The rich get richer and the poor get poorer

– 33rd Week in Ordinary Time –

Jesus went on to tell a parable because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately. [Luke 19:11]

The traditional reading of this text is that the king is a Christ-figure, sent by God ‘from another land’ and not well received by the people. The talents are the gifts given by God to his people through ‘the king’, on the expectation that the recipients will use those ‘talents’ at the service of the kingdom. Two people do what is required, and one does not.

But what if we were to turn the parable on its head? Instead of thinking of the king as Jesus, think of him as Herod – the king who was historically inflicted on the people by outside forces (the Roman emperor). The parable lends itself to that interpretation. In the parable, a man becomes king even though a significant number of his fellow citizens despise him and make it very clear publicly that they do not want him. They live in the hope that God’s kingdom is about to be established to replace him. Read in the way we are proposing here, Jesus is warning them that it will not be so simple: there is the matter of the unjust king to deal with first.

The servants who go along with this king’s expectations and double their master’s investment are rewarded handsomely, but do we ever stop to think about how they may have achieved this?  Their return may not have been gained through honest means, but rather by exploitation and corruption.  So what of the third servant?  Out of fear, and perhaps because he does not have the same connections as the other two, he returns what he was given, and suffers the consequences of enraging a greedy king.  In this interpretation, the message is that those who refuse to play the games of power, politics and injustice are going to suffer and lose even the little they had. The third servant becomes the Christ-figure.

This interpretation gives us food for thought. Does this scenario play out anywhere in our world today?  Most definitely!  We might wonder about the ways in which we (even unintentionally) co-operate with an unjust system, and so follow the masters of this world in their values, actions and priorities.

If we follow Jesus, the true king, we will have to follow him to the cross. As the one who turns the priorities of ‘the world’ on their head, Jesus ushers in the new kingdom. Do we have the courage to examine whether or not we actually participate in the bringing about of this kingdom by living just and merciful lives? Or are we complicit in ongoing injustice?

By Carole Danby

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