As presented last week, the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 25 is a complete section with three parts. The first part represents letting our inner light shine for all the world to see. The second section, this Sunday, the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, is not much different.
“A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one– to each according to his ability.”
In first Century Jewish thinking we must see what this section means. Let us look at Genesis 2:15-17. “The NAME Provider took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. The NAME Provider gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of the beautiful and the rotten. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.
Now let us look at Genesis 3:2-3 “The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’”
Notice some differences between the two passages; they are important. Eve doesn’t say which tree. The snake must remind her of this. Second, and this is the most important, look at what she adds. “Or even touch it.”
Eve is more pietistic. She wants to be better than everybody else in the garden. To this, the snake reminds Eve of which tree she will be eating. She will know the beautiful from the rotten. Eve responds by seeing that the tree was “beautiful for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom.” Genesis doesn’t use the more common word for wisdom here, but uses Shekel. Shekel is a weight of silver, three thousand of which make a talent. The two stories seem to come together, if even for a moment.
Genesis 15 tells us, “the NAME the Provider took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.” There is nothing here about being perfect. Matthew 5:48 tells us, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The Greek word used shows up in Genesis 6:9. Noah was in his generation a Tsaddik, Tam. Noah walked with God.”
Jewish lore traces Tam this way, “Rashi argues that in this case tamim means (not “perfection,” but) “simple-heartedness.” This translation of the word is similar to the Torah’s description of Ya’akov as a tam (Genesis 25:27), meaning a simple, honest person—”one who is not knowledgeable (unlike Eve, he chooses not to eat the apple… whose mouth speaks what is in his heart, and who is not skillful in deceiving others.” To enjoy a complete sense of security in the faith and conviction that the future is safely in G‑d’s hands (v. 13): “Walk with Him simple-heartedly and look forward to what He has in store. Do not probe the future, but rather accept whatever happens to you simple-heartedly.”
This definition far better fits the context of τέλειός in Matthew 5:48, than to follows Eve’s fault of trying to be the perfect one. God gives to each person according to his ability. Don’t try to be better than God made us to be. The Hebrew word for Wicked is Russia, and it doesn’t refer to the country. It refers to the desire to be first, as Rosh Hashanah is the first Rosh, Russia, of the year.
Last week, ten virgins go out to meet the Cat Anna, the covenant which is the bridegroom represented by Jesus Christ. The foolish ones don’t bring fat to burn, carried in kidney shaped vessels, flasks, so are called kidneys, Cali in Hebrew.
We’re now back to Matthew 5 again, which helps define Tam τέλειός. “You are the light Oar, of the Olam. A city/ear set on a mountain/Are cannot be hid. Nor do they light a lamp/Nar and put it under a measure; it is set on a lampstand/Menorah, where it gives light/Oar to all in the house. Your light must shine before others, that they may see your beautiful deeds and hold as important your heavenly Father.
Our light must shine before the world, Olam, that others will want to join us, be like us. Look at what gives the third servant away, “The one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’
Research showed that the talent equaled about 75 pounds of silver, in today’s market, $20,400. We’re not talking the chicken feed modern employers give their workers and then complain when the workers grumble about unjust wages. The denarius was the daily living wage, not anything the employer wished to give. It’s most certainly not $20,400. Jesus must be talking to the leadership in this passage, not the common lot, the Hoi Paloi.
This third person was given $20,400 dollars and hid it in a ditch because his supervisor was, “were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear…” He suffers from a poor attitude. There’s no fat in his kidneys and no Tam in his animate being. He fails to trust.
The Pharisees had long since given up on God and were trying to make their way in the troubled world of less light. They tried to appease the Greeks first, and then the Romans. There was no light in them because there was no trust in them. The US spends more on defense than the next 8 countries combined. We have 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prison population and 31% of mass shootings. The clear solution on the part of some is to cut social welfare spending, privatize healthcare and education and hide behind walls in gated communities. This is the solution of the man with one talent, $20,400.
This passage can’t be about the lowly working stiffs for another reason. Look at the next section, the Address to the Nations. Sheep are grazers; they ramble slowly eating short plants close to the ground. Goats are browsers; they look for leaves, twigs, vines, and shrubs. “Because they browse, goats spend a lot of time investigating things. They are forever nibbling on and eating things,” Cathy Dwyer, a professor at Scotland’s Rural College, tells NPR. “They have more exploratory, investigate behavior because of their feeding style. They appear to be more interactive with the environment, and they are very engaging animals. Because of a goat’s natural curiosity and independence, they can tend to get into more trouble than sheep.” Translation, goats are independent, trusting only in themselves. They believe in the protestant work ethic and rugged individualism.
“Sheep are sheepish. They have a very strong flocking instinct and become agitated when separated from their posse. Most goats have horns, many sheep, but not all, are naturally without horns. Goat horns are narrower and usually straighter.” Unlike goats, sheep are Catholic, as Emile Durkheim said in his book on Suicide. We group together, so we trust more. We support each other and have social welfare networks, or did a century ago. Not so much now that we have started to accept protestant ways.
God wants us to be part of his herd, trusting in him, not in ourselves, as did Eve, Pharaoh, the Pharisees, and the Republicans. Being part of his herd, he asks us to trust God first and his spiritual leaders second. The spiritual leaders, all leaders, must avoid being the man with one talent.
The Pharisees had long since given up on God and were trying to make their way in the troubled world of less light. They tried to appease the Greeks first, and then the Romans. There was no light in them because there was no trust in them. Are we the same? Do we share Christ’s light or the darkness of corporate greed? That is the question for last week, this week, and next week.