For the season that’s in it, imagine for a moment a different reading strategy for the parable of the talents in Luke 19:11-26. Look at what we have here. A powerful man, wealthy beyond the imaginings of most, and within reach of political power to match his wealth. Indeed, he is in a position to achieve this political power despite the wishes of a sizeable number of people.
Here is a man who lives by the art of the deal, sharing out resources to his servants and asking them to use the money to make more. Of all those who are so charged, the worst response, and the one which draws the ire of the Master, is the third servant who does nothing with the resource and makes nothing to add to the wealth of the newly crowned King.
A question occurs to me. Is there anything in the story that suggests that the third servant’s assessment of the character of the Master/King is in any way flawed? He judges the Master to be a ‘hard man,’ taking minimal risk – taking out what he didn’t put in- but benefiting nonetheless. The harsh actions of the Master against both the servant and the protestors seems to me to provide ample evidence that this is a uniquely hard man. The servant was right to fear him, indeed his fear of losing money for the Master/King was greater than his fear of the implications of inaction.
And here’s another thing. If we consider the third servant’s judgment to be accurate does this shed any light on the ‘rewards’ offered to the other servants? In each case the reward is vastly out of proportion to the work. “Multiply this supply of money, and you can take charge of the economies of several cities.” Whether or not the residents of these cities want that form of rule or not, the entitlement is simply dished out to trusted acolytes.
The whole story is geared towards demonstrating the success of the new King’s mantra ‘to everyone who has, more will be given.’ It’s a form of survival of the fittest. If you have, you will get more, and sometimes this will be at the expense of those who have little or nothing. Indeed, even the little they have will be taken from them and given to the powerful so that resources concentrate more and more in the hands of the few.
Imagine if Jesus was not the Master/King. Imagine if this story was not a life lesson about putting your gifts to work and instead is a warning about power and the importance of protesting abuse of power. Imagine this was about the importance of highlighting character and morality in power. Imagine if, instead of pointing the reader to emulate the servants who followed the art of the deal to the fullest extent, the story was meant to highlight another group entirely.
Imagine if Jesus was pointing us towards the protestors. Those who in v14 sent a delegation to say that this man was not fit to be King. They hated everything he stood for. They hated the way he lived his life, making money off the exploitation of the weak. They hated a philosophy which gave pride of place to winning and dominating and didn’t want their country to be infected by that view of the world.
Imagine if the story was meant to highlight the group of protestors who perhaps saw the dangers in prospect for the weak and the vulnerable in their nation and were willing to oppose the King even if it meant death.
The story is told because Jesus was fearful that people imagined the kingdom was going to be introduced imminently—perhaps at the end of another display of might in a violent revolution in Jerusalem. Jesus needs to calm the anticipation and change the expectation. His way to change the world was not through violent revolution. His way to changing the world was through making space for the poor and the vulnerable. And that wasn’t going to happen quickly or without pain. Indeed, this gospel change was going to be a long time coming and was not going to come without struggle. Even death. It was going to require perhaps many generations of faithful defence of the most at risk in society.
But he was calling on people to stand up against the established pattern of the world where the strong advance at the cost of the weak. Imagine if the real heroes in the story might be those who protest.
Imagine for a second a world in which Donald Trump was the Master.