Saturday, January 4, 2014

the parable of the talents

I was discussing Matthew 25:14-30 (about the parable of the talents) with my family and we all sorta realized how little we really understood this parable -- that we had always just accepted the conventional explanations and perhaps missed its secrets for so many years… 

Consider the following questions my brother raised:

In modern english, the word "talent" has come to refer exclusively to any kind of mental endowment, aptitude, or physical ability. From the perspective of those hearing the parable (and the author of the gospel), a talent was a measurement of money. Has the modern understanding of the parable been based exclusively on the contemporary definition of the word "talent"? Perhaps restricting the parable's definition to modern english's definition of the word "talent" is too restrictive? But not including that definition in the parable's interpretation could be too exclusive as well no? Is there something else here?  
The description of the "lord" in the parable is interesting and I'm not sure what to make of it if it's supposed to be a parallel to God. The man with a single talent described his lord thus: "I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed". This seems to indicate the master enriches himself at the cost of others. The master himself admits: "thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed". So he is admitting he is known to be ruthless and rapacious in business and expects the servant to have acted similarly? That doesn't seem to be a very apt description of who God is … at least not to me. 
Lastly, the amounts distributed to the slaves, at least from what I've read, are actually very large. Supposedly, a talent was equivalent to about 6,000 denarii, a denarii being equal to a day's wage for a common laborer. Thus, one talent, would be about twenty years worth of wages (no small amount). Five talents, as given to another one of the servants, would be about 100 years worth of wages. Why then does the Lord say, "Well done, thou good and faithful aservant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things"? In my mind, another way of saying this would be "you've been faithful over a little, I'll put you in charge of a lot" even though one talent is not "a little".

In consideration of these questions my dad sent us all a link to one man's interpretation of the parable -- which aptly answers these questions. I strongly urge you to read and reread this analysis of the parable of the talents. It is so beautiful and so profound, just as Jesus intended I think.

***p.s. To me this understanding of the parable is born out well with the verse (similar to the one in Matthew) in D&C 82:3
 For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation.

I always read this verse as referring to more than just talents/blessings we are given, so sinning "against the greater light" does not mean not failing to use talents/abilities, it is failing to live up to what you know to be God's will for your life -- refusing to see what has been illuminated for you, or seeing it and rejecting it. Some of us have a clearer understanding/more illumination, and so when we fail to live accordingly -- when we wrap ourselves up "with hobbies and little luxuries" and selfishness  as C.S. Lewis put it -- we fail just the way the author described in the analysis of the parable.  

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