You may already know this reading of Jesus' Parable of the Talents. But I came across it first about 2 years ago: That the Parable upholds as a hero a man who creatively subverts the systemic injustices in a corrupt society by burying his talent, rather than making it grow. He is a Whistle Blower.
I'm preaching on this text on Sunday. I'd like your help. Because I can cut'n'paste it, here is the Wiki entry on the alternative reading:
William Herzog offers an alternative interpretation of the parables of Jesus. According to his interpretive scheme, Jesus employed parables in his verbal engagement with his contemporaries for the purpose of getting them to think about God's justice and their social responsibility. His stories expose the social inequities in Palestinian society that violate the teachings of the Torah and motivate the hearers to live and work for peace and justice.
Herzog's analysis of the parable of the talents focuses on the fact that the "man" of the story is not described as an exemplary person. Much rather, this wealthy man does not deny the claim of the third servant: "thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown". The parable suggests that he is an aristocrat, a rapacious absentee-landlord, whose sole interest is maximizing his financial gain. Only the third servant refuses to participate in the game of increasing his lord's financial wealth "at the costs of the poor."
When he upbraids the third servant, the aristocrat's remark shows that he himself is in violation of the Old Testament laws that Jesus seeks to defend: the third servant has willfully refused to invest the money, which would have resulted in the aristocrat regaining his capital "with interest" (Matt. 25:27). This kind of financial transaction is forbidden in the Torah; see the biblical teaching on usury.
The servant's frank remark shows him to be a 'whistle-blower'. He calls the aristocrat harsh and merciless (which are not God-like qualities). He exposes the sham of what has occurred: the other servants have allowed themselves to be used for exploitative purposes, for which they will also be rewarded by the wicked aristocrat.
According to Herzog's reading, the point of the parable is to show how much it can cost for an underling to expose the truth about injustice in society. Jesus' hearers, for the most part poor villagers, would have asked themselves the difficult question about how they would behave toward an aristocrat's former helper who had become a whistle-blower and had been thrown out of rich man's household ("wailing and gnashing of teeth"). They would also learn from the parable the necessity of not isolating themselves, so as not to play into the hands of the ruling elite.
That is, the parable is not, as it is often read, a parable about doing something positive with what has been given to you, nor even an indictment on the scribes who buried what was given them (the word of God). On those traditional readings, the man who buries the talent is a scoundrel who deserved his punishment.
But on the alternative reading, the servant is a hero, the master a scoundrel, and the 'punishment' a further injustice for any who oppose the evil inherent in the system. The servant stands up, by sitting down. He does something, by doing nothing.
I'm not agreeing with the alternative reading. But I want to hear from you as to your thoughts. So...
- And if you disagree, why?
- What, then, is the parable about?
YouTube is Monty Python's Constitutional Peasant. I am in no way disparaging the view by posting the skit. I just laugh very loudly every time I see this. :)