For the last MSA Seed Sampler on Social Entrepreneurship I wrote this reflection entitled The Kingdom of God and Human Transformation in which I use the story of the distribution of the talents. A couple of days ago I received a response from a friend in Australia who believes in a very different view of this parable.
As we move towards Pentecost next Sunday and the celebration of our need to search for understanding both of the gospel message and of each other, I thought it was important to present these two views. Below is an excerpt from my reflection and tomorrow I will post the response – would love your comments and interaction.
In his proclamation of the kingdom, Jesus exercised a new model of leadership based on servanthood not domination. Central to this servanthood model is the use of resources, including economic resources, to satisfy the needs of others, particularly those at the margins, rather than concentrating on one’s own needs. Jesus preached the gospel, but also dealt with the powers that distorted the lives of people in this present world and left them unfulfilled and without a sense of value and self-worth. These forces obviously included the economic forces that resulted in poverty and economic injustice. God worked through Jesus servant ministry to restore human beings to what it meant to be fully human not just in the spiritual realm but in every part of life.
To the rich Jesus offered a new identity based not on the security of wealth and prestige but rather on the right and just relationships that are the standards of God’s kingdom. God sets the wealthy free to serve rather than control others and so devote their attention and wealth to the God’s concerns, particularly the marginalized. As missiologist David Bosch explains “Luke wishes his readers to know that there is hope for the rich, insofar as they act and serve in solidarity with the poor and oppressed”
. That is why Jesus spoke strongly against those who ignored the poor (Lk 16:19-31) and stored up material wealth for their own gain (Lk 12:14-20). He encouraged the wealthy young man “to sell your possessions, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven”(Mt 19:21), because Jesus recognized that “it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt19:23) when his loyalty is divided between God and mammon.
The Oxford Declaration on Christian Faith and Economics also affirms Jesus expectation that those with resources would care for those with none. “Poverty was not part of God’s original creation, nor will poverty be part of God’s restored creation when Christ returns… Poverty and powerlessness are an offense to God and a denial of his loving provision for his creatures except when they are the direct result of his judgment. ‘He who oppresses a poor man insults his maker’(Prov 14.31). To neglect the poor reveals a lack of love that does not match God’s unlimited concern for humanity nor Christ’s mission that portrays deep care for suffering human beings (1 John 3:16-18).”
To the poor Jesus also offered a new identity – the opportunity to be free and responsible human beings with dignity and self-worth, able to serve God and others in society as God intended. Jesus constantly demonstrated that the call of the kingdom was to bring this kind of wholeness and abundance to lives. His idea of equality was not a levelling down so that all became poor but rather a willing giving up of rights by everyone so that through the practice of servanthood all might be fulfilled, live in harmony with God and develop fully their God given gifts.
Christ constantly encouraged his disciples not to worry about their own financial and material needs (Lk 12:22-26) but rather to “seek first his kingdom” and invest in “treasure in heaven” rather than on earth. (Lk 12:31-34). They saw themselves as God’s servants, called to serve as Christ served by making their resources, whether skills, money, time or energy, available to enable others to find fulfillment and wholeness. They were encouraged to “love their neighbours as themselves” (Lk 13:27) and so did not regard their material wealth as primarily for fulfilling their own needs but for the betterment of others.(Phil 2:3,4) By focussing their lives and ministry on God’s kingdom purposes the disciples became a source of blessing and compassion to their communities and families. They shared their talents and resources freely and without limit (Acts 4:32) to enable those who had previously been excluded from society to become fully part of the human community (Acts 2:44). As a result “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34) As Bosch expresses it, “To become a disciple means a decisive and irrevocable turning to both God and neighbour.”
He goes on to say, “In their being converted to God, rich and poor are converted toward each other.”
The parable of the talents where Matthew is writing to a middle class community, is a good example of this. (Mt 25: 14-28) His model disciple is a rich man who uses his possessions to serve Jesus.
The parable teaches that those to whom Jesus entrusts financial resources are responsible to multiply those resources, not for their own use, but for their master’s use. The goal is not that all should become poor, but that all resources should be used to provided for the needs of the whole community. Jesus did not rebuke the man with ten talents, who increased them for his benefit and therefore for the benefit of the whole community, but rather the man who did nothing with his talents. Interestingly the man who made ten talents did not get to use these for himself. He was given greater responsibility to use these too to provide for others. New Testament theologian Darrell Bock comments: “faithfulness now will result in the privilege of service in the consummation (of the Kingdom of God). Such service will be much greater in scope than the responsibility exercised now in Jesus’ absence.”
Today too, Christ sends out disciples to heal physical needs and improve economic conditions while at the same time opening them to forgiveness and reconciliation with God. The call to mission is a corporate call to represent God and bring wholeness and life in abundance to all persons. Brueggemann reminds us “If there is to be well-being, it will not be just for isolated, insulated individuals; it is rather security and prosperity granted to a whole community-young and old, rich and poor, powerful and dependent. Always we are all in it together. Together we stand before God’s blessings and together we receive the gift of life if we receive it at all”.