Year A – November 15, 2020
The parable Jesus presents in today’s gospel involves incredibly large sums of money. Does this mean Jesus intended His words to be a mere lesson on money management? Or, as so often happens with parables (and many other things Jesus says and does), is there something more — something which resonates with our faith today?
In this parable, a wealthy man goes on a long journey. Before he takes that journey, he entrusts several slaves with large amounts of money. Though the measure of money — five and two talents, respectively — doesn’t sound like much, it was a very significant sum, especially for ordinary folk like slaves.
A few months ago, we heard a story which incorporated an ancient Roman coin known as a denarius. The denarius was the typical wage given day laborers at dusk. One talent was worth about six thousand denarius — almost eighteen years’ worth of a day laborer’s wage. This meant that the two slaves who received five talents each were both entrusted with ninety year’s worth of income — more than a lifetime’s worth of wealth today, and several lifetimes in Jesus’ day.
To better understand just how much money was involved, it may help to compare it to several professions known to our context. Nurses, teachers and clergy are, on average, a part of the middle class, each making an annual salary from the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties. Remember that five talents was equivalent to ninety year’s worth of income in the ancient world. Ninety year’s worth of income for a typical middle class worker today would be around five or six million dollars.
To our ears, it sounds strange that the master would trust such a large amount of money to a lowly slave. In the ancient world, it was not uncommon. Nor was it uncommon for folks to bury money and other treasure in order to protect it. Brick-and-mortar banks have only been in existence for a few hundred years. Not only may this have been their safest option, it may have been the only option available to protect their assets.
What would you do if you were in the slave’s position? Regardless of the master’s temperament, burying the money sounds like the safest option to me. Taking the master’s tendency to ill temper into account, the chance the first two slaves took with the five talents given them sounds quite risky.
So, what message should we take from this parable of talents, this parable about money, two thousand years after Jesus first spoke them? Is there any meaning to His words for our context?
I wonder how the meaning of this parable would change if we were to read it as a metaphor for the risk of love rather than one about money. We’ve been given all the love in the world by the Divine Hand. That love began in the creation, when at the end of each and every day, God noted, “it is good.” It is good…it is good. It is all good, and holy. That love determinedly continued through the sojourn in Egypt and the Exodus, and through the voices of the prophets. That love persisted in the life of Jesus, who came to call us to a better way of life, to bring us closer to God and neighbor. When He paid the price for making that call, His love opened the way not only to a life love on earth but to an eternal one in the light and love of God.
We’ve been given all the love of the world, if we would but accept it. Once we do, what will we do with it? Will we hoard that love for ourselves, or will we risk the pain of rejection to generously share it with our neighbors, perhaps even with the world?
We have the opportunity to transform the world with the power of love — if we would but take the chance.