Upside down interpretation of the Parable of the Kingdom

A few months ago, Andrew posted at City of God a few question, one of which was:

  • Does Jesus’ logic in the parable of the talents support the concept that, all other things being equal, it is more rational that people invest money than hoard it in the ground?
  • I responded as follows: In my view yes. Jesus is teaching from the known to the unknown; from everyday experience, in this case investing, to the unknown characteristics of the kingdom of God. Thus, Jesus is not teaching that investing money is better than burying money, but using that very assumption to point out something about the Kingdom of God.

    Then a certain Brandon responded (Brandon is a missionary in South Africa and if you would like to give some of your ill-gotten filthy usuary to him, you can link to this giving page here):

    1. March 6, 2010 1:48 pm

      Why do we always assume the parable of the talents is a glorification of free market principles?

      As he is much more eloquent than me, I’ll let the words of Ched Myers speak:

      This parable reads much more coherently as a cautionary tale about the world controlled by great householders (this is even clearer in Luke’s version of the story, Luke 19:11-27). Jesus may even have been spinning a thinly-veiled autobiographical tale here—for he, too, will shortly stand before the powers, speak the truth, and take the consequences. To read in it a divine endorsement of mercenary economics and the inevitable polarization of wealth is to miss the point completely—and to perpetuate both dysfunctional theology and complicit economics in our churches.
      The consequence of the third slave’s noncooperation is banishment to the “outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (25:30). We have presumed this to be “hell,” and so perhaps it is—that is, the hell on earth experienced by those rejected by the dominant culture: in the shadows where the light of the royal courts never shine, on the mean streets outside the great households, the dwelling place of the outcast poor like Lazarus (Luke 16:19-21). But the story that immediately follows this tragic conclusion—the famous last-judgment parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31-46) may illuminate the nature of the dissident slave’s exile. This singular judgment story in the Gospels suggests that we meet Christ mysteriously by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned (Matt. 25:25-40). In other words, we meet Christ in places of pain and marginality; the “outer darkness.” The whistle-blower’s punishment kicks him out of the rich man’s system, but brings him closer to the true Lord, who dwells with the poor and oppressed.

      From here

       

    To this I wrote:

    Brandon, the parable doesn’t glorify free market principles. It uses an investment as an means of illustrating the nature of the Kingdom. Thus, the parable makes certain assumptions. Evidently, in Jesus’ day, no one would ever think it proper to bury a couple hundred thousand US dollars in the ground (on this understanding of how much is a talent, see Is Debt Sin ).

    The article Brandon cites starts out:

    Even more problematic than our sentimentalizing of kingdom parables is the way we misread Jesus’ parables about the world, reading them as if they were kingdom parables—with disastrous consequences. The most notorious case is the infamous parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30).”

    Matt 25.1, which is the near context says: “Then the Kingdom of heaven shall be compared to … ” (Τότε ὁμοιωθήσεται ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν). Then vs. 14 (῞Ωσπερ γὰρ ), “For it will be as when …”(RSV); “Again it will be like” (NIV). BDAG suggest the meaning of ῞Ωσπερ γὰρ is “for it is just like” — i.e., we are not dealing with parable of the world as the authors suggest but with another parable of the kingdom. Their position is a severe violation of context.

    The article goes down hill from this statement to other false assumptions. One of which is the time period of the journey:

    In the 1st Century AD, without the availability of today’s electronic financial instruments, securities exchanges and stock markets, hedge funds, arbitrage, trading on margin, etc., to double such a vast fortune in currency within a journey’s time was unthinkable, and impossible through honest “work”. We today have difficulty hearing the story as those first listening to Jesus heard it, because in our day and age we are utterly habituated to dubious investment schemes, unlike the poor in Jesus’ audience.

    The period of time is unspecified. I always thought of it as about 10 years (“now after a long time”; μετὰ δὲ πολὺν χρόνον), perhaps because of the Odyssey, where the warriors were all gone 10 years, and the Odysseus himself was lost another 10 years. But in any case, the period time is a long time, not a short time, which the exegesis of Myers and Debode requires to be coherent. Brandon, I was able to quintuple one of my RRSPs (like an IRA) in 22 months. Does that make me a faithful servant or a dishonest investor, using the evil capitalist system make more myself “dubious” gain?

    Thanks for referring to this article. It will be easy to retort such tendentious “exegesis” in a future blog post at the Righteous Investor. Cheers.

    Then the following discussion ensued:
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