"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. - Matthew 25: 14 (NIV)
It seems every day we see another snake oil salesman marketing the latest get rich scheme in the name of the Lord. Today's was emailed to me and it was entitled, "The Biblical Money Code." It seems a former pastor turned financial guru has claimed the great success he has in the financial markets is due entirely to his understanding of the secret codes found within the pages of the Bible which can release untold wealth to those who would apply them. I read his email and clicked on the link to watch the video he had put together. As with any well produced misuse of Scripture a lot sounded right. Sometimes i think we confuse ourselves into believing that a heretical teaching must be entirely heretical. Not so. The most insidious false teachings contain a little leaven surrounded by truth. So it was when the salesman came to using the Parable of the Talents to prop up his argument about investing that the leaven became more obvious.
The pitch being made was that this parable was about money and investing. The point made here was that people who simply put their money in savings accounts are just as sinful as those who are reckless with their money. That God expects us to do something with the money He has "blessed" us with. Voila! The Parable of the Talents. It is true that a talent was a large portion of money. The story goes that a wealthy man embarks on a journey and leaves some of his money with three servants. One received five talents, another two, and the final servant received one, according to their abilities. When the master returns he finds the servant who was given five talents had earned five more and the servant who was given two talents had earned two more. The master said well done my good and faithful servant; you have been faithful in a few things so I will now put you in charge of many things and he doubled the amount of talents they had been given. Come and enter into your master's happiness. The salesman pauses here to emphasize that these servants were given "more wealth; more blessing." The story concludes with the final servant returning the one talent that had been entrusted to him. He had buried it in fear of the master. The master casts him aside and gives his one talent to the one who now had ten. Once again, the salesman emphasizes how wrong it is to not invest the money God has given you and if you just follow his "biblical" plan for investing, you too can have untold wealth.
Except that is not what this parable is about beloved. Jesus spoke in parables to emphasize an overall point. They were not meant to be taken so literally. He used talents here because He knows how easily we would relate to money. The problem here of course is in poor hermeneutics. This is simply poor Bible interpretation. You cannot take one word, such as talent, and assume the entire passage is about money. Neither can you even look at one story in a vacuum. The first rule of all Biblical interpretation is context. The second rule my first Bible teacher would say is to re-read rule number one. The key verse today is the first line in the Parable of the Talents. What is the most important word from an interpretive standpoint? The word "again." This clearly implies that the Parable of the Talents is a continuation of a train of thought. That it must be preceded by something else that is similar, which can provide even deeper context. What precedes the Parable of the Talents? The Parable of the Ten Virgins. This story tells of ten virgins who went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were wise and brought extra oil for their lamps but five were foolish and did not. The bridegroom was a long time in coming and they drifted off to sleep. They were awoken by the impending arrival of the bridegroom but the five foolish virgins had their lamps go out and were forced to try and go buy some oil. While they were gone, the Bridegroom arrived and the door was shut to them. They tried to get in but the Lord said that He did not know who they were. The Parable concludes with the warning that we need to keep watch because we do not know the day or hour. So what does this parable have to do with money? About the same as the Parable of the Talents - nothing. In fact, strictly from a contextual standpoint we have not gone far enough back yet. Here is the start to the Parable of the Ten Virgins:
"At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. - Matthew 25: 1 (NIV)
At that time? At what time? To find the true beginning of the context of the Parable of the Talents we must travel back to the start of the previous chapter. Jesus is talking to His disciples and is asked this question:
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" - Matthew 24: 3 (NIV)