Enter into the joy of your master.
This solitary phrase from twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel has rung like a bell through my praying imagination this week. As he discloses what we commonly call “The Parable of the Talents,” this phrase rings twice from the lips of Matthew’s Jesus. Enter into the joy of your master. Most of us know the well-established reading of this parable.
It goes something like this: A wealthy man goes on a journey, leaving his wealth in the hands of three slaves. Each responds to the responsibility in one of two ways. One we might call a wise stewardship that produces more of what has been given. The other, a refusal to wisely use the gifts so graciously given, leading to waste and suffering. Traditionally read, this parable speaks an urgent call to responsible stewardship of all God gives to us that we might be invited to enter into the joy of our master.
Yet like much in the spiritual life, it is possible that two things are being communicated here. The opposite of a profound truth (I have heard it said) may not be a falsehood, but may instead be another profound truth. There is a reverse side to this coin, and on the eve of the solemnity of Christ the King, the third slave may have more to teach us than we suppose.
Move through this parable with a different set of interpretive glasses on for a moment. A wealthy man leaves his slaves in charge of dangerously large amounts of money. (Just a single talent was worth more than the wages an average laborer earned in fifteen years.) But he does not put them in charge of his hoard in order to keep it safe. He entrusts it to them so that he might make a profit off their labor—while he does nothing. This seems in keeping with the biographical details we later learn from the third slave—a man like other powerful men, who reaps where he did not sew and gathers where he did not scatter. What is more, in order for these slaves to make their master’s desired profit, they will likely have to break Torah and trade according to practices condemned by both the law and the prophets. If they don’t, they risk the master’s retribution.
Like many worldly, would-be masters, this character doesn’t seem to care that he is asking his slaves to act unethically to secure him his profit. The first two slaves, for whatever reason, act in accordance with their master’s designs. The third, however, does something much more dangerous yet deeply significant. While he does nothing to wrong his master, returning to him that which is his, he nonetheless refuses to participate in the kinds of practices demanded by his master. As we later learn, this costs him is livelihood, his material security, and his personal safety.
So then there is this strange tension. How am I supposed to hear this? Is Jesus commending the first two slaves or the third? Is he describing a worldly king or God?
Yes. I think Jesus is doing both things at the same time here. And by doing so, he asks a question: who is your Lord? Where is your joy? It is tempting—whether in a church, a legislative body, a family, or a society—to bask in the glow and benefits of a powerful person by covering up their abuses or playing by their rules, or to fear their retributive power. The kings of the world invite us to enter into their fleeting joys by participating in their schemes, vanities, and deceit, often threatening those who otherwise object. In such ascent, we bury our true talents, given us not by worldly kings who expect us to make them rich, but by God our Father who gives that we might give and be made richer by our giving. So the True King invites us to enter into his joy by multiplying the free gifts of the Spirit.
Far from the figure of a cowardly lay-about, from this side of the parabolic coin I see in the third slave reflections of Jesus’ own fate—and indeed the fate of many of the saints. People who elected to enter not the joy of a worldly, would-be master, but instead entered into the joy off the True Master—a joy that disarms the pain, suffering, and alienation so many experience at the hands of powers, principalities, and would-be lords. A joy the world cannot give. A joy freely shared by the True King. A joy that even death cannot take away.
Actually, the word Matthew uses is κυριος/kyrios, “Lord.” Εισελθε εις την χαραν του κυριου σου / Enter into the joy of your Lord.
 New Revised Standard Version, Matthew 25, footnote f: “a talent was worth more than 15 years’ wages of a laborer,” approximately $US 1 million in today’s currency. The Greek word ταλαντον was first used for a unit of weight, then later for a unit of money equivalent to the same weight of gold, silver, or copper (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 33b, Matthew 14—15).
 Matthew 25:24
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