Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
A talent is worth more than 15 years’ wages for a labourer ... Jesus is telling a story not about the kindom of heaven but about the need to “stay awake” (v. 13), to perceive and to understand what’s happening in the world around us. His subversive parable – full of provocations – encourages active listening, engagement. On hearing it afresh, aright, it’s unlikely we’ll remain unmoved. It’s unlikely we’ll remain unchanged … A talent is worth more than 15 years’ wages for a labourer. This is a parable about a very wealthy, very powerful –and very abusive – household.
It’s important to bear in mind that lending money at interest is, biblically speaking, unconscionable, unethical. Numerous verses can be cited against usury. It’s also important to bear in mind that in the first century, as in the 21st, wealthy moneylenders made a killing when debtors could no longer pay a loan with interest and, as a consequence, surrendered their properties.
We might retell the parable thus. The head of a large and powerful household goes away leaving three able employees, the Senior Management team, in charge of eight million dollars. The first two managers do what it takes to double their money. “Those evil so-
The third employee is the hero in this parable. For whatever reason, he (or she) decides he cannot partake of this any longer. He decides to become what is now called a “whistle blower”. Instead of using the money to make more money, instead of entrusting it to the bankers, he takes it out of the system where it can do no harm. When the boss returns, there’s no polite chit-
The boss does not take kindly to this, giving the usual slander of idleness and immorality that accompanies any act of whistle blowing: “You worthless, lazy lout!”
The third employee is stripped of all responsibilities. No longer part of the bureaucracy that has supported him, this one will soon be destitute, living alongside the poor – in the outer “darkness” (we’ve been alert to this place of darkness before) – where people do indeed grind their teeth, in anguish or anger; where there is wailing.
For many of us, the parable is a call to be awake to the realities of the institutions we manage. Is injustice kept hidden behind polite language and euphemisms? Is it time to say, “No more”? Do you have the courage to risk the consequences of speaking out – possibly losing your employment, your reputation?
The Occupy movement comes to mind, of course. Protesters who risk appearing foolish, naïve, misguided, also risk present and/or future employment. I think of the boldness of protesters at St Paul’s Cathedral in London – and recent statements of support (and reforming critique of global capitalism/gnosticism) from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. I also think of Bradley Manning, and (not too long ago) of Andrew Wilkie – and, today, especially today, of all those brave souls who name abuse in the churches, schools and institutions charged with caring for young people.
Yesterday in Redfern Park, Pamella Vernon of the Alliance of Forgotten Australians read from a poem written by her sister who spent eight years, in the 1950s, in a Methodist home for “neglected children”. The poem recounts heartbreak, put-