Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Endowment of Talents

I'm sitting in a math class, acting as co-teacher, for a bunch of 8th grade pre-algebra students.  I'm thinking about the parable of the talents, from Matthew 25, which I referenced yesterday at Mr. Center's Wall.  Since I'm in a math class, and I'm not really talking about talents (neither money nor the abilities we, in English, call "talents"), rather talents as a metaphor for some--whatever--endowment from God, I will change "talents" to n.  So, new title: "My Endowment of n".  The detailing I didn't do there on the other blog, I need to do here, and I'm not talking about East of Eden.

I was in primary on Sunday with my class of 7-8 year-olds when I think I finally understood--really understood--what's being talked about in this parable.  I like to think that I've been generally pretty good at "getting it" when it comes to parables, but I've pretty much entirely missed the point on this one my entire life.  I wouldn't have "gotten it," I think, were I not in my current position in life, and had I not seen one certain punk driving to high school this morning who cut me off in his slick little BMW (spoiled punk kid with foolish parents, of whom I'm actually a little bit jealous, though I'd be more comfortable not admitting that or dwelling on it).

Like in a previous post, and building from James' comment, I can't help but think when I see people with clear demonstrations of padded living: why not me?  I'm smart.  I'm talented.  Most likely I'm smarter and more talented than they or their parents.  Why don't I have a slick little BMW (or Porsche)?  (So in addition to envy, I'm also guilty of pride; I'm working on it.  I've still got time.)

The question is silly; the implications, I think, are less so.

So the parable. 

The "ah-ha" came with the first line: "For the kingdom of heaven is a man traveling into a far country...."  Ah!  Metaphor.  My kind of thing!  So who's the man?  The Lord.  What's the Lord do before he leaves?  He gives his stuff to his servants.  Who are his servants?  Us.  Where did he go?  Well, let's restate the question. Let's say instead, Where has he left us?  On Earth.  Basically alone, or at least without his interference, and with our agency instead.  So, we're on Earth with his stuff, and he's not here.  What are we going to do with his stuff? 

That's where the rest of the story comes in, plus its application.

To one guy--or, to some people on Earth--the Lord gave a whole lot; to other people, he gave a little less; and to other people, he hardly gave anything, yet he gave "TO EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS SEVERAL ABILITY."  In other words, the Lord gives us what we can handle.  How this translates to--or between--material possessions, location of birth, socio-economics, race, intelligence, spiritual gifts, and so on, I have no idea, and I certainly can't interpret anything for other people.  I can, however, look pretty well at myself.

I just finished reading Mockingjay.  I really enjoyed it.  I nearly cried at the end.  And the end was brilliant, not just affecting.  Why can't I do that?  Dang it!  I want to create something big and brilliant and beautiful!  Well, maybe that's not one of my "talents" --maybe that's not included in my n.  Or not yet, anyway, as I prefer to think.  Why haven't I found--or it found me--a job that will really take full advantage of my "several abilities"?  I don't know.  Maybe it's just not part of my n.  Why hasn't a Porsche miraculously appeared in my garage aside my Honda....

As life-changes tend to do, I've had a pretty drastic re-organization of my personal priorities since losing my job.  I've talked about that a lot here.  The sum of those aforementioned parts: When it comes right down to it, who cares what I've got; it doesn't bleeding matter.  The only thing that does matter is that I'm living in such a way as to accord myself with the Gospel--what God says I need to do and be.  If I can do that, well, that's the whole point of life, right?  Everything else is just decoration, especially things like sweet cars and cushy jobs or even publishing a novel.  Extra.  Bonus.  Even if I had them, I woudln't take them with me.

And the three servants in the parable of the talents don't take their endowments with them (unless they were spiritual or knowledge-based endowments); they, the endowments, nor their increase, are not the servants' anyway.  The master takes them back!  The guy who said, "Screw it.  I'm not doing anything!"  And hid his candle under a bushel or didn't bother learning the Gospel or magnifying his callings in the church or having/caring for a/his family or whatever else, well, he gets cast into outer freaking darkness!  The other two, regardless of how much they received or produced (it's enough that they were productive!) will now receive "abundance"!  What's abundance?  Well, by context, I can't help but think that it happens to be an inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven.  They make it.  What else is there?

It's not about how much I've got; it's what I do with it.  What am I doing? 

My best.


  1. The part about this parable that always troubles me is when, at least in Luke--I'm not sure if it's in Matthew--Jesus says, "But to those who have little, even that will be taken away." I just can't figure this out in the context of the larger message of the Bible. I go back to when Nathan talks to David about how evil it is to steal the only lamb that the shepherd cared for. I don't know. Maybe I am just missing the point of that verse.

  2. I've thought a lot about this as well. (And I'll tell you, the verse that's given me the most trouble in the bible is actually where Jesus withers the fig tree because it has no figs, even though it's not fig season!) I think, actually, that the amount of stuff given each servant (and I think I actually got the numbers wrong: not 10, 5, and 1, but isn't it 5, 2, and 1?) is arbitrary. I think that the roles could have been reversed as well: the slothful servant given most, and the most productive given the least. I don't think it's a matter of how much they're given to begin with, but how much they've gained over the tenure of their stewardship. Real world application: aren't there people with an aweful lot less (and "less" can mean so much, I know, and is a pretty useless word) but work their way, spiritually or temporally or whatever to a position of goodness and righteousness that could certainly not be discarded by God? Looking at Christianity, if a man takes care of his family, loves God, obeys the Word, and never has more than the meanest possessions and responsibilities, is he not still great in God's eye? I don't know. I'm being hopeful, though. I don't have great responsibility. I don't have means. But I'm doing my best, and I'm on God's side.

  3. Yeah, I agree with you on the fig tree.

    I think he is discussing stewardship, too, but the way he phrases it is awkward.

  4. Well, translations of translations of translations -- some things are gonna get mixed up. I'm sure Christ's own words were clearer. I so I should think.