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Parable of the talents

The Boss was going away for a few months, and she entrusted her investments to some of her employees, each according to their ability. Sam had a look at what she had been given; she left some of the shares where they were, and had a good talk with the firm’s stockbroker about others; the money she used to trade with. Successfully playing to her strengths, and what she knew of the market, she doubled her money. Jo had been given slightly less, and was rather less confident about how she should handle it. Having thought about the situation, she realised that she needed some advice. Although she didn’t know Sam well, she plucked up her courage and asked if they could have a chat. Thankfully, Sam was more than willing; she introduced Jo to the firm’s stockbroker, so Jo had guidance on what to do with the shares she had been trusted with; Jo knew very little about the stock market, so followed the advice to the letter. Sam also counselled Jo on how to trade with the cash. Jo didn’t take as many risks as Sam; she wasn’t as confident, and she had been given less money. But by taking advice, applying her own skills, and using the contacts she had, she also managed to double her money. Chris was petrified. She was scared of the boss, and had no confidence in herself. She knew that the stock markets were dangerous, and you could lose everything. Against the advice of the professionals, she sold all the shares she had been trusted with, and withdrew the money from the bank. It wasn’t as much as the other two, but still amounted to quite a bit. Then Chris went home, dug a big hole, and buried all she had been given.

When the Boss came back, she called the three of them to give an account of how they had handled her property. Sam came forward, and showed the Boss how she had increased what she had been entrusted with; ‘Well done, good and faithful Sam!’ the Boss said, ‘you have been faithful over a little, now I will trust you with much more’. Jo then came forward, and gave her accounts, careful to explain the help she had received. ‘Good work, Jo!’, the Boss replied, ‘you have done well, and I will entrust you with much more’. Chris then came forward, trembling, and explained how she knew the Boss to be a hard woman, and had been afraid. So, she had hidden the money, and now could give back exactly what she had been given. ‘You’re lazy, Chris’, the Boss answered her, ‘so you knew I was a hard woman, did you? Well, you should have left all the money in the bank, where it would have earned interest! Give the money to Sam.’ Then the Boss sacked Chris. (Read Matthew 25: 14-30).

The bible passage goes into very little detail about how the first two servants doubled their money, but that isn’t really the point. They used what had been entrusted to them. The third servant was afraid, and hid his away. He knew the master was a hard man, and that influenced his thinking; and I do kind of feel sorry for him. Trading is risky, and he might well have lost everything; even banks fail; maybe hiding his talent in the garden wasn’t such a bad idea? Except, in the parable, it obviously is. This third servant was motivated by fear; not by respect for his Master’s property, or for his Master; not even for himself. He was scared; and I can imagine that fear, as it so often does, was presenting to him all kinds of scenarios as to how he might lose the money, and what his Master’s reaction to him would be on his return. Fear may have paralysed him, so that he was unable to do anything with his talent, and couldn’t even ask for help. So, he hid it; less, possibly, to keep it safe for his Master, as to pretend it wasn’t there, wasn’t happening, and he didn’t have to do anything or risk anything or make any decisions. His life could go on as normal.

Except it couldn’t. Eventually, his Master returned, and then, very naturally, wanted an account from his servants. I can imagine the third servant putting off this moment for as long as possible. But he couldn’t avoid it for ever. Telling the master that you knew he was a hard man may not have been the most subtle excuse in the world; but, I suspect, the third servant wanted to justify himself. It didn’t work; he is cast off into the outer darkness. It occurs to me that, as well as being very unsubtle, the third servant may also have been wrong. What evidence do we have to justify the third servant’s opinion of the Master? Very much only his; we don’t actually know. There could have been much about the ‘hard nature’ of his Master that wasn’t accurate; it may have been totally false. We don’t know. But fear – and we do know he was afraid – may well have distorted the Master’s personality in his mind, accentuating the ‘hard’ characteristics, and ignoring those that contradicted them.

What we do know is that the Master entrusted his property to the three servants according to their ability. The third servant, with his one talent, wasn’t expected to match either of the first two; he was expected to do what he could with what he had; and putting the talent in the bank may well have been the best option for him. But that would have meant facing up to what he had been given, and making decisions about it. How much easier to bury it, and forget it … until you can’t any longer.

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