Saturday, 8 November 2014

Matthew 25: 14-30, ‘loadsamoney’ and stashing and
flashing the cash … or the values of the Kingdom?

Loadsamoney was a catchphrase of comedian Harry Enfield ... but is a load of money worth stashing away? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

For our weekend Bible studies in this tutorial group, we are looking at the readings for the following Sunday.

Sunday week [16 November 2014] is the Second Sunday before Advent (Proper 28), and the readings for that Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) are:

Judges 4: 1-7; Psalm 123; I Thessalonians 5: 1-11; Matthew 25: 14-30.

Matthew 25: 14-30

14 Ὥσπερ γὰρ ἄνθρωπος ἀποδημῶν ἐκάλεσεν τοὺς ἰδίους δούλους καὶ παρέδωκεν αὐτοῖς τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ, 15 καὶ ᾧ μὲν ἔδωκεν πέντε τάλαντα, ᾧ δὲ δύο, ᾧ δὲ ἕν, ἑκάστῳ κατὰ τὴν ἰδίαν δύναμιν, καὶ ἀπεδήμησεν. εὐθέως 16 πορευθεὶς ὁ τὰ πέντε τάλαντα λαβὼν ἠργάσατο ἐν αὐτοῖς καὶ ἐκέρδησεν ἄλλα πέντε: 17 ὡσαύτως ὁ τὰ δύο ἐκέρδησεν ἄλλα δύο. 18 ὁ δὲ τὸ ἓν λαβὼν ἀπελθὼν ὤρυξεν γῆν καὶ ἔκρυψεν τὸ ἀργύριον τοῦ κυρίου αὐτοῦ. 19 μετὰ δὲ πολὺν χρόνον ἔρχεται ὁ κύριος τῶν δούλων ἐκείνων καὶ συναίρει λόγον μετ' αὐτῶν. 20 καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ τὰ πέντε τάλαντα λαβὼν προσήνεγκεν ἄλλα πέντε τάλαντα λέγων, Κύριε, πέντε τάλαντά μοι παρέδωκας: ἴδε ἄλλα πέντε τάλαντα ἐκέρδησα. 21 ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁκύριος αὐτοῦ, Εὖ, δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ, ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς πιστός, ἐπὶ πολλῶν σε καταστήσω: εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ κυρίου σου. 22 προσελθὼν [δὲ] καὶ ὁ τὰ δύο τάλαντα εἶπεν, Κύριε, δύο τάλαντά μοι παρέδωκας: ἴδε ἄλλα δύο τάλαντα ἐκέρδησα. 23 ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ, Εὖ, δοῦλε ἀγαθὲ καὶ πιστέ, ἐπὶ ὀλίγα ἦς πιστός, ἐπὶ πολλῶν σε καταστήσω: εἴσελθε εἰς τὴν χαρὰν τοῦ κυρίου σου. 24 προσελθὼν δὲ καὶ ὁ τὸ ἓν τάλαντον εἰληφὼς εἶπεν, Κύριε, ἔγνων σε ὅτι σκληρὸς εἶ ἄνθρωπος, θερίζων ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρας καὶ συνάγων ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισας: 25 καὶ φοβηθεὶς ἀπελθὼν ἔκρυψα τὸ τάλαντόν σου ἐν τῇ γῇ: ἴδε ἔχεις τὸ σόν. 26 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Πονηρὲ δοῦλε καὶ ὀκνηρέ, ᾔδεις ὅτι θερίζω ὅπου οὐκ ἔσπειρα καὶ συνάγω ὅθεν οὐ διεσκόρπισα; 27 ἔδει σε οὖν βαλεῖν τὰ ἀργύριά μου τοῖς τραπεζίταις, καὶ ἐλθὼν ἐγὼ ἐκομισάμην ἂν τὸ ἐμὸν σὺν τόκῳ. 28 ἄρατε οὖν ἀπ' αὐτοῦ τὸ τάλαντον καὶ δότε τῷ ἔχοντι τὰ δέκα τάλαντα: 29 τῷ γὰρ ἔχοντι παντὶ δοθήσεται καὶ περισσευθήσεται: τοῦ δὲ μὴ ἔχοντος καὶ ὃ ἔχει ἀρθήσεται ἀπ' αὐτοῦ. 30 καὶ τὸν ἀχρεῖον δοῦλον ἐκβάλετε εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων.

Translation (NRSV):

14 ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” 21 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” 23 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” 26 But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The readings:

As we move towards Advent, we are encouraged to look for the signs that Christ is coming as king.

What is your vision for the Kingdom of God, and how might you point people to this through these readings?

Judges 4: 1-7

Joshua, the successor of Moses, is dead, and Israel is now under the influence of 12 successive judges, charismatic leaders raised up at times of national crisis by the spirit of God, to deliver God’s people from pagan oppressors.

The Book of Judges honestly admits that Israel does not control all of the Canaan; because the people “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (see verses 1, 3: 12, and elsewhere). They were subjugated by other peoples from time to time. Conquest was a gradual process, with many reverses.

The preceding passage (Judge 3: 12-30) tells the story of Ehud (4: 1), a judge who put an end to domination by the Moabites, the people who lived to the south-east of the Dead Sea. He carried the tribute to Eglon, King of Moab, tricked Eglon into seeing him in private to hear a secret message from God, then took his hidden sword and killed Eglon. Without a leader, the Moabites were in confusion. Ehud was then able to lead the Israelites to victory over the Moabites.

Once again, the Israelites disobey God, and so are subjugated, this time by Jabin, a king who rules at Hazor, north of the Sea of Galilee. Sisera is his chariot commander. The forces of Jabin are awesome, especially because the Israelites, lacking chariots, are no match for his army on level ground.

Deborah, the fourth of the judges, is the only woman in scripture to be a judge and is different from the other judges. She acts as God’s spokeswoman in matters of national importance and in disputes, but leaves the military leadership to Barak. She orders Barak, in God’s name, to assemble troops drawn from northern tribes on Mount Tabor.

There, God will draw out the enemy, and will give Israel victory. The following verses describe the battle. Due to a heavy rainstorm or to the Kishon River breaking its banks, Sisera’s chariots are stuck in the mud, and his troops panic. Sisera and all his troops are killed. Israel is once again free.

There are three issues here. First, Israel is being punished for evil, expressed in worshipping false gods.

Second, there are some notable depictions in the Bible of women who are prophets: Miriam, sister of Moses (Exodus 15: 20); Huldah, who authenticates the rediscovery of the Torah (II Kings 22: 14-20) and in Joel 2: 28 and Acts 21: 8-9. But Deborah is unique in that she is the only female judge in scripture.

Third, Sisera had a commanding military advantage over the Israelites with his 900 chariots of iron. Iron was not available to the Israelites at that time. Yet, the prophecy is that Barak will be victorious. It is not physical strength of armies or weapons that will carry the day, but the power of the Lord.

Trusting in the Lord for deliverance is an important theme of scripture. Is all of our faith being placed in Christ, or are we guilty of portioning out to some false gods? Can we look past gender when we receive God’s Word? Can we think of ways to increase our faith in Jesus instead of spending time stockpiling physical resources?

Psalm 123:

This is a prayer for deliverance from enemies. Verses 1-3 speak of humble submission to God’s will. We look with our eyes to God, seeking his mercy (verse 3). The speakers here are Israel or an oppressed group within Israel, and they seek God’s help and mercy, having had their fill of contempt, the scorn of the powerful, and derision.

Scorn and contempt has been laid upon the people, and they are either incapable or unwilling to fight against it alone. They turn to the Lord with confidence that they will receive mercy. An important dimension of mercy, רַחֵ֖ם (see Isaiah 49: 15), is that it can be understood as the tender love a mother has for her children. The psalmist’s wish is for the Lord to show motherly care for the people.

If you feel that there is no place to turn, no one to help, will you turn to the Lord for mercy? In fact, will you turn to the Lord first?

Consider the innocent of the world, those suffering oppression, hunger, disease, those living in war-torn regions, those who have been kidnapped. Can you pray to the Lord for mercy for them?

I Thessalonians 5: 1-11:

Saint Paul has just told the Christians in Thessaloniki that at the end of the age both the faithful who have already died and those still alive will ascend to heaven to be with God for ever. Now, he says, concerning when Christ will come again, suddenly and unexpectedly, like a thief in the night (verse 2). Others who are lulled by the “peace and security” (verse 3) will be separated from God for ever, as suddenly as a woman comes into labour; God’s condemnation of them will be inescapable.

In verses 4-8a, he exhorts his readers to moral vigilance. Being children of light, they will not be surprised by Christ’s second coming. So let us not fall asleep (verse 6) as others do, but let us be prepared. Let us have the sobriety of people who have peace of mind through trust in God. Sleep and drunkenness are attributes of children of darkness, those who ignore or oppose God’s ways.

Using a military image, Saint Paul says we are to possess the Christian virtues of faith, love and hope – the certain hope of salvation. These virtues protect us from evil, for God has destined us so that we are saved through Christ from eternal wrath. Jesus rescues us from sin, so that, whether we are alive or dead, awake or asleep, when he comes again, we will live with him in heaven.

Finally, Saint Paul advises his readers to build up each other, to support each other spiritually. He sees the church as the temple of God under construction; the builder is God, and Christians can take part in the work.

Do you think that the scenario of destruction that Saint Paul paints is real or symbolic?

Either way, are you prepared?

What do you think of the armour that Saint Paul describes: the breastplate of faith and love. the helmet of the hope of salvation?

Can you relate this to the passage above from the Book of Judges?

How can we build each other up?

Matthew 25: 14-30

The catchphrase ‘Loadsamoney’ and the character to go with it were part of the sketched created by the English comedian Harry Enfield on Channel 4 in the 1980s.

Christ continues to tell parables about the kingdom of heaven. In the previous parables, we have been told to be prepared for the Second Coming at all times.

Loadsamoney was an obnoxious, Cockney plasterer who constantly boasted about how much money he had to throw away. The character took on a life of his own and adapted the song ‘Money, Money,’ from the musical Cabaret, for a hit single in 1988 and a sell-out live tour. That year, the Labour leader, Neil Kinnock used the catchphrase to criticise the policies of the Conservative government of the day and journalists began to refer to the “loadsamoney mentality” and the “loadsamoney economy.”

On the other hand, we all know people who are reluctant to flash their cash and would prefer to stash their cash. We have all heard of people who kept their savings in a mattress, thinking it was safer there than in the bank.

They may never have realised how right they might have been about the banks. But leaving your money under the mattress is not going to put it to work. And, these days, putting your money on deposit in the bank may cost you money rather than earning it. With low deposit rates and taxation at source, you may end up collecting less than you had when you first opened that savings account.

But piling your money up has its risks too. At a time of rapid inflation in war-time Greece and Germany, people who saved their money as banknotes found it quickly depreciated in value. I have enough 5 million Drachmai notes to make two sons multi-millionaires. Sad to say, those notes date from the 1940s the only value they have is curiosity value.

Saving them in the bank, or piling them up under the mattress would have earned nothing for their original owners.

The parable we are looking at this morning is set in the realm of finance. Before leaving on a journey, a master entrusts his servants (that word deacon again) with his money, each according to his ability.

A talent (τάλαντον, tálanton) was a lot of money – enough to make any one of those slaves a millionaire, and enough to make them fret and worry about the enormity with which he had been entrusted.

One source says a talent was the equivalent of more than 15 years’ wages for a labourer. Another suggests a talent was worth the equivalent of 7,300 denarii. With one denarius equal to a day’s pay, a talent would work out at more than 26 years’ wages. So a talent was extremely valuable, and the slave who was given five talents was given 85 to 130 years’ wages, vastly more than he could ever imagine earning in lifetime.

Earlier in this Gospel, we have come across another parable of talents, when a servant who is forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents refuses to forgive another servant who owes him only one hundred denarii (Matthew 18: 23-35).

Two servants invest the money they have been entrusted with and earn more, but the third simply buries it.

When the master returns, he praises the investors. He says they will be made responsible for many things, and will enter into the joy of your master.

But the third slave, admitting that he was afraid of his master’s wrath, simply returns the original sum. The master chastises him for his wickedness and laziness. He loses not only what he has been given but is also condemned to outer darkness.

What would have happened to the two investors who took risks with vast sums of money had they lost everything? There was an old maxim that you “must speculate to accumulate.” But every investor knows there are risks, and the greater the risk the higher the interest rates that are promised. What if they had overstepped their master’s expectations in the risks they had taken? What if this bondholder had been burned because of the folly of two of his risk-takers, and only one had been a careful steward? After all, a rabbinical maxim commends burying money to protect it.

If this parable is about the kingdom of heaven, if the master stands for God and the servants for different kinds of people what lesson does it teach us?

Does God reward us for our works but behave like a stern judge when we keep faith without taking risks? Will be judged by our work?

Will failure to use what gives us result in punishment and our separation from God?

Of course, we cannot imagine that the two slaves who traded with their talents and produced a profit were engaged in reckless trading and speculation, still less in reckless gambling.

What was the third slave doing with his time after he buried his talent? Was he doing any other work on behalf of the master? Is he chided for his refusal to invest or speculate, or for his refusal to work, his laziness?

In this, did he show disdain for his master?

What talents and gifts has God entrusted you with? Are you using or investing them to your fullest ability?

Are they yours? Or are they God’s?

Is your relationship with God one of trust and gratitude? Or do you fear God to the point of thinking of God as the source of injustice?

An alternative reading:

An alternative reading of this parable might question the behaviour of the master, as we have done with a study of the earlier passage about the invitation to the wedding banquet (Matthew 22: 1-14).

In an alternative reading, we could see here an absentee landlord who does no work himself, but lives off of the labour of his slaves, even at the expense of other more honest people. He would be seen to those who hear Christ telling this parable for the first time as greedy and grasping rather than smart or virtuous.

The master tells the slave whom he treats most harshly that the punishment is specifically for refusing to break the commandment against usury (Matthew 25: 27), a practice consistently condemned in both the Old and New Testament.

When Christ says it “to all who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” (verse 29) is he, instead of teaching a lesson, expressing in an exasperated way the old maxim that “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer”?

Is the behaviour of the master in the parable something that God would commend, let alone imitate?

Is this kind of behaviour that Christ expects of God’s people?

Could the servant who is thrown out, like the poor guest at the wedding banquet who is shamed and victimised before who is thrown out into utter darkness, bound hand and foot, represent the Suffering Servant?

Could the lesson be not to use and misuse what is not ours for selfish gain as we exploit others?

Could it be that this parable is still less about justifying those who make unimaginable wealth out of the labour of others? Is it less about talents and money and more about those who are exploited in the world by others and who are left destitute?

Reading the parable this way would leave us wanting to be less like the master who is a symbol of all who are successful and “make it” in the world, who have “loadsamoney” and more interested in the values of God’s kingdom, praying that it will come and that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

If so, then what sorts of risks should we take for the sake of the Kingdom?

Or do we keep on devoting our lives to the values of the kingdoms of this world?

Collect:

Heavenly Father,
whose blessed Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil
and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life:
Grant that we, having this hope,
may purify ourselves even as he is pure;
that when he shall appear in power and great glory,
we may be made like him
in his eternal and glorious kingdom;
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Gracious Lord,
in this holy sacrament you give substance to our hope.
Bring us at the last to that pure life for which we long,
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with MTh students on 8 November 2014.

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