Textual Tuesday: Matthew 25:14-30

The Revised Common Lectionary this Sunday points us to Matthew 25:14-30, the Parable of the Talents. It’s a parable with a well-known and time-honored interpretation: God is the landlord who gives money (talents) to his servants. The servants who return with more money are blessed, the one who does not is shamed and cast out. The interpretation is so ingrained that event the word “talent” has come to mean a personal gift for something. God gives us gifts (like hospitality, tongues, service, leadership, etc) and we should use those to grow God’s kingdom.

But this interpretation doesn’t always sit right in my gut. Here’s three reasons why:

  1. If God is the landlord, then is God the author of inequality? Some are rich and some are poor. “To those who have, more will be given.” It hearkens to the now-rejected verse of All Things Bright and Beautiful:The rich man in his castle,
    The poor man at his gate,
    He made them, high or lowly,
    And ordered their estate. (Source: CyberHymnal)
  2. If material wealth and capital gains are the symbol of blessing, then is this a creeping-in of a “prosperity gospel?” After all, Jesus routinely says that the image of salvation is instead one of giving up, renunciation and self-sacrifice.
  3.  Treasure Field #3, by James B. Janknegt
    Treasure Field #3, by James B. Janknegt

    If we trust Matthew, then how should we read the symbols of talents and burial? His only other use of the word “talent” is in Matthew 18:23, and it isn’t a sympathetic one nor congruent with the idea of blessing. Further, in Matthew 13:44, buried treasure symbolizes the Kingdom and not failure and curse.

  4. In Luke’s gospel, the also-familiar parable of the Good Samaritan has the third character in the trio as the hero of the story. How can I read the third person of this trio as a hero?

So, how can I read this differently? Here’s a few starting points:

  1. Read the landlord not as a symbol for God but rather as a symbol for “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
  2. The god “of this age” can be the author of inequality.
  3. This landlord is always pleased when the first two servants play his game: turning money into more money, increasing the wealth gap and so on.
  4. The third person in the trio has opted out. This poorest one refuses to play the games of the world by the landlord’s rules.
  5. This landlord will punish harshly the third person, who many Bible commentaries name as lazy, unfaithful, slothful, neglectful, making excuses, etc. These are familiar insults heaped on the poor in our own day.

So, this parable becomes a parable of the Kingdom of God by highlighting the poor servant who refused to play the landlord’s twisted game. Of course, as Jesus always says, there are insults that come along with this (Matthew 5:11).

Could this reading be more faithful to the way of Jesus, even though it turns our usual interpretation upside-down? What do you think?

Textual Tuesday: Matthew 22:15-22

Preaching and sharing the Bible unites all of our churches, locally and beyond. Here are a few gatherings for the upcoming Sunday Bible readings as you study the Scriptures. Does this spark reflections, ideas or do you have something to share? Write a comment below!

See the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, October 22, 2017. The site also includes hymn suggestions, prayers and more.

The Pharisees decide to ask Jesus a “gotcha” question: Is it right to pay taxes to the Emperor Caesar or not? Jesus answers by showing a coin bearing the image of Caesar. His famous remark follows, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

If it is the coin that bears the image of Caesar, then what is it that bears the image of God? In the Bible, God says that it is us, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Because of Sin, the image of God in us has been damaged and only God can restore it.

So, God send Jesus Christ, “who is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Jesus is a perfect image of God, for he never knew sin. Through faith, our lives can be “renewed…according to the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10).

Below is a 2-minute video from the Art Institute of Chicago on how ancient Greeks made coins. Note the molten metal, fire (a symbol of the Holy Spirit) and stamped images.

Jesus Christ is the die, bearing the perfect image of God. The Holy Spirit fires up our hearts and souls, wiping out signs of previous wear, tear, hurt and damage. Then God has made us ready to become again what we were always meant to be: stamped with God’s image, ready to be rendered back to our Maker.

Other Bible passages about images

  1. Genesis 5:3
  2. Exodus 32:7–8
  3. Romans 8:28–30
  4. 1 Corinthians 15:42–49
  5. 2 Corinthians 3:17–18

Textual Tuesday: Matthew 22:1-14

Preaching and sharing the Bible unites all of our churches, locally and beyond. Here are a few gatherings for the upcoming Sunday Bible readings as you study the Scriptures. Does this spark reflections, ideas or do you have something to share? Write a comment below!

See the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, October 15, 2017. The site also includes hymn suggestions, prayers and more.

  • For a long time I didn’t go to church, but wanted to. I found going into a church intimidating as I didn’t know who would be on the inside. Would they accept me? Would they see through me? I longed for someone to invite me. Eventually I gave up waiting and gathered my courage to enter the doors alone–and it changed everything for me. Who do we think is waiting for the invitation to faith? Who might need your invitation for the courage to come in? How is God prompting you to offer that invitation?
  • What are the implications of accepting a wedding invitation today? What does that mean about accepting God’s invitation now?
  • Many parts of the New Testament compare we (the church) to a bride and Jesus to a groom. That is, we are not the invited guests. If that’s the case, then how does our interpretation of the parable change?
  • “[A]ll of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27 NIV). Baptism is connected to the invitation in the parable. To paraphrase one priest, to be Christian is not to wear robes and hate others, but rather “to wear Christ and love everyone.”
  • The Party, painting by James B. Janknegt, 30×40 inches, oil on canvas.
  • It is divine Wisdom who makes the invitation to enjoy the feast: Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her servants, and she calls from the highest point of the city, “Let all who are simple come to my house!” To those who have no sense she says, “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed” (Proverbs 9:1-5 NIV).
  • In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the invitation to Hogwarts School is prodigal and indestructible: