The Parable of the Talents
written by Rev Gary Heard

Last week John Howard and Kevin Rudd held a national webcast for the Christian churches from the National Press Club, in which they addressed the concerns of the Christian communities represented. Both leaders are professing Christians, and both attend an Anglican church. Their speeches took very different approaches, yet both are grounded in their faith. John Howard’s focus was upon the moral concerns of many Christians: “family values”, abortion, homosexuality, swearing, and internet pornography. Howard indicated that his policy towards small business was biblically grounded: “The Parable of the Talents has always seemed to me to be the free-enterprise parable - the parable that tells us that we have a responsibility if we are given assets to add to those assets,” and that there was a deep concern for the poor from his government.

Kevin Rudd’s approach appeared to be the reverse of Howard’s, who worked from the individual out to the global. Rudd’s observation works from the global: “From a Christian perspective, we are custodians of the planet," he said. "We have a responsibility to ensure that those who come after us have a planet which is habitable." Howard’s first preference was for a ‘strong growing economy as the first step towards fairness.’

If the Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14f) is a starting point for understanding our responsibilities as Christians, where does it point us? Is the traditional interpretation that those who are good stewards get rewarded with more the mandate for the followers of Christ? It is a tempting conclusion, and one which certainly fits in with our present economic system. That, of itself, ought to give us pause for thought.
That we readily identify with the first two stewards in the parable (who successfully doubled their money) and hold them as an example means we ought to look more closely at the third, who is often the example of the kingdom in Jesus’ parables (remember the Good Samaritan?) We would also take time to reflect upon the characterisation of God as “a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,” in the light of Jesus’ compassion. To be put in charge of a single talent would be the equivalent of 15 years’ wages – close to a million dollars by today’s standards. This is hardly the responsibility given to an ordinary person. We might indeed find a bit of compassion for the third steward if we had such responsibility and were overawed.

If we end our reading of the parable at verse 30, we might find ourselves asking, “So what?” But to continue reading to the end of the chapter is to encounter the way in which the Son of Man metes out judgment on his return, and the measure of a good investment. Maybe as a small business policy, it’s in the wrong portfolio.

August 12, 2007
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