Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Accounting for talent

Lent 2020 - Day 36

The word 'talent' has its etymology in the unit of value mentioned in the New Testament in Jesus' parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30). The use of the word 'talent' to mean 'gift or skill' in English originated from an interpretation of this parable late in the 13th century.

We will remember the parable; for it is brutal.
'For the Kingdom of Heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two talents, and to another one talent; to every man according to his ability; and straight away he took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made with them another five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained another two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.
After a long time, the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought another five talents, saying, "Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more." His lord said unto him, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord". He also that had received two talents came and said, "Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them." His lord said unto him, "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."

Then he which had received the one talent came and said, "Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not scattered seed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine." His lord answered and said unto him, "Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not scattered seed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming, I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him who hath ten talents. For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth".'
Well, there we have it. When I first cast an adolescent's critical eye over Matthew 25:14-30, I was dumbstruck. What is Jesus saying to us - that dim, risk-averse plodders will be cast into the outer darkness to gnash their teeth therein, while those smart enough to dabble in usury shall be richly rewarded even in the Kingdom of God? The shock of coming face to face with Matthew 25: 14-30 made me doubt the veracity of the Gospels, the divinity of Jesus Christ even.

But age and experience has told me that the evangelist Matthew (who wrote his Gospel sometime around 90 A.D.) was merely being perceptive of the human condition. Verily, those that have shall get more, while those who have little shall have even that snatched from them. Matthew posits this notion earlier in his Gospel (Chapter 13, verse 12): "For to him who has more will be given; and he will have abundance, but from him who has not, even that which he has will be taken away." From this comes the rather harsh 'Matthew effect' in economics - advantage begets further advantage.

OK, that's life, it doesn't sound particularly Christian, but Matthew puts these words into Christ's mouth. Matthew is backed up by his fellow synoptic evangelist Luke (19: 12-27), on basically the same theme. "For unto you I say, that to every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that little he hath shall be taken away."

So - back to talents. Those who were gifted with five talents at birth tend to use them across all manner of human endeavour - money-making, the creative arts, sport, politics - those who are basically born talentless can expect nothing more from life than to be given a good kicking by those more talented than them, who shall profit from that even more.

[For some reason I sidetracked here, into my train of thoughts came Susan Boyle, Britain's Got Talent winner from some while ago. I Wikipedia'd her biog - and by another coincidence discovered that today is her birthday. Her story is a classic one of hard slog and practice interfacing with being at the Right Place at the Right Time. Apparently, her net worth was £22m back in 2012.]

My own notion of talent centres on the gifts observation and curiosity. These are the gifts that you need to live a conscious life, fulfilling your potential - keenly aware of that which is going on around you and within your own mind. And being able to balance the two. And being able to communicate your observations into others' minds.

Building my religion, I would set a precept to Observe, Be Curious, and Share that which you are Conscious of, and through that, make the most of your Potential as a Human Being.

However many talents you were born with.

This time three years ago:
Ten years of blogging
[13 years today - over one-fifth of my life blogged!]

This time four years ago:
Białystok the Dull

This time seven years ago:
UK's first town where Poles are a majority

This time eight years ago:
Lost legend of rock'n'roll: Johnny Kołyma

This time nine years ago:
Stalin's plans to escalate nuclear Armageddon

This time ten years ago:
Warsaw's favourite weekend destination

This time 11 years ago:
We are two

This time 12 years ago:
Crushed velvet dusk in my City of Dreams

This time 13 years ago:
My second Jeziorki blog post, also from this day


Teresa Flanagan said...

I reflect on the parable of talents, differently to you. I see talents as skills, knowledge, intellect., wisdom. These talents are a GIFT from God. God gave some people 5 talents, and those people wisely used their their talents to spread their God--given gifts far and wide, so that the recipients of these talents could benefit from and augment those talents. To whom much is given, much is expected. Those that buried their talents, did not use their God-given gifts. They wasted them - they were lazy, slothful, inconsiderate. Therefore, God chastised them.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Teresa

I can see that interpretation, but disagree with it. I real life, the servant with the five talents might have wasted one, did amazing things with another, and the remaining three were used in a mediocre manner. The servant with the one talent, on the other hand, might have put it to outstanding use, returning even more than the five-talented servant did.

Matthew (and Luke) are both telling the untalented to expect a kick in the teeth and the rich to take what little they have.

Mulling over the parable, it occurred to me that it could not have been divinely inspired. No way.