Today's gospel parable is an allegory. As you know an allegory is a story with two levels of meaning. First, there's the surface of the story. Then there's the deeper meaning that surface story and characters represent. The parables in this chapter of Matthew are about action and attention, or more accurately, the focus of one's attention.
With today's gospel there is an underlying sub-plot that I have always overlooked. My previous interpretations took “talents” not as units of coinage1 but as gifts that God has given us. So, the meaning that I extrapolated from this interpretation was that whatever gifts or talents God gave us were to be used or shared. Whenever we used the gifts we had, whether they were great or small, we would receive even more. For example, if one has the gift of a skill or art and shares that with others by teaching them that skill or art, one gains the experience of teaching, more confidence and the joy that comes from helping others. Conversely, if one buries one's gifts unused, they just wither and die.
While I still believe all that is part of the teaching of this parable, I don't think it's the whole of the teaching. An important part of the parable is where we focus our attention. Because where we focus our attention informs our actions. When we look at the servant who was given one talent, we see that his focus was on his boss's faults, that the boss was demanding, that he reaped the fruits from the labour of others. He did not consider that as a farmer, he also had the business and administrative end of farming. Incidentally, he didn't consider that if the farmer did everything himself, he—the servant-- would be out of a job. So his focus on what he saw as negative qualities of the boss prevented the creative use of the coin or talent with which he was entrusted. As Richard Rohr writes:
If you have not received or will not give this gift of love to others, your soul remains tied to a small, earthly, empty world which is probably what we mean by hell. (God can only give love to those who want it.)2
Now let's look at the other two servants. They paid attention to how the boss handled his affairs. They probably observed with whom and how he did the business of the farm. So in the boss's absence, they emulated what they thought he would do. They were focused on the big picture as well as the details. They were aware that their livelihood depended on the successful operation of the farm by the farmer. Therefore, each of them found a creative use for what the master had given them and increased what they had. They were rewarded for their ingenuity and creativity in handling what they were given. They were promoted and invited to share in the farmer's joy.
As an example, let's take someone who has the gift of faith. The person with one talent, is one with a narrow view of God. A view that sees God as a stern authoritarian father figure. If this person's religion is Christianity and informed by this perception of God, that perception causes them to see scripture as literal. So they can dominate and subdue the earth, women and non-Christians. Because in this view males , like God, should be stern authoritarian father figures. This allows them to have no qualms about running corporations or passing laws that cause environmental harms, health problems and illnesses and human rights violations. The leadership of Canada's mining company Goldcorp come to mind as does the current president of the United States. They fail to let their faith lead them to love and empathy.
An example of the other servants is someone who also has the gift of faith. They too start off with a narrow faith as most people do. Then their perception of God begins to change as they become more familiar with God. They pay attention to God's work in scripture and in the world. They begin to have an expansive perception of God as a God of love, who created the world and said it was good. They know that God is calling them to work for the common good. They in turn want to share this vision with others. Bill Wilson, the founder of AA, comes to mind. The fruits of his vision and sharing keep rippling out across the world and down through the years. An example closer to home, that some of you may know personally, is Rev. Dr. Don Grayston, who passed away last month. He was born, raised and lived in Vancouver. But the influence of his love and love of justice that he spread to his students, friends and everyone he met spans the globe. Don focused on the magnanimity of God's love. With Don, no one felt excluded or unappreciated. Here again, I quote Richard Rohr who writes:
If you are already at home in love, you will easily and quickly go to the home of love which is surely what we mean by heaven. There the growth never stops and the wonder never ceases. (If life is always change and growth, eternal life must be infinite possibility and growth!)3
So today's gospel is about how what captures your attention rather than just about what you do with what you're given Why? Because how you perceive God and the world affects what you do with what you have. Seeing only the negative in people or situations blinds one to possibilities. The ability to see the big picture as well as the details that may not be obvious, opens one up to creative possibilities. Jesus wants us to have life, have life abundantly. So let us stay focused on the love of God alive in us, so we too can grow in love and share God's joy.
Please share your thoughts.
1The talent was a unit of coinage of high but varying value depending on its metal (gold, silver, copper) and its place of origin. Source: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+18%3A14-27&version=NABRE
2Rohr, Richard. Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2016, 268.
3Rohr, Richard. Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2016, 268.