Then he turned to the one who had one talent and said, 'What did you do with what I had given you?' 'Well,' he replied, 'I figured you were talking about things I was good at rather than money. So I joined the choir and spent the money you gave me on an iPhone.'
Out of everything I've heard or read on the Parable of the Talents, at least half talk about talents as spiritual gifts or things we are good at. It's kind of funny that we spend so much time talking about non-financial resources, when we have more money at our disposal now than at any other time in history.
Of those that do talk about money, nearly all of them mention tithing. They use the Parable of the Talents to illustrate that, if we tithe, God will increase the money we have.
I've never liked the Parable of the Talents. Maybe it's because I don't like tithing. Maybe it's because I've always identified with the person who was only given one talent. Maybe it's because I've always found it sad that the person who was given more gets more while the person who was given less gets even that taken away from them. Or maybe I just don't understand it.
So with that in mind, I'd like to offer two readings of the Parable of the Talents. I'm not saying they're the ways the parable should be read. I'm just offering them up as two ways that it could be read.
We're all familiar with the WWJD acronym, for What Would Jesus Do? Another acronym that sometimes gets tossed around is WWJW - for What Would Jesus Watch? I believe there are signs you can place on top of your TV. And some people suggest imagining that Jesus is sitting next to you on the couch. Would he be happy with your viewing choices?
It's funny how we get so legalistic about stuff like television-watching and ignore the things that are far more important. I'm not saying what we watch on television isn't important. I believe it is. But there are bigger things to think about.
WWJB stands for What Would Jesus Buy? That phrase was used for a show by the Reverend Billy. And it's kind of a silly show, but it has a very important message.
What if we read the Parable of the Talents so that we saw the talents God has given us as every cent of our money? What if we took seriously our responsibility to invest that money wisely? That doesn't mean going out and finding an investment fund that will give us a good return for our money. It does mean, however, looking at every dollar we spend and asking questions about how much of it works for or against God's purposes.
Forget about putting a WWJB sign on your wallet. Just imagine handing Jesus your financial accounts at the end of your life. How much money did you spend on clothes - and how many of those clothes were produced in sweatshops? How much money did you spend on things you didn't need? How many of your purchases ended up in landfill? How did your purchases harm the earth? How much money did you give to companies with unethical practices? How much food did you buy that you ended up throwing out?
And then what percentage of your money actually went to doing good in this world?
I'm glad that's not a true scenario. I'd hate to think of Jesus looking over my accounts at the end of time. I can just imagine him saying, 'So while millions of people were starving, you spent how much money on diet coke and cigarettes?'
Here's another acronym - HWJTTE. It's not as neat as the other acronyms, but it's just as important. It stands for How Would Jesus Treat The Earth?
Another reading of the Parable of the Talents is to replace talent with earth. We only have one earth. What are we going to do with it? Are we going to use it for God's purposes? Or are we going to use it for our own selfish desires? Are we going to ensure that its resources are distributed fairly? Or do we think we can get away with a small percentage of the population having a large proportion of them? Are we going to protect it? Or are we going to destroy it?
And the Parable of the Talents shows us that simply hiding the problem from view and taking a hands-off approach isn't good enough.
Everything we have has been given to us by God - our spiritual gifts, our physical talents, our money and our earth. And the Parable of the Talents shows us that what we do with what God has given us matters. God has given us our money - and not just 10 per cent of it. God has given us this earth. As good stewards, we need to start asking the difficult WWJB and HWJTTE questions. And we need to ensure that everything God has given us is invested wisely.