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Parable Of The Talents


Neon Genesis
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In Luke chapter 19, Jesus tells a different version of the parable of talents found in the gospel of Matthew. One of the troubling verses in this passage to me is Luke 19:27 where Jesus says this chilling line:

But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.” ’
I understand this is supposed to be a parable, but if the king is supposed to symbolize Jesus, is Jesus telling Christians to slaughter anyone who doesn't follow him or am I somehow misunderstanding something?
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Just a quick note

 

This passage is part of Jesus's return to Jerusalem which begins in Luke 13. When we were following this through the lectionary a while ago, I was frequently brought short by the Apocalyptic, with me or agin me, language, which I attribute to the author and the times.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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It’s pretty clear that Jesus would not identify himself with the vengeful despotic king in that ending. I’ve read that some scholars say the later addition to the parable was an intentional negative contrast to the coming of the Son of Man -- Luke’s version probably refers to Herod Archelaus, who did kill large numbers of Jewish detractors that opposed his rule.

 

Luke’s version goes a step beyond Matthew’s, in putting pressure on the disciples to persevere in the Way and not be discouraged by the delayed kingdom or the persecution they experienced.

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Good Morning...

 

A difficulty that we find when reading the New Testament is in such passages, especially when we read them without using an editor's eye. Reportedly written by a traveling companion of Paul, direct quotes passed down through the decades between Jesus' execution and the written quote may very well have had some changes introduced in them. Also, the original texts do not exist...we cannot go back to the original text to check the written word to that which has been passed along to us from Greek and then in Latin. It is not unusual for grammatical errors in translation and copying to have taken place, especially when words have meanings that rely upon a context. With this in mind, does this really sound like something that Jesus would say? My leading is to say no, it is not. The Parable of the Talents is also found in Matthew 25:14-30 and reads completely differently. Which is the original? Which contains the actual words of Jesus? If we approach the New Testament as legend and not actual eye witness accounts and the words of Jesus, then we can begin to understand these differences. The Gospel writings in the New Testament are legend based upon the oral tradition of passing along history from one generation to another and were not written down for decades after the fact, in this case after the execution of Jesus. And they were not written by contemporaries of Jesus who were peasants, fishermen, and so forth. The texts that we have are all in Greek, a language that would have been unfamiliar to most of Jesus' followers and disciples. The New Testament, then, becomes the story of the early Christian Church and its founding, and less like the exact word of God or Jesus of Nazareth. Two excellent books on this approach are Marcus Borg's 'Reading the Bible Again for the First Time' and 'Misquoting Jesus' by Bart Ehrman, both highly recommended reading for Progressive Christians.

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Neon,

 

I would not be troubled by the passage or look too hard. After all, there is a recent thread here on "What is Scripture" that addresses the light in which most people here see what is reported as scripture. It seems to me people will make it say what they want to hear to justify actions and there is no shortage of verses in the Bible to establish any position to the exclusion of other verses. In my view, we judge ourselves by our own beliefs, even as in the parable.

 

Joseph

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"But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.” ’

 

My personal interpretation is that a time comes when speaking is over and a spiritual realization is necessary. The Spirit is not the way, we (the ego mind) want it to be so we must bring the enemies of mind to the present moment by eliminating memories of love in the past and the fantasies of love in the future to the present so we can love in the present moment. This moment can be expressed as Christ Consciousness, nirvanna, moksha, or just taking the pillow off of our head and waking up. It seems this experience is spiritually based and not religious. I think Jesus is directly saying to stop hitting the snooze button and wake up. How many times we hit the 5 more minutes of sleep button. It is so easy.

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Neon,

 

I would not be troubled by the passage or look too hard. After all, there is a recent thread here on "What is Scripture" that addresses the light in which most people here see what is reported as scripture. It seems to me people will make it say what they want to hear to justify actions and there is no shortage of verses in the Bible to establish any position to the exclusion of other verses. In my view, we judge ourselves by our own beliefs, even as in the parable.

 

Joseph

What disturbs me is that there was a discussion about the meaning of this verse at another forum and there was a fundamentalist Christian there who admitted they thought this passage did in fact mean Jesus does think that non-believers should be punished with death. It disturbs me that fundamentalist Christians are using this passage as a justification for violence.
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What disturbs me is that there was a discussion about the meaning of this verse at another forum and there was a fundamentalist Christian there who admitted they thought this passage did in fact mean Jesus does think that non-believers should be punished with death. It disturbs me that fundamentalist Christians are using this passage as a justification for violence.

 

 

Perhaps you mean A fundamentalist Christian rather than fundamentalist Christians as i'm fairly certain from my experience that this person is the exception or among a small minority rather than the rule in his/her thinking.

 

Joseph

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Our culture has a long history of blaming the victims, and siding with the perpetrators. We are so used to blaming the victims, that when we are confronted with a Bible story which unmasks the power of oppression, we turn it into a condemnation of the poor.

 

When we become aware of this bias, it enables us to look at our basic beliefs in a whole new way. When I was packing up my books to move here, I actually threw out a number of my old textbooks. They just were not accurate descriptions of what we find in the Bible. One of the biggest changes facing the world of Biblical studies is the realization that the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, was written from the perspective of a persecuted people who were in the minority. The Bible was not written by powerful people who were in control of their destiny.

 

The Bible writers saw the world differently from most people. Most world religions describe the greatness and strength of the hero when he first finds God. Moses was a prince of Egypt who was wanted for murder. He was on the run from the law when he met God for the first time. Moses ends up leading his people out of slavery.

 

His story is written from the runaway slave’s perspective, and not the perspective of their powerful Egyptian masters. The first time the stories of the Bible were collected into one book happened while the people were enslaved again, this time during their exile in Babylon. They collected these stories, so they could remember who they were, so they could survive their captivity. By the time Jesus was born, the nation of Israel had not existed for over 150 years. They were a conquered people. The Greeks and later the Romans had occupied the land and ran it for their own benefit. All of Jesus’ stories were told from the perspective of the underdog, and not the master.

But this is not how you and I were taught to read the Bible. Since the Protestant Reformation in Europe, we’ve been taught to read it from the point of view that we are the Empire. We are the powerful ones. We are the colonizers. We are culturally superior. We are the economic elite, destined to rule the world.

 

Let’s look at the parable of the workers in the vineyard. When I went to seminary they tried to explain this story as if God was the landowner. To identify God as the landowner is to treat this parable as if it was an allegory. With an allegory you can say God is the landowner, Jesus is the Steward, and the day labourers are the Jews. But a parable is not an allegory. A parable is an extreme, exaggerated example of what God is like. A parable is an open-ended story, which seeks to turn your expected ideas upside down. From the landowner’s perspective, this is an allegory about judgement on those who reject the grace which is offered to them. Those who are ungrateful will be punished in the end. But does that sound like good news to you?

 

But what does this parable say from the servants’ point of view? A day labourer in those days was a member of the expendable class. The best comparison today is a homeless person living on the street. The career options for an expendable person was to work as a day labourer during harvest time, to beg when things were slow, and to become a thief when things were desperate. An expendable person had lost his land and his trade. Once you hit being an expendable, the average life span was only five to seven years. Their life was, as Thomas Hobbes puts it, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

 

The wage that the landowner offered them was just enough to keep them alive. Most peasants in that culture lived on only five hundred calories a day. They were always only a day away from starvation. The wage was just enough to keep them alive for one more day. It wasn’t much, but it mattered a lot. This landowner is not being generous when he calls the workers. He tells them he will decide what to pay them. His order to go and work is not to be questioned. They will take what he decides, because they have no bargaining power.

 

Jesus has created a powerfully dramatic scene. The rich ruthless landlord, who gets what he wants, was normally never seen in public. His steward would do all the dirty work for him. In this case, the rich man steps out from behind the polite mask, and is revealed for all to see. He has a huge labour pool to draw from, so he can dictate the terms of employment- there will be no negotiations here. He is offering a subsistence wage. The workers are so desperate they will take anything so they can survive just one more day.

 

This all sets up the key confrontation in the story. At the end of the day, the landlord tells his steward to pay them all the same wage, starting with those who started last in the day. This is a slap in the face to the workers. This was a culture of honour and shame. He should have respected those who had put in a full day’s work. By putting the last workers at the head of the line, and paying them the same, he has shamed the workers. He is saying that the quality of the full day’s work was of no more value than the single hour of work. These day labourers have nothing, except their ability to work. They aren’t begging or stealing here. And the landowner has insulted their ability to work for an honest day’s wage. He has deliberately shamed them.

 

If they were to say nothing at all, they might as well be dead, because then they would have no honour what so ever. The landowner responds to their complaint by singling out the one worker who dares to raise his voice. The owner is going to make an example of this upstart. He says “Friend, I am doing no wrong here.” His use of the term ‘friend’ is condescending, because wealthy landowners were never friends or brothers to expendable day labourers.

 

He claims to have bargained fairly with them for the wage, even though there was no bargaining. He has all the power. They have none, and they both know it. The owner shames the worker, and sends him away. This day labourer will never find work here ever again.

 

The punch line of the story comes when the landowner says “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” As a society of free market capitalists, we don’t hesitate to answer his question with a resounding Yes! We are free to do what we want with our own money! But if we are people of the Bible, people of God’s covenant, the answer to the rich man’s question is a resounding charge of “Blasphemy!”

 

It is blasphemy, because God gave the people of Israel the Promised Land that they were to be the stewards of forever. Debts were to be forgiven every seventh year. If the land was lost, it was to be restored in the year of Jubilee. The rich were to care for the poor.

 

If I was to say "If the shoe fits..." you'd respond "wear it!" We are all familiar with call out lines that have a standard response. We are all familiar with Jesus’ saying “You will always have the poor with you.” What we usually overlook is the fact he is quoting a line from Deuteronomy 15:11 which has a very specific response, which everyone in his day would have known.

 

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” This rich landowner is clearly violating one of the Torah commandments he is supposed to be living by.

 

The parables of Jesus are meant to contrast how life is lived under the Kingdom of Rome, with what the kingdom of this world would be like if God sat on the throne. The kingdom of God is in stark contrast to the Kingdom of this world. This parable exposes the power of oppression, and shows how it has wandered away from the power of God. Oppression silences us. Divided we fall.

 

Despite how badly the rich landowner treats the day labourers, he still needs them. What will he do if no one answers his call for workers in the market place tomorrow morning? Would you be willing to work all day for him, or would you only answer the call at the end of the day? The landowner can’t pull this stunt a second time. He is no longer trust worthy. He only hurts himself when he hurts others like this.

 

In God’s kingdom, justice is not about punishing ungrateful people. In God’s kingdom, we seek a just and fair distribution of wealth which respects the true value of each person’s gifts. We need to be just, loving and respectful in how we treat each other, regardless of our economic station in life.

 

In God’s kingdom,those this world calls First, shall be Last, and those this world calls Last, shall be First.

 

Source: William Herzog “Parables as subversive speech” Westminster-John Knox Press 1994

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  • 3 weeks later...

The Parable of the Talents is my favorite parable for progressive interpretation. I have searched back through the earliest writings on it and it seems that Jesus was always associated with the master in either version, Matthew or Luke. I have found that contemporary writers often need to do some mental gymnastics to get around the problems that causes.

 

Despite the long tradition, this doesn't mean that it is what Jesus originally intended, but to change our understanding of it, we would need to examine the context and times and have some pretty good arguments for changing the interpretation. Fortunately, someone has done that work, Gustav Guiteirrez. You can search on that or check out my version of his interpretation. Parable of the Talents sermon In short, I don't think Jesus is represented in this parable, he is telling a story of what it is going to be like after he is gone, and expects that his audience will relate to the third slave. He is saying it is not going to be easy, but hang in there, stick to your convictions, your rewards will come later.

 

I should mention that I have had a lot of difficulty getting middle class American audiences to open up to this. I had to go to Colombia, where descendants of slaves are still cast into the outer darkness to find people who could relate to it.

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  • 5 months later...

Just an update to my original question that I finally heard an answer to it that makes some sense. I was listening to the latest episode of the Bible Geek podcast and the bible scholar Robert Price was answering this question if Luke 19;27 was used as a justification for massacring non-believers and what the meaning of this verse is. Price's argument was that parables aren't mean to be read the same way we read more modern allegories where everything in the story is symbolic of something else. Parables aren't supposed to be read like you read the symbolism in Pilgrim's Progress but the main point of a parable is the punchline of the story and all the rest of the details are insignificant window dressing with no real theological importance. Price speculates that Luke could be referring to the fate of non-believers in the End Times but he also leaves out the possibility that Luke 19:27 simply has no real significant meaning since it's just tacked on at the end and just seems to be there as part of the plot.

Edited by Neon Genesis
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