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a Talent for rhetoric, at today's prices

I haven’t finished reading Gordon Brown’s conference speech—for those unfamiliar with the current structures of British politics, this is somewhat akin to our Presidential candidates acceptance speeches at their party conventions, except it isn’t necessarily connected with an upcoming election, which isn’t necessarily happening—but this caught my eye:

My father was a minister of the church, and his favourite story was the parable of the talents because he believed—and I do too—that each and everyone of us has a talent and each and everyone of us should be able to use that talent.

First of all, a talent in this context is a sack of gold, a biggish sack, more or less “your weight in gold”. I, for one, do not have such a sack. OK, fine.

But—his favorite story was the Parable of the Talents? Heathens, read:

Mat 25:14     For [the kingdom of heaven is] as a man travelling into a far country, [who] called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.

Mat 25:15     And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

Mat 25:16     Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made [them] other five talents.

Mat 25:17     And likewise he that [had received] two, he also gained other two.

Mat 25:18     But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.

Mat 25:19     After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

Mat 25:20     And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

Mat 25:21     His lord said unto him, Well done, [thou] good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Mat 25:22     He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

Mat 25:23     His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Mat 25:24     Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:

Mat 25:25     And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, [there] thou hast [that is] thine.

Mat 25:26     His lord answered and said unto him, [Thou] wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

Mat 25:27     Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and [then] at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

Mat 25:28     Take therefore the talent from him, and give [it] unto him which hath ten talents.

Mat 25:29     For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

Mat 25:30     And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Now, Your Humble Blogger finds this parable disturbing and frightening. The good and faithful servant risks his master’s money, probably in violation of the law, although it isn’t absolutely clear. The master, on the other hand, is in direct and obvious violation of the law, demanding his usury. The wicked and slothful servant returns the masters entire investment, in fulfillment of the terms of the contract as he understood them, reminds the master of the injunction against collecting interest on loans, and is not only fired but cast into the outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth already.

And yet, this story is not easy to interpret as a condemnation of the hard man who reaps where other people sow. There’s certainly no punishment for his behavior. Is this story from the same Jesus who overturned the tables of the money-changers? Not that I understand that very well, either.

The Parable of the Talent follows the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, where prudence is rewarded (as is a certain selfishness, but the foolish virgins certainly were able to purchase lamp oil, they just didn’t bother; still, I can’t help thinking that if the other five were not just wise but kind, the story would have a very different ending, and the foolish five wouldn’t be virgins the next day, either). There’s no real transition from one to the other in Matthew; they both seem to be in response to the previous chapter’s emphasis on being constantly prepared for the endtime. On the other hand, the parables in 25 do not rely on the arrival of the authority figure being a surprise. Nor when (immediately following) the King divides the sheep from the goats is the surprise based on when the Messiah comes, but on the unexpected nature of his least-of-these Messiah-nessositiagization. I do like the end of Matthew 25 and the way it turns our messianic expectations upside-down—is that why the upside-down parables lead up to it?

Because, frankly, imagine you didn’t know the Scripture (or all you knew was that the leader of the Labour party cited the story with particular approval), and you were told the beginning: A rich man goes on a journey and divides up his capital among three of his managers: he gave one of them half, one of them a third, and the last one only a sixth. There is no way, no way in a hundred years that you could guess the end, whether you thought it was told by the Son of Man or Milton Friedman or Howard Zinn.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


A rich man goes on a journey and divides up his capital among three of his managers: he gave one of them half, one of them a third, and the last one only a sixth.

It sounds like a story from an economist: "The first manager was emboldened by the size of his stake, and invested the money aggressively, but he happened to be investing at a bad time, and only doubled his money. The second manager was cautious with his smaller stake, and invested the money conservatively, and made a solid return, doubling his stake. The third manager didn't understand why savings and investment are important, even if you don't have a lot of money, and buried his stake in the ground, where its value was wiped out by inflation. The moral of the story is that no matter how wealthy you are, you should always set aside something for savings and investment."

Why Jesus would be telling this story, I have no idea.

Because Jesus saves, duh.

(Too obvious? But someone had to say it. And if not me, who?)

...But Moses gets the rebound! He shoots! HE SCORES!

Jed: Indeed, that occurred to me about two seconds after I hit "Insert Comment".

Stephen: Did you mash those two jokes together on purpose? :^)

(The two I know are: "Jesus saves... But Gretzky gets the rebound! He shoots! He SCORES!" and "Jesus saves, Moses invests, but only Buddha pays dividends.")

Also, do not forget the old favorite from the computer lab: "Jesus saves... Every five minutes."

And a recent favorite: "Jesus saves... The rest of you take damage."

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