the third slave is the focus and a completely different story. The slave begins by characterizing the master. He begins by saying “I know that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did scatter.” This is interesting because he is essentially accusing him of theft. Taking crops that he didn’t plant or tend. The slave is afraid. Can you really blame him at this point? If you knew your boss was stealing but not only stealing, forcing the people to work for them to steal, wouldn’t you be afraid? So, the slave does what he considers logical at that point — he buries the money in a safe spot. As strange as this may sound this was considered a best practice during this period. Bury the money and don’t tell anyone where you put it. Occasionally Archeologists still find money that was never recovered by the owner. The slave returns the talent. The master is upset, calling him a wicked and lazy slave, telling him in the very least he should have put the money in the bank so he would have received the interest. The slave is then thrown out.
I have always found this to be one of Jesus’ more difficult parables to interpret. There isn’t universal agreement on how to understand this. But there are common themes that continue to pop up. The editor has arranged this next to the parable about the 10 bridesmaids. The topic has not changed. We are still operating with the idea with the words from Jesus “The kingdom is like…”. I want to offer two different ways to interpret this text.
The master returns after an unexpected period of time and holds his slaves accountable for their actions with an extremely large amount of money while he is gone. We have to approach this parable and ask the question is Jesus in this parable? Is God in this parable? In Psalm 123 it says, “ As the eyes of the servants look to the hand of the master… so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us”. We see little mercy in the response of the Master. The portrayal of the master seems far out of step with the God of scripture. God who freed the enslaved Israelites. The God who told the Israelites that in your worship you should recall that, “ A wandering Aramean was my ancestor… he went down to Egypt for bread and was enslaved. But the Lord delivered him to a land of milk and honey” and then as a people you should celebrate this deliverance with the Aliens and Foreigners among you.  It is out of step with Jesus who healed the blindmen on the side of the road of the road. Out of step with Jesus who took on the powerful in defense of the ostracized. One could read this and wonder if the third slave is really exposing the underlying inequality in the economic system. That economic system is the Master. Slaves are only motivated by fear and obligation. There is also an awful power dynamic at play here. The slaves are the property of their master. While this slavery is not based on race like chattel slavery, it is still slavery. We need to look no further than our own history to see how an imbalance of power has shaped our nation and caused deep wounds that have not healed. Or how the growing economic inequality is affecting our nation in negative ways. Perhaps this third slave is the only one who is free, who rejects the fear-based system. Maybe one way to read this is that the third slave is actually Jesus. The Jesus of scripture is known for addressing economic injustice, for overturning tables, tossing out money changers and condemning those who would take advantage of unequal system. Maybe this is reminder that in the Kingdom of God, God rejects all of these inequalities.
Another the way to look at this parable is that it is about Grace. The talents are not money, but they are God’s grace entrusted to the Church. The church is entrusted with finding ways to grow that grace. To share the love of God with their community. To remind people that God’s love is unconditional, it is not dependent on us. God’s love is not limited. That God says to us we are defined by our worst moment. Each time someone experiences that grace it continues to grow and spread. God’s love and abundance grows, people who experience this grace know true freedom and love. The church that buries their grace reduces the importance of it and in reducing, they reject it. There have been moments where the church has rejected grace. The way at times it has treated women, not allowing them to enter leadership roles. The way in which so many denominations split over the issue of slavery and race during our civil war. The way our own denomination has suffered around the issue of same gender marriage. In her best-selling book Pastrix, Pastor and Speaker Nadia Bolz-Weber shares the following: “Easter is basically another word for church showoff day—a time when we spiff up, pull out the lilies, hire a brass quintet, and put on fabulous hats and do whatever we have to do to impress visitors. She writes to me; it had always felt this is the church’s version of putting out the guest towels. Easter is not a story about new dresses and flowers and spiffiness. It’s a story about flesh and dirt and bodies and confusion, and it’s about the way God never seems to adhere to our expectations of what a proper God would do. Jesus didn’t look impressive at Easter. Mary mistook him as the gardener. Jesus was dirty, had dirt under his fingernails not the angelic portrait most churches have him. Jesus did this to make all things new, to give grace to all. Grace doesn’t always look perfect. Like the Easter story itself, grace is often messy. Grace looks like reconciliation between family members who don’t actually deserve it. Grace looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go. Grace looks like being kind of oneself. Grace is the thing we never saw coming—never even hoped for—but ends up being what we needed all along.”
This is the beauty of a parable that they are ripe with meaning and can be understood from multiple vantage points. At moments in our lives we need to be reminded of God’s grace and how much God loves us. At other moments in our lives we need to be reminded of God’s economy and economy that doesn’t separate in the haves and haves not, but looks at all as the Children of God.
 Deuteronomy 26:4-11
 Bolz-Weber, Nadia. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint (p. 172-174). FaithWords. Kindle Edition.