Robert Capon – Parable of the Talents

We are in the last two weeks of our study of Jesus’s parables using Rev. Robert F. Capon’s book Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment – Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. The final parables we will be studying are from all from Matthew 25 – The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, the Parable of the Talents, and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Please read chapter 12 – “The End of the Storm (1)” and chapter 13 – “The End of the Storm (2).” Fr. Kimel’s commentary on the Talents is here.

The Context:

These three final parables occur between Matthew’s Little Apocalpyse in Matthew 24 and the beginning of the Passion in Matthew 26. These are the very last parables of Jesus and Jesus’ last teachings on the Kingdom of Heaven. As we discuss these parables, think about what is going through Jesus’ mind during these parables. He knows that his remaining time is limited. He knows that he will be facing betrayal, pain, and death imminently. And he knows that God wills these occurrences. Jesus chooses these three stories upon which to end his teaching ministry before proceeding to the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.

The Parable:

“For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” Matt 25:14-20.

Monetary Exchange Rate:

When we begin the parable, Jesus speaks in terms of “talents.” A talent was a unit of weight of gold or silver. It generally equaled about 6,000 denari. A denarius was equal to a day’s wage for a common laborer and the laborer would earn about 300 denari a year (six days per week, fifty weeks per year). Therefore, a talent is about twenty years of wages for the typical laborer. In American dollars, if the typical laborer earns $100/day, $500/week (we get two days off a week, not one), and $25,000/year then one talent is worth about $500,000. This parable is dealing with very large sums of money – $500,000, $1MM, and $2.5MM.   

The Man:

Think about how Jesus describes the protagonist. He is a very successful businessman. He reaps where he does not sow and gathers where he does not winnow is a good description of a loan shark or a wiseguy. Reading between the lines, the man loans out money to farmers and thereby obtains the benefits of the harvest without doing any of the work. We have seen this man before as the protagonist in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

The Greek literally says that the man handed over his possessions to his servants. v.14. He gives them his entire cash assets to care for them in his absence. He is prodigal with his funds. But he does have certain expectations as to their use. As the parable says, the amount of the funds given to each servant is commensurate with each’s abilities. Therefore, the man clearly wants the money put to work.

The Servants:

The servants/recipients are given a duty to take care of the funds entrusted to them. The servants apparently know their master well and have observed his dealings. The first servant puts his master’s money to work and doubles it. The second does likewise with a similar result. They are simply following in their master’s footsteps. The third, however, buries the money (all $500,000) in the ground. He does nothing with the funds whatsoever. Because the third servant did nothing with the money entrusted to him, he is condemned.

The Judgment:

As Capon begins his commentary on this parable, he urges us to see why the third servant is condemned. As Capon said in the prior chapter, these parables teach that the judgment upon faith will be a judgment on faith-in-action, not on faith-with-folded-hands. p.494. God, the man, richly bestows upon us Jesus’ free acceptance of us by the grace of his death and resurrection. This grace given to the first two servants appears to work solely on its own and naturally results in a doubling of that grace. These two servants are described as “faithful.” They trusted in the grace that had been freely given to them. These two servants had the faith that their grace could not be lost, and therefore they were free to have that grace fully invested. They had working faith-in-action.

The third servant is condemned not because he lost the money in a bad business deal or even failed to double the money as had the other two, but because he buried it. The master even says that had the third servant simply taken the money to the bankers to be loaned out, that would have been acceptable. The parable forecloses an understanding that God is a divine bookkeeper looking for productive results. The very smallest of acceptance of God’s grace would have been enough, but the third servant instead choose to bury it. A buried faith, like a light under a bushel basket, is no faith at all.

The goodness of his grace does all that needs doing. Here, therefore, as in the Laborers in the Vineyard, it is only the bookkeeping of unfaith that is condemned; the rest of the story is about the unaccountable, even irresponsible joy of the Lord who just wants everybody to be joyful with him. p.503.

God’s Joy:

The second theme that Capon sees in this parable is the ebullience of the lord’s joy at throwing his money around. p.503. We see God’s profligate, promiscuous, and prodigal grace throughout the parables. He is the sower who sows his seed with reckless abandon regardless of the ground upon which it falls, he is the householder who compels the entire town to come to his banquet when the invited guests demur, and he is the father the kills the fatted calf in celebration for the return of his son. God joyfully gives his grace to all without conditions and without regard to merit. God desires to share his joy with everyone. The only reason that judgment comes into it at all is the sad fact that there will always be dummies who refuse to trust a good thing when it’s handed to them on a platter. That is indeed a grim prospect. And it is grim because, if we have any knowledge of our own intractable stupidity, we know that those dummies could just as well be ourselves. p.503.

Fear Not!:

The third and final theme that Capon draws from this parable is the sheer needlessness of fear, the utter nonnecessity of our ever having to dread God. p.503. From Abram’s encounter with God in Genesis 15 through John having his vision in Revelation, God consistently tells us to “Fear Not!” The servant that is condemned is condemned as a result of his fear. He says I was afraid, I went and hid your talent in the ground. v.25. How can we trust whom we fear? How can we trust the unmerited grace of a God if we believe him to be a hard man with a list of reasons waiting to condemn us because of our insufficient obedience to his rules (like not having enough oil in our lamps)? In Capon’s telling, We spend our lives invoking upon ourselves imagined necessities, creating God in the image of our own fears – and all the while, he is beating us over the head with the balloon of grace and the styrofoam baseball bat of a vindicating judgment. p.504.

Dinner is at 6:00. The menu is Meatloaf. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here!

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.

1 John 4:18

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