Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage (Matthew 25:14-30) transports me to first century peasantville, where poor Palestinian outcasts listening to Jesus are hearing a cautionary tale about the ways of the world. It’s a long trip from 21st century capitalist greedville, where we have grown accustomed to allegorizing this tale, seeing it as a blessing on spiritual entrepreneurialism. Don’t bury your talent in the ground! we have learned. Invest, invest, invest! Maybe that’s the correct interpretation, but maybe those first hearers heard quite a different message. Here are some clues to the re-interpretation: First, Jesus doesn’t introduce this story like he does all the others, by saying the kingdom of heaven is like. . . The customary intro is conspicuously absent in the original Greek text. Second, note what comes before and after: the preceding story is a call to be awake and ready. The following story is about the judgment of sheep and goats, with the sheep being the blessed ones who recognized and cared for Jesus among the poor, the hungry, the captive, etc. Third, be aware of what a “talent” was in those days: fifteen years’ wages, or between 1 and 2 million dollars!
What the peasants heard Jesus saying: “Listen, y’all, wake up to how the world works. Here’s a master who has 8 million bucks. He’s headed off on one of his jet set trips, so he calls in his most trusted house slaves. He gives one of them 5 mil, the second 2 mil, and third a cool million. He charges them to watch his money while he’s gone. He came back and called in his chips. The first slave had gone out and doubled the money (and y’all know the only way to do that was by swindling people off their land). The second slave had also turned to swindling, extorting another 100% return out of the people of the land. Now, check out the third house slave. He decided he wasn’t going to play the game. He withdrew his participation in the rapacious exploitation of people for the sake of concentrating more wealth in the hands of this master. He buried the million out in the field, showing that money isn’t organic; it doesn’t just grow on trees like his fellow slaves thought.
This third guy decided, with some fear and trembling, to blow the whistle on the rich dude’s game. He spoke truth to power. Why did I do it? He answered the big boss. Because I knew you were like Pharaoh, a hardhearted crook, who gets rich off the labor of others, who reaps where others have sown, who harvests off the sweat of others. Count me out. The rich man doesn’t dispute his analysis, but responds nonetheless, You lazy, wicked, worthless wimp! You’re out, alright, I’m casting you outside the walls of my protection, into the darkness of poverty, where you’ll join the other teeth chattering poor fools, wailing and shivering in the cold. And like Gordon Gecko lecturing Bud in Wall Street, the rich master gives a final moral to the story, Don’t you know how the world works? The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer. And he walked off whistling a tune from his Billie Holiday CD, Them that’s got shall get, Them that’s not shall lose, So the Bible said and it still is news, Mama may have, Papa may have, But God bless the child that’s got his own, That’s got his own. The peasant hearers would have gotten the punch line. The hero gets the prophet’s reward – persecution and exile into the land of suffering, into space they are familiar with. And this story would prepare them for what’s to come next: a story on how to treat the heroic whistle blower. Whenever you see this poor bloke hungry, give him a drink. Whenever you see him naked, clothe him. He’s liable to land in prison for what he did, so visit him. Because when you bless him, you bless me. God bless the child who doesn’t play the game.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.