But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
From Matthew 25:14-30
November 13, 2020, Words By: Pat Thompson, Image By: Jesus Mafa
For those of us who were raised in the United States, we have a tendency to read the Parable of the Talents through the lens of meritocracy—your reward is the result of your ability and efforts.
If you recall, the story is about a master who goes away for a long time and entrusts large amounts of his resources to three of his servants. Two of them invest what they have in some sort of commercial exchange and double what was given to them. The third servant buries what he has because he is afraid of his master. In the end, the third servant is punished for not turning a profit. And his gift is given to the most wealthy among them.
It’s easy to see how this parable seems to fit our culture because, at first glance, it lifts up our ambition, our ability and zeal, even, to make a buck off a buck! We value the economic, and theological, idea that you get what you earned. I’ve heard this parable preached from exactly that perspective. But if I am honest, it never felt completely right.
If we assign the master in the story to be an analogue for God, we’ll hear the story as an affirmation of our idea of meritocracy.
The end of the parable, then, becomes difficult to stomach, doesn’t it? God punishes the poor person and gives his resources to the wealthiest among them. Does that sound like the God we know from scriptures?
So, back to the parable. If God isn’t the master in the story, where do I locate God? That leads me to the servant that was punished. I’m fascinated by his decision to bury his one talent, and his reason for doing so. He says, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”
It’s as if he was declaring that the system was broken and violent, and he wouldn’t be a part of the dishonesty and corruption. Was this an act of resistance? Could this be the Lord revealing a different path and speaking truth to power? The servant’s recrimination of the master sounds much more like God than the master’s response. And the servant’s life ends much like Jesus’—cast into the darkness and losing everything.
So how do we reimagine what resistance looks like in our own context?
I live in Seattle, Washington, a city built on Coastal Salish land. Where I live, the indigenous people are Duwamish. The Duwamish Longhouse is their cultural center, a gathering place for community and a commitment to make their people AND their story visible. Their very presence speaks to their resilience in the face of centuries of oppression. When you visit their website, you will discover something called “Real Rent Duwamish.” Real Rent is an opportunity for non-natives to voluntarily pay rent for the land that we occupy. There is no binding legal agreement here, no transaction. Rather, it is an invitation to join in their resistance.
Their website says, “We sacrificed our land to make the City of Seattle a beautiful reality. We are still waiting for our justice.” That statement in itself speaks truth to power. It is as much a statement of resistance as it is resilience. May God grant us all the ability to see new pathways forward.