Mystical Word  |  Weekly Reflection
Mystical Word is a weekly reflection on the Sunday Gospel reading by L.J. Milone, Director of Faith Formation, Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle

The rich get richer!

In this reflection, we learn about a new interpretation of the parable of the talents.

All too often, we get a quite unimaginative interpretation of the parable of the talents, which says one shouldn’t squander one’s personal gifts.  That interpretation is hackneyed at best.  Still, I have always been uncomfortable with this parable because of its seeming validation of capitalism run amuck.  The parable uses economic language.  The master, for instance, wants to settle accounts with his servants.  The master rewards the industry of his first two servants.  They made their master more money and were rewarded with more wealth!  The rich get richer!  Meanwhile, the third servant who buried his talent was thrown away into “outer darkness” (Mt. 25:30).  The third servant did nothing with his talent, which is the clue to unlocking a better understanding of this parable. 

Nothingness is key, and in the Gospel, it means the interior state in which one is detached and centered in God.  The third servant is one of the poor in spirit who does not get attached to the things the world prizes.  The poor in spirit abide in the interior state of nothingness.  These poor in spirit find their identity in God alone and not in the commodities and fashions the world glamorizes.

Instead of validating unrestrained capitalism or warning us not to squander the gifts God has given us, I believe this parable shows us how to deal with economic and social evil.  The parable depicts a wicked master who plunders harvests he did not plant.  It is a parable about unfettered greed, for the master praises the servants who made him money.  But, he punishes the third servant for not doing so.  The wicked master yells an order, “Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten” (Mt. 25:28).  Greed is rewarded.  Resistance to greed and unjust economic practices is punished.

The third servant depicts the stance of one who is poor in spirit standing against unjust political and economic power.  The third servant does nothing with his talent.  He knew the master was unjust.  He says, “Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter” (Mt. 25:24).  This servant responds to his master’s injustice by refusing to cooperate with the whole dirty rotten system.  He resists injustice by the practice of nothing, which, paradoxically, empowers him to speak truth to power.  The servant takes quite a risk, knowing his master freely executes his opponents.  But, the nothingness gives the power of needing nothing but God to be happy.  Then, one can recognize attempts to oppress others.  The nothingness gives sight to see through the lies of the system, which Jesus calls “mammon” (Mt. 6:24).  In the interior state of nothingness, detached and centered in God, the third servant refuses to cooperate with evil.  “Doing nothing,” here, means not cooperating with evil. 

This parable should be uncomfortable.  It addresses the injustices perpetrated by the rich.  One injustice was recently exposed when an anonymous person leaked files from an off-shore bank, which is a tax-haven for the rich.  These files are called the “Paradise Papers” because, presumably, the bank is in a paradise of luxurious beaches and beautiful ocean vistas.  These leaked files show how many of the wealthiest people avoid paying taxes by storing their billions into these island banks.  It leaves the rest of us to pay for the basics of our society (roads, hospitals, emergency rescue, police) with no help from the superrich.  Such injustice is what Jesus denounces through this parable of the talents.

At the end of the parable, Jesus says, “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Mt. 25:29).  The rich get richer, the poor get poorer.  However, there is another way to view this.  The rich continually get more problems, more upset, more pain, because their abundant wealth comes with an abundance of attachments.  All suffering comes from attachment, says Meister Eckhart.  Meanwhile, the poor ones, who have nothing, get even their little attachments taken away.  That is God’s mercy in action, releasing poor ones from small attachments so they can know real joy, true freedom, and perfect peace by realizing oneness with God.  Jesus tells us, through this parable of the talents, not to cooperate with the corrupt system that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.  He says not only to not cooperate but to become free from even wanting what the rich have, for that makes us truly dangerous to the systems of the world in the way Jesus was dangerous.