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Correcting Our Capitalist Reading of the Talents

My friend Jonathan Starkey has drawn this diagram based on Ched Myers and Eric DeBode’s interpretation of Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30.

While interpreters from capitalist economies have invariably interpreted the absentee lord as God, the talents as good investments, and the reward as heaven, Myers and DeBode show how the hero of the story for Jesus’ listeners was the “evil and lazy” slave, who chose not to participate in an exploitive economic system.


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6 thoughts on “Correcting Our Capitalist Reading of the Talents

  1. With Rand back in style, i know a few ppl who would say it is immoral not to consume whatever your heart desires and wallet allows. Thx for this freh look on this parable.

    Posted by adam | May 17, 2011, 3:22 pm
  2. I’m interested to read the full article. The diagram leaves me scratching my head. I understand the sentiment, but it seems like it takes a boatload of hermeneutical gymnastics to pull these insights from a parable which seems fairly straightforward. I’ll dig in further. Thanks for posting.

    Posted by Chris | May 17, 2011, 10:54 pm
    • Thanks Chris for your comment and for reading the blog.

      I also was a bit suspicious of this interpretation, as it is totally opposite of interpretations I’ve heard up to now. And I still haven’t read Myer’s book “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus,” which gives a more detailed defense of his hermeneutics.

      You’ll have to let me know what you think after you read the article. It seems to me that the hermeneutical acrobatics are done by the capitalist readings. The only way that these readings have “made sense” is by spiritualizing the parable of investing your God-given gifts. But if there is a sensitivity to the economics of the parable and the context of Jesus’ audience, then one has to hermeneutically justify the behavior of the absentee lord and his slaves in light of Yahweh’s commands against storing surplus (Exodus 16:16-20) and against usury and profiteering off the poor (Leviticus 25:36ff), as well as Isaiah’s condemnation of the accumulation of capital (5:8) – not to mention all of Jesus’ teaching on Mammon. Further, Mathew situates the parable in juxtaposition to the parable of the sheep and goats, in which the rewarded are those who care for the poor, which is counter to the actions of the lord and his “good” slaves in the previous parable. Also, Luke’s context (19:11-27) of the parable is one in which Jesus criticizes the disciples’ expectation of His coming to Jerusalem to rule like Herod or Caesar. In the parable, Jesus is the “wicked slave” who is slaughtered by the king – thus being a prophetic image of what will come in Jerusalem. The capitalist reading, which places Jesus in the shoes of the king that entrusts his wealth to his slaves, has the heavy hermeneutical burden of explaining God’s slaughtering of His enemies, rather than dying for them.

      Posted by Fragments & Reflections | May 18, 2011, 1:27 am
      • I myself am giving the Luke 19 parable a “second look.” Offhand, it does not seem a “heavy hermeneutical burden” in the Gospels that those who refuse God will be judged (e.g. Matthew 8:10-12; John 3:18). The occasion for the parable itself is stated in 19:11.

        Posted by Andy | October 25, 2013, 7:13 am
  3. Me thinks this understanding is a bit askew.

    Take a look at where we find this story.
    It is placed between the parable of the ten virgins, and the sheep and the goats.

    The confusion rests, I believe, in that the interpretation is based on a worldly financial perspective.

    I myself am teaching the importance of building eternal kingdom bank accounts which have nothing to do with finances.

    Do we use people to get things, or do we use things to draw people to Christ.

    The more you use the ‘things’ God gave you to encourage others to live godly lives and to know the Father, the more He will give you to share with others.

    The parable of the ten virgins revolved around the five having enough oil and the five who did not. I believe the oil represents the Spirit. As Galatians and Ephesians especially point out, it is impossible to please the Father without the Holy Spirit. When one is full of the Spirit, then they can perform tasks with an attitude that is pleasing to the Father.

    The parable of the sheep and the goats relates how easy it is to miss the opportunities of service that God really cares about.
    Religion is a set of duties that please God.
    James says that true religion is this, to take care of the widows and orphans.
    Unless one walks in and with the Spirit, these seem menial, even meaningless. But the truth is this attitude of service ‘to the least of My brethren’ is what is really going to matter in eternity.

    I think a proper understanding of the faithful servants are those who gave everything they had, and used all the strength they had to encourage brothers in their daily walk with the Father. And to encourage the unsaved to give Christ the honor he is due. That being, worshipped as our eternal Savior and Lord!

    Posted by michael congo | May 24, 2013, 2:16 pm

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