Money lenders

Today’s Gospel reading brings us a story of servants who are given large sums of money to look after.

They are given “talents” (money, not gifts of ability). It’s hard to work out what a talent was worth, partly because it was primarily a weight (as the English “pound” was), and partly because it could have been either a gold or silver talent.

But as a rough guess, a talent could have been worth something like half a million dollars. So one servant got 2½ million dollars, one got 1 million, the third got half a million. Huge sums in our terms, but absolutely fantastic and unbelievable amounts for the people Jesus would be speaking to.

But those talents would also be a frightening responsibility. It’s not surprising that one of the servants dug a hole and buried his “talent”. After all, that was a recognised and accepted way of protecting your money, in a world where there were no banks in our modern sense (the “bankers” in the parable were moneylenders).

The master in the parable condemns the third servant, not because he had kept the talent safe, but because he hadn’t used it. He was afraid of the risk, and he was afraid of failure.

Which could pose an awkward question for us: what is it that we want above all else to safeguard and preserve in what we have been given in our traditions? What’s vital, and what’s secondary? And what risks are we prepared to take to make the greatness of God known?

As always, the parables make us think.

Harry Hicks

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