For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.
For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Colonisers brought with them not just the Bible but also capitalism. The ‘parable of the coins’ (let’s avoid the ambiguity of the word ‘talent’ in English!) could easily be used to promote a culture of accumulation. Plenty of online commentaries see it as Jesus’s approval of a ‘prosperity gospel’, in which economic success is a sure sign of the love of God for the successful individual, company or nation. As with literal readings of Leviticus (yesterday), many British churches are surprised to find this understanding quoted back at us by the descendants of the people our forebears evangelised.
Meanwhile, the policy of many middle class churches in Britain (both ‘prosperity gospel’ and ‘liberal’ in theology) is to accumulate at least enough capital to improve the church building (‘for the community’, of course), install digital technology and furnish our place of worship just that little bit better than most members could afford at home – embedding aspirational accumulation as they try to keep up.
CTBI in 2005 published a book called ‘Prosperity with a Purpose’. It argued that accumulation of wealth is acceptable for Christians so long as we do some good things with our fortune – such as upgrading the church building ‘for the community’. The authors were not sufficiently forewarned by the fact that a number of ‘prosperity gospel’ books had already used the same title. The 2008 financial crash in which many people lost their homes gave the lie to this bourgeois parable that when some people accumulate wealth no-one else suffers.
Churches that do no more than ape the surrounding culture will deservedly decline, for there is no point attending them. A more courageous church would proclaim that the pursuit of financial prosperity never ends well, for the values of Jesus are completely different from those of the market.
Forgive us, Lord, when we confuse worldly success with your Gospel. Forgive us when we laud wealth creation rather than loving service. Forgive us when we seek through our pension funds to extract even more from your Creation for our own benefit. Forgive us for spreading these sins around the world in the way we talk about our faith. Forgive us, renew us, and give us a fresh understanding of your Good News. Amen.
The Rev’d Gethin Rhys is the Policy Officer for Cytûn: Churches Together in Wales and a member of Parkminster URC