Thought for the week - 18 November 2023
All this talk of servants and masters is hard to swallow for our modern ears. We have a difficult enough time acting out our faith – and I know I make plenty of mistakes, often when I’m tired or irritable – and it’s not easy to present a picture of God to people which is perfect and enticing. Thankfully, I don’t think we need to, mainly because we can’t, instead we try and show how God is alive in our struggles, in our good and bad days and to present an honest community of people who are, on the whole, doing their best not to further their own aims or to line their pockets, but because we have encountered something greater than ourselves which we want to get closer to and to help others to see as well. We are not fools and nor are others, and we are not taken in by shiny, perfect seeming plastic non-stick faith and the God we encountered who changed our lives didn’t come to us like that either. As I was saying last week – be yourself because that’s the person that God sought out and loves. So, we are fine to be a little bothered inside about how talking of being servants and being punished looks to us and others, because we live in the world as it is now, and we need to work out what is being said to us here in order to convincingly show it to others.
This week’s Gospel is about talents and that has nothing to do with ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and it doesn’t relate to ‘talent’ in a personal sense at all, it’s not about being talented at gymnastics or singing or dancing. A talent in ancient times was a large sum of money, something of great value, probably equivalent to about seventeen years wages for a labourer, and as people traded and were paid in coins, it was also a heavy thing most likely equivalent to a large case or rucksack full of a metal such as gold or silver, about a million pounds worth in today’s money, and that quick mental calculation makes it very clear to us that we are not meant to take this parable literally, because nobody is going to hand out cases of gold when they go on holiday. It’s an allegory which is taken to an extreme to make a point. What is the point?
We need to understand what those to whom this parable was related understood, and once we have done so, we then maybe will accept that we need to change things regularly in order not to seem relevant, but to actually make the message entrusted to us live in our community – if we do not understand the scriptures, we have zero hope of helping others to understand them. Those who heard this will have smiled at the idea of being given a huge bag of gold and known it to be impossible. They will then have made the connection between the word talent and the ‘Kabod’ of the lord, a word that means ‘heavy’ and which is related to ‘talents’ – they will associate the weight of the bag with the Kabod of God. Kabod also translates into ‘gloria’ in the common Roman tongue spoken at that time and they would have remembered Isaiah who mentioned how heavy with riches God is. In the Temple, just behind them, they will remember the Kabod – the place above the Mercy Seat where the Lord was said to have dwelt and from where He dispensed His mercy. This is a heavy, infinite mercy of God and the Glory of the presence, the Kabod, filled the Temple and was the unseeable object of the faith of every person who heard this parable. They saw the clear link between Jesus talking about how we use the Glory of God which is given to us and how we understand that in our faith, and they will have reflected on this when the temple was destroyed and after His resurrection. And we should as well, because our Kabod is not encased in the church either, but it is given to us by God to use to spread His word, so don’t bury it in a field, can you imagine how comical burying a talent of gold sounded to them and then they will have realised that he was really saying ‘don’t bury the glory of my Father in this Temple’ and just beforehand, in last week’s Gospel, He said how the temple would fall, how the Kabod would be buried in rubble and forgotten. This parable is beautiful and central to our understanding of how we live our Christian lives!
The talents in the Gospel passage refer to our share in the life of Grace. We have a huge share in the mercy of God. Even someone given one talent is given a large weight of valuable ‘stuff’. We are given a substantial share in the divine life, but there is also an expectation that it will increase in value, that we will give it to others so that it increases and grows – and giving away that which is of God does not make it more scarce but adds to itself in superabundance. If you bury your faith in the ground, you misunderstand what you have been given, so live it out and let others see it in good and bad times, because the Kabod, the glory of God, is His people, is you, is us – but it does not belong to us.
Just for a second, let’s think it is about the physical weight, allied with what we have just read. If it was, then carting about five talents would be hard work, and we would weary of it. That might just give us a fellowship in the life of Christ, who taught and was betrayed, who loved and was hated. The Kabod involves an acceptance that things will not always be easy, but they will always lead to God.