Merlin (with spoilers) talent and not using it, heading rapidly off topic

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Thu Jun 5 05:54:26 EDT 2003


Philip, quoting Minnow, quoting someone:

>>>There is a school of thought
>>>that says failing to make use of ones talents is immoral - up to a point.
>> Maybe they are going by Matthew, 25, 14-30.  The bible does seem to suggest
>> in places that not making the most of what God has provided is if not
>> sinful certainly silly.  (Though I think the talents there are an alligator
>> for the Word of God or some such, but that isn't how it generally gets
>> quoted.)
>I'm not sure I understand you here.

Oh, not me -- I blame the theologians.  :-)  Whenever they introduce
alligators, I tend to duck.  (And then fly off the pond sharpish before the
alligators go *snap* with those great big teeth.)  Sorry.  I should have
phrased my comment more carefully, because 'I think' does imply that it is
something I would hold by; what I meant was 'I think it is used this way',
not, 'I think this is what it means' -- a subtle but very important
distinction.  I apologise for misleadingness there (though the alligators
might have suggested I wasn't being exactly po-faced serious about it....)

>A talent was an amount of money (for pedants, a unit of weight that
>corresponded
>to money according to a precious metal standard).  In the parable, various
>servants were given amounts of money, and judged on the use to which they had
>put them, as measured by the profit they'd made.  (I can't remember which two
>gospels the story is in, but in one gospel they were judged on amount of cash,
>and in the other on percentage return.)

Yup.  That was what I always thought, until I was told otherwise firmly by
Wise People Who Knew Better.

>This is usually taken as referring to the innate abilities that we receive from
>God - hence the word Talent has entered our language with this particular
>metaphorical meaning.

Again, yup.

>I don't see how it can refer to the Word.  Yes, I'd agree that in the context
>someone who hid away the Word would be subject to the same condemnation,
>but the
>idea of giving different amounts to each servant (again I can't remember which
>version of the story this is in) isn't really consistent with this.  Nor is the
>idea of taking the talent from the man who had one and giving it to him who had
>ten.

I didn't say I thought it made any *sense*, did I?  Any more than any of
the out-of-context specific quotation from the Bible generally does.  (I am
still trying to work out why someone can take some of the prohibitions in
Paul literally, and still put her hair into braids, which Paul is pretty
down on too -- and don't tell me about Temple prostitutes wearing braids,
I'm sure that's right, but I'm also sure it isn't the reason people are so
selective about what they decide to be literal about and what they decide
to ignore...)  I have heard it being interpreted that way, though blowed if
I can remember the details.

>> Mind you, the other place that gets quoted on this subject, Matthew, 5, 15,
>> always struck me as daft, because if one lit a candle and put it under a
>> bushel, pretty soon there would be a great deal more light than if you put
>> the candle onto a candlestick; the bushel would surely go up in flames!
>I don't see that this need be any more dangerous than a Chinese paper lantern.
>A bushel is quite a large basket.

And there I was with my fire-prevention-officer's hat on getting all ready
to cite the Christ as an early Fire Safety Rep for Palestine....  :-)  Have
you never had a paper lantern (Chinese type) ignite?  Seriously, I wouldn't
advocate putting a candle underneath a wickerwork container, and the
bushels I've known have been decidedly flammable.

>But the real point here is that parables are not meant to be taken literally.

(I don't.  But I still think anyone who decided to go against Christ's
teaching by shoving candles under wicker baskets would be singularly
dimwitted.)  I think this ties in with some earlier thread about the
function of fiction, or something.  The opening of the thing I quoted makes
it clear that this isn't a 'true history': the words used are 'the kingdom
of heaven is *as*...' -- in other words, like, as if, *not what happened
but an example to make the point*.  I think (but can't be bothered to go
through looking) that this is the case with most of the NT parables; he
starts 'Think of it this way', as it were, most of the time.  'Then shall
the kingdom of heaven be likened unto' is another, I think that's the chap
who hired servants by the hour during the day and paid them the same no
matter how long they'd worked for.  And so on.  These are 'stories', not
what happened: that's clear from the text.

>(Oops!  I've just taken the reins of my hobby horse.  Better get on before it
>bolts).  One can usually get people to see this with New Testament
>parables, but
>it's amazing how many won't see it with those in the Old Testament.   (Reins in
>hobby horse and guides carefully back to stall)

I think maybe the fact that in the NT the Christ is shown as 'telling
stories', whereas in the OT it isn't made absolutely clear, always, that
this is a case of 'someone is telling a story to make a point', which
confuses people.  (I like the use of 'won't' in your sentence above: as
opposed to 'can't'.  It's spot-on accurate.)

Minnow


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