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Friday, November 11, 2011

Occupy Jerusalem: Did Jesus condone capitalism?

Parable of Talents (1712 Woodcut)

These days, the word “talent” conjures up images of innate (some would say God-given) human gifts that can be used to make life easier and brighter.  In ancient times, the word “talent” denoted a huge amount of material wealth – equal in value to approximately 20 years’ worth of average wages.

Within Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, a “master” tells three of his “servants” that he must leave for a long while, and will meanwhile be entrusting his property (altogether worth eight talents) to them.  One servant was given five talents, the second was given two talents, and the third was given one talent.  The first two doubled their talents while the master was gone.  The third retained his original one by
burying it in the ground.

When the master returned, he praised and rewarded the first two servants for the fruitful use of their talents.  The third servant explained that he had buried his own talent out of fear of a master who reaped what he did not sow.  The master did not deny this allegation, yet exiled the third servant to a place where “weeping and the gnashing of teeth” regularly occurred.

Now some might say that Jesus was merely advising people to use their “gifts of the spirit” to the fullest, lest they foster ingratitude and their own versions of internal hell.  The “master” in this scenario would be God, and the “servants” God’s people.  Others have interpreted it more literally - and have concluded that Jesus was condoning capitalistic-type investments.  After all, how else would it be possible to double the harvest without first doubling the planting?

Still others (more of the “Occupy Jerusalem” ilk) are heralding the third servant for his honesty and moral fortitude.  In their liberation-theology type perspective, this third servant not only had the guts to openly assess his master, but also had the spiritual backbone to resist engaging in practices that alarmed his sense of
fair play.

Parables can be mirrors of the psyche.  Capitalists will read capitalism between the verses - socialists, socialism - and so on… 

Such interpretations generally reveal more about the interpreters than they ever do about Jesus.


Copyright November 11, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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