If Matthew 25:14-30 is a simple narrative about the world, what makes it a parable? In a parable, one thing stands in for another. It seems to me, offhand, that in all parables, the Man With Resources is a stand-in for God. At the outset, that seems to apply pretty easily to this parable: God entrusts us with everything and rewards us when we take risks and increase God’s wealth — the Kingdom of God, or missionary work here on earth, or something like that. Salvations listed in a spreadsheet, if you like. If you don’t take risks, if you are cautious and miserly like the third servant, you are an unfaithful Christian who deserves to be punished.
That all tracks pretty well. But what is symbolic about this:
Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.
If the master is God, God is getting quite a chewing out by this human being, who is amazingly unafraid of him. Maybe the servant doesn’t know who he’s dealing with? How could he know? God does a pretty good job of hiding Godself from us.
Of course, if You revealed even a shred of Yourself, we would be vaporized. So You don’t, and leave us guessing, except for that time You came for a visit.
Is the bad servant’s monologue an illustration of how wrongly people can understand God? In that case, is being cast into torment in outer darkness an appropriate punishment for having bad theology?
I like the bad servant’s wild, to-hell-with-it courage that can get you fired, or ruined, or, in the worst circumstances, killed. I don’t think the evangelist put those lines in for the purpose of undercutting them. I think they are intended to be the true words of a brave person. So who is the evil master?
When I was in graduate school, I did a lot of temporary secretarial work. Because I was reasonably intelligent, and good-looking enough, I was sent to a lot of executive secretary jobs, working for the President or Vice President of This or That. For a while, I worked for a managing partner of an accounting firm near Government Center in Boston.
The accountants there liked to play a little game. When their meetings began at mid-morning at the long mahogany table in the executive conference room, a typical catered business lunch would be provided: a variety of sandwiches and salads, fresh fruit, dessert, and coffee. The guys, and they were all guys, would finish their meal by making the most disgusting mess they could. They would mash the remains of their cakes and cookies into the ice at the bottom of their glasses of soda or juice — actual glasses that would have to be handled and washed by a human being. The guys would slop together the remains of sandwiches, potato salad, mustard, ketchup, napkins, and salt, pepper, and sugar packets, into stomach-turning piles of mess. We secretaries didn’t have to clean it up; the caterers did. Everyone knew about it. The guys did it at every one of their meetings, and always left the room, grinning.
Those were unhealthy servants of the wrong master. I try not to be like them. Don’t you be, either.
November 18, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths