Use what you are given? – Matthew in Advent day 18

“You know sometimes words have two meanings,” wrote Robert Plant in Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to heaven, and it is true. Several passages in the Old Testament have an immediate meaning to the people at the time and then a further Messianic meaning, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. As Christmas is almost upon us I will take the prophesy in Isaiah about Immanuel/Emmanuel as my example. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)” A sign that God will protect the house of David, or the people of Judah. The prophesy was fulfilled in Immanuel’s lifetime, Immanuel being Isaiah’s son, The word translated as virgin also means young woman. Matthew takes this passage as also foretelling the birth of Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 1:23).

Holy Mary holding the baby Jesus in her right hand.
from Wikimedia commons

The Gospel of Matthew is written as a series of six narrative sections, telling the story of Jesus’ life, interspersed with five sections of teaching. The beginning of the Gospel links back into the past of the Old Testament. This, the last of the teaching sections, links forward to the future. Advent is a time when we look forward to the return of Christ.

Parable of the talents, part 1 – The traditional view

14 ‘Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 ‘After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.”

21 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

22 ‘The man with two bags of gold also came. “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with two bags of gold: see, I have gained two more.”

23 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

24 ‘Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”

26 ‘His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 ‘“So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 25:-30 NIV UK

Bible passages can have two meanings, this has two very different meanings, but unlike the passage in Isaiah and Matthew referred to in the introduction this can only have one. They are contradictory. I am looking at this over two blogs, the second will be published next Tuesday and linked to below, but first the traditional view.

Even the first time I heard a sermon on this passage I ran in to what to me was a problem. It could be that my autistic brain was being over literal, but there was a problem. Talents. The passage talked about the people being given talents and linking this to out talents. My problem is that I could not link the talents in the Bible passage, a very large amount of money, with our talents, e.g. being able to bake.

The NIV translated I have used does not translate this as talent to avoid this confusion, but uses bag of gold. The talent of Gold in Israel was about 90kg (200 lb) and silver 45kg (100 lb). In either case a huge sum. The English word is linked to this. The Old English talante is derived from the Greek through Latin talanta plural of talanta. It meant a weight or measure, a sum of money. The modern meaning, as in the TV show Britain’s got talent is a figurative use and comes from the traditional interpretation that we should use what we have been given by God.

I am not sure this is right. “God made me for a purpose. God made me fast and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Said Scottish athlete Eric Liddell, quoted in the film Chariots of Fire. That seems to bear out the traditional meaning, but I cannot find this in the text. Talent, in the Bible, is always a balanced weight of precious metal or a very large sum of money. I cannot see where this link came from.

I am not saying Liddell was wrong, doing things that make God happy can be found elsewhere in scripture, especially the Psalms, but I cannot see the link of that to this passage, plus there is another even bigger problem, but that is for the next blog.

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