Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Five Books of Jesus Excerpt: The Parable of the Talents

            At the end of the story of grain, Martha starts bringing plates with bread and lentils to the gathered men. She looks to Mary for help, but her sister is too busy listening to Jesus’ next story to notice.
            This one is about a talented merchant who’s already made more money than an ordinary man can earn in five lifetimes. One day, with very little warning, the merchant is called away to a far country and doesn’t know when he’ll be able to come back. He calls three of his most devoted servants together and entrusts them with most of his wealth: the first servant is given twice his own weight in silver, the second his weight in silver, and the third half his weight in silver. He gives them use of his name and house in his absence, and he tells them to remember him and to prepare for his return.
             The first and second servants immediately go to work, investing in this and that, trading on their master’s behalf here and there. As time passes, they throw themselves into their labors with a growing abandon—after all, each new contract is another chance to hear people speak their absent master’s name. Some of their ventures fail, and it devastates them. Most succeed, and the value and scale of their operations grow.
            Though the third servant has been no less devoted to the master, he’s more cautious than the other two. He worries that if he invests in a certain kind of good, its price may fall before he can sell it. He worries that if he buys a farm, there won’t be enough rain, and that if he buys a fishing boat, it might sink in a storm. He doesn’t want to disappoint his master, or for men to speak ill of his master on his account, so he stops speaking of, or acting for, his master at all. Before long, he begins to worry that thieves might come for the money—so one night, when he’s sure no one is watching, he buries it deep in the ground.
            Having buried the treasure, he returns to his life’s routine struggles. He cleans the master’s house, though it’s used so little these days there’s not much to worry about. He cooks meals, though often only for himself since the master, and usually also his fellow-servants, are gone. Still, the rhythms comfort him. Gradually, they surpass his memory of devotion and he stops thinking of his master’s eventual return. It proves more enticing just to survive than to wait, and his memory begins to blur until it seems as if at any moment he may forget the man he once waited for.
            Trees the first servant planted mature; grapes the second servant trampled develop into old wine. Then one spring, while the breeze pours color into the waiting blossoms, their master returns.
            Only the truly faithful, says Jesus, will ever be able to understand how the first two servants felt when they again saw their master’s face. Only the truly faithful will understand how their hearts beat as they ran to greet him, how right the tears of long-delayed reunion felt on their cheeks.
            And only the truly faithful will be ready for the question their master asked: what have you done in my name?
            The first two show him their ledgers, explain how they’ve each doubled what they were given, and now it’s their master who cries tears of joy. “Well done, my servants!” he says, and then he tells them of his own incredible success, beyond anything they could have imagined. The three of them laugh together, and the master says, “I left you with a few things; I’ve returned with many things. Then you were my servants; be rulers now in the house of your lord!”
            In the next room, the third servant waits. The voice he once knew so well now sounds rough and weathered to him. When the master comes looking for him, his face seems like a stranger’s.
            What about you? says the master. What have you done in my name?
            I knew you were strict, says the third servant. I knew you reap rewards of work that wasn’t your own, and I was afraid you’d expect more from me than I can give. So I buried the silver in the ground. I’ll go dig it up for you now and return it: to tell the truth, it will be a great relief to have it out of my hands.
            “Well said,” says the master, “your hands are worthless! If you felt I was too strict, why did you accept the silver when I left? If you knew I reap the rewards of work that wasn’t my own, why didn’t you take the money to lenders at a bank for interest?”
            The servant doesn’t answer. He’s forgotten the devotion that once made him afraid to disappoint his master.
            And in his silence, the master can tell his servant’s devotion is gone. “I don’t want to reap the rewards of others’ work,” says the master, “but I thought you were my own. If you no longer are, leave the silver and take your freedom. You no longer belong to my house.”
            So the servant leaves a free man, released from the ties that once brought him great joy. That very night, he walks out of the master’s house into the darkness, and he never comes back.


  1. When you actually publish this book you're working on, I hope you let us know, because I would really like a copy. :)



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