Flourishing economies are hard to come by in world history. Every now and again resources are found, technologies discovered, enemies plundered and wealth increases. But usually it doesn’t last very long. This is because, historically, people have only ever known two responses to wealth: we either hoard it or we display it.
We either squirrel it away for a rainy day, (because who knows how long prosperity will last), or we show off our wealth ostentatiously, perhaps building great monuments to ourselves. Of course, in either case the economy stagnates. This is because, whether we hoard or display, we are not re-investing.
But what happens when whole cultures are raised on stories like this one. Read Matthew 25:14-30.
Here the “talents” are not given for the benefit of the recipients. They are a trust from the master to the servant. The servant was not to show their talents around town. But nor were the servants to hide their wealth away. They were to put the money to work. And work it did – for those who invested it, that is.
A culture reared on such stories will begin to have a very different attitude to wealth. And so it has proved to be in western civilisation. There has been incredible economic flourishing in cultures where the Bible has held sway, not because its people are more ingenious, and not simply because their resources have been more plentiful. The attitude to wealth has been different (we’ll consider more on this tomorrow).
But for now let’s consider “talents” in the way we have come to understand them (thanks to this parable). What should we do with the abilities that our Lord has given us?
Again the temptations are exactly the same – they travel in one of two directions…
We are tempted to display our gifts in proud ostentation. Most people wouldn’t dream of disclosing their bank balance in a conversation, yet we can sprinkle our speech with achievements, connections, claims to fame, anything that would reflect well on us. We flash our talents around like an ancient king looking for adoring subjects. Or…
We hide away – ‘keeping our light under a bushel’. Because, here is our fear: If we prove ourselves to be “talented”, well, people might expect more from us. Our limits would be tested and our energy depleted. Perhaps it’s best, we conclude, just to bury our talents and keep ourselves to ourselves.
Yet Jesus calls us to a third way. We’ll see how tomorrow…