The Parable of the Courageous Whistleblower
I appreciate your acknowledging that the king in this story does NOT represent Jesus/God. Furthermore, your awareness that the refusal to invest ill-gotten gains is a rightful stance. I would like to offer one more possibility. This parable follows - in Luke - the story of the conversion of Zacchaeus, the Jewish collector who, for years, had cooperated within the Roman system of brutal oppression. Throughout that time, he was probably rightfully despised. And yet, upon recognizing the truth of Jesus, he then announced that he would return most of the money he collected back to his Jewish community. With that in mind, I see the king of this parable representing Roman oppression, a system that relied upon the cooperation of select Jewish people to exist. In contrast, there were - in the Jewish community - those who refused to participate and even fought against the oppression, leading to the occasional massacre of entire Jewish communities. Is it possible that Jesus is challenging those who believed that refusing to support in anyway a system of oppression is always wrong? Is he acknowledging that a community's survival sometimes depends on those apparent traitors - such as Zacchaeus - to placate those rulers until the real king returns/comes? (We saw Z's response with Jesus; suddenly, he did what was right.) What's interesting is that the 19th chapter ends with one final story, that of Jesus over-turning the tables in the temple. Could it be that Jesus understands that the true traitors of a community are those who abuse their own people for their own benefit, not because an oppressor demands it?
I always a little late getting to these posts so I don't know if this has already been said but here is a thought: What if we have made an artificial separation between the "Parable of the Talents" (Matthew 25:14-30) and The Judgement (Matthew 25:31-46)? I love your thoughts on the Courageous Whistle Blower. AND. This understanding would seem to flow quite naturally into the separation of the Sheep and the Goats and the King's choosing of "those who are blessed of My Father". . . . Matthew intended verses 25:14-46 as one entire unit? I'm not an academic but it seems to make a little sense to me. Thanks so much. Gratefully.
Thanks for the story of the clergywman whistle-blower who changed your life.
My high school math teacher interpreted this parable just as you did for your dad’s funeral as she berated us for wasting our talents. Your new “whistleblower” interpretation is a new and intriguing one. Thank you.
So as the end approaches, does the whistleblower story mean that Jesus' followers will naturally be cast out and punished while the greedy keep getting enriched?
Wow. 😮 Amazing to read this. Like flipping over a stone that’s been sitting in the same place for years, covered in moss, only to find a treasure underneath! Never saw it in that way. Thank you.
WOW!!!! What an expansive, panoramic, get your attention message! Most grateful
This week’s post was extremely powerful to me, thank you. I loved the twist on the parable, but the most healing part for me was “the whistleblower” story you told of your own experience with the person who went to bat for you. Along my path in ministry I spent some time in school administration. I was once in an awkward situation where I was being probed for “dirt” on the principal of my school (I was Asst. Principal). It was an attempt by someone in power to try to use it over someone they didn’t like. I refused to participate and it cost me my job. To get rid of me my competence had to be documented in an annual evaluation as incompetent. (This has to be understood in the context that I have always been “an over achiever”). That experience shattered my self confidence. I spent a solid year in emotional breakdown. This has been over a decade ago and I still have scars. It has been like a PTSD experience and from time to time rears it’s ugly head and brings back feelings of anxiety and worthlessness. Your story resonated with me as it was the first time it gelled for me that I lost my job because I refused to sell out another colleague for my own gain. Thank you.
Sorry for the long post.
The whistle-blower is a very interesting interpretation and a valid one, but I had always interpreted it as you did at your Father's funeral. Parables are not all allegories. They often were told to get across one point, the point here being that God gives us things we are good at, such as "talents" in the modern sense. The wicked master is not necessarily God. The point he was making is to develop and use wisely what he has given. He said, "To whom much is given, much will be required." With the bridesmaids, I believe His point was simple: be prepared. We don't know when He’s coming. You can think of it as end times return or Jesus coming in the form of a needy person. Are we ready to help that person who might not be a likeable individual? Thanks for giving us things to challenge our thinking. I'll think on your whistle-blower interpretation. It does give a good moral!
Finally, an interpretation that makes sense. I’ve always disliked this parable and couldn’t accept the sermons I’ve heard on it. The one talent guy is me as I don’t desire riches gained through fear and control. And, the master doesn’t resemble the God that I want to believe in. Thank you for opening up new possibilities.
For a man who refused the title of king I look forward to your take Christ the king sunday. Rev ken
Yes, with my profound thanks.
Hi Diana, it is a delight to see other interpreters such as yourself turning to the work of cultural anthropologists and historians of the ancient Mediterranean world. Without socio-historical context we will inevitably misread NT texts. Here's my reflection on this text from Wed Nov 15, 2023. Imho complements your take on the third slave as a "whistleblower."
The dominant character in the parable is the master who is moving to a foreign country. He liquidates his assets, calls his three slaves and endows each of them them with insanely large amounts of money 5 talents = $6.25 million; 3 talents = $3.25 million; 1 talent = 1.25 million. The master does not give them specific instructions about what to do with the money.
As the parable unfolds, we learn that the slave owning master is a harsh man who reaps where he does not sow and gathers where he has not scattered seed. In other words, he lives off the hard work of others. He takes whatever he can wherever he can in order to make a profit and expand his estate.
Although he didn’t tell the slaves what to do with the money, his actions reveal that he really did expect the slaves to carry on doing business in his name just the way that he always did. The first two slaves did so and doubled the money he gave them. He praises and rewards them.
The third slave, however, buried the money given to him because he was afraid of this harsh master who had life and death power over him. His actions also demonstrate that he operates out of a different set of values and ethics. He wouldn’t invest the money with bankers to gain interest because charging and collecting interest is forbidden in scripture (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-38). He’s trying to serve God not his master. He consults his faith community’s collective wisdom, summed up in the Talmud which advises that when a master leaves a subordinate (over whom he has power, even the power of life and death), the subordinate should “Take no risks. Bury the cash in the ground.”
The third slave watches as the situation develops and knows what to expect from the first two slaves: they will play the market, they will feel rich, they will gamble with someone else’s money. Playing the market makes you look like a genius. Unless you lose. The third slave knows that the first two won’t think of that, so he looks at his (measly) single talent and sees in it the last of his master’s fortune. And he concludes that someone has to be the backstop for this crazy scheme. He buries the money so that even if the other two lose everything, the master will still have $1.25 million to start over with.
But the master is outraged, calls him lazy and wicked, and throws him into the outer darkness, where he will learn to weep and gnash his teeth.
The slave-owning master’s willingness to earn money at the expense of others demolishes any interpretation of the parable that claims he is Jesus or God. Jesus never acts in a manner to seek personal gain. Remember how Jesus condemned the man who built bigger and bigger barns to store his goods only to die that very night (Luke 12:13-21). Remember how Jesus told the rich young man to sell all his property and give the money to the poor (Matthew 19:16-22). Remember how Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into God’s kingdom (Luke 12:13-21). Remember how Jesus said, “you cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). So, the slave owning master must represent wealth, a.k.a. mammon, and not God.
Jesus tells this story using everyday characters from the first century world in order to get us to think, to ask ourselves, who are we serving – God or wealth? When we examine how we use our time and energy, our talents and skills, our money, and our resources – who are we serving? God or wealth? Or to put it another way, who benefits from the way we use our time and energy, our talents and skills, our money, and our resources? Big business executives? Shareholders who live in another state or another country? Me, myself, and I? My hungry and homeless neighbors? Vulnerable people in my community – children, elderly, disabled?
Hi Diana, I shared this piece with our oldest (38) son who is an MBA (Durham Univ/UK) trained venture capitalist. He is Roman Catholic and currently pursuing a Master of Theological Studies at U of Toronto School of Theology if only to try and stay relevant with younger brother who is currently doing his PhD in Phil of Religion at Oxford. I thot you’d be interested in his somewhat lengthy response. His wife is Colombian and they spend significant time there. Here’s his response:
“Well, you know "progressive" Christianity (especially the American variety) makes me cringe and I find progressive theologians have a remarkable talent for surfacing insights in Scripture that (somehow) remained hidden/misunderstood for thousands of years until they stepped onto the scene to enlighten us all :-)
But I think she taps into something here that (at least) peddlers of "prosperity gospel" poison will gloss over when they (likely) take this parable in a highly earthly/material/temporal sense to refer to decisions about finances and business. Anything that blows a hole in that sort of "interpretation" (i.e., lies) about the parables of Christ is welcome! The prosperity gospel poison (which preys on impoverished and uneducated minds) explains why Pentecostalism, evangelicalism, and charismatic Christianity are winning over untold numbers of Catholics in Latin America, Africa and Asia currently...
I like Bishop Barron's take on the parable: https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2014/09/22/the-deeper-meaning-of-the-parable-of-the-talents/
"The problem with the timid servant who buried his talent is not that he was an ineffective venture capitalist but that he fundamentally misunderstood the nature of what he had been given. The divine mercy—received as a pure gift—is meant to be given to others as a pure gift. Buried in the ground, that is to say, hugged tightly to oneself as one’s own possession, such a talent necessarily evanesces. And this is why the master’s seemingly harsh words should not be read as the punishment of an angry God but as an expression of spiritual physics: the divine mercy will grow in you only inasmuch as you give it to others. To “have” the kabod Yahweh is precisely not to have it in the ordinary sense of the term. What comes to mind here is the most famous of all of Jesus’ parables, namely, the story of the Prodigal Son. Using a term that also carried a monetary sense in ancient times, the younger son says, “Father give me my share of the ousia (substance or wealth) that is coming to me. Notice how in one sentence, he manages to mention himself three times! The father gives away his ousia, for that is all he knows how to do, but the foolish son squanders the money in short order. The spiritual lesson is the same: the divine ousia is a gift and it can be “had” only inasmuch as it becomes a gift for others. When we try to cling to it as a possession, it disappears."
Well, Liz (spouse) told me, no way does she want me to ask our pastor son to preach at her funeral!
I said not to worry. I don't think he would do it even if I did ask. He didn't want to officiate at the baptisms of his own children because he thought it was more important to affirm the parental obligations.
I really like the Milton sonnet. I had never seen it before.