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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 horde it or we display it.

We either squirrel it away for a rainy day, (because who knows how long these green salad days 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 horde or display, we are not re-investing.

But what happens when whole cultures are raised on stories like this one:

14 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. 15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. 16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. 17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. 18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. 19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. 20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. 21 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. 22 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. 23 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. 24 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 strawed: 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. 26 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 strawed: 27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. 28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. 29 For unto every one 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. 30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (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 ingenius, 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 giftings 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 our selves to ourselves.

Yet Jesus calls us to a third way.  We’ll see how next time…

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