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Monday, October 13, 2014

The Parable Of The Talents

I refer to Wikipedia for a succinct account of the Parable of the Talents ("talents" being an ancient currency):

Parable of the talents

The parable in Matthew 25:14-30 tells of a master who was leaving his home to travel, and before going entrusted his property to his servants (property worth 8 talents, where a talent was a large unit of money, as discussed below). One servant receives five talents, the second two talents, and the third one talent, according to their respective abilities.

Returning after a long absence, the master asks his servants for an accounting. The first two servants explain that they have each put their money to work and doubled the value of the property they were entrusted with, and so they are each rewarded:

His lord said to him, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord."

— Matthew 25:23, World English Bible

The third servant, however, has merely hidden his talent in a hole in the ground, and is punished:

He also who had received the one talent came and said, "Lord, I knew you that you are a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the earth. Behold, you have what is yours."

But his lord answered him, "You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I didn't sow, and gather where I didn't scatter. You ought therefore to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back my own with interest. Take away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who doesn't have, even that which he has will be taken away. Throw out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

— Matthew 25:24–30, World English Bible

This is a tough nut to crack, this parable. One needs to be there, to see the gestures and the intonations of the speaker's voice to know what was intended in places. For example, I could read the last quoted portion as:

"You !! You -oh, Einstein! - you knew that I did not sow !!??..." and so on. Sort of sarcastic-like.

Be that as it may, I read the money or talents as the Law, the Torah.

By hiding it in the ground, the servant treats it as a mere possession; precious, indeed, but still merely an asset of value to be put into a vault and guarded.

By taking the talents and putting them out into the world, by putting them at risk - for the money could have decreased as well as increased - the first two servants treat the Law as something valuable which yet must be changed in some way.

For me, this change is understanding.
Understanding changes not only the one who understands,  but it changes that which is understood, and - if the matter be weighty enough - it changes the world.

My own study of this parable changed my understanding of the parable, but also changed me, for I see now the distinct difference between the Rabbi of Goray and the Rabbis of the surrounding villages:
Women desiring divorce or a pronouncement of death for a husband (lost to war or pogrom for some years gone by) flocked to Goray because the Rabbi there interpreted the Law with great sympathy and understanding and lenience, whereas the Rabbis round about were stiff-necked and had little sympathy for the sorrows of women.

The Law is not something that sits upon the necks of mankind.

It is something which calls us on to understand, and blesses us when we do.

This is reflected in the desire of various types of people who wish to have copies of the Ten Commandments erected upon the square in front of City Hall; these people wish that the Law of God be seen by all people as cast in stone and unchanging.
But the Law of God can hardly be expressed in words, and each and every person and generation must struggle to come to an understanding, and as they do, the Law as it is perceived by mankind changes.

The servant with much understanding changed most, the servant with less changed, but less in the same period of time.
The servant who treated the Law as an unchanging asset to be stored away and hidden gained nothing, changed nothing, and was cast out in the end.

pix: Wikipedia

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