Here is another journey into one of Jesus’ ancient, mysterious and/or too-familiar parables by putting it into a modern context. As I explained in my previous blog (and previous contemporizing endeavor) The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Elvis Groupies, it can be remarkable what message…and humor…emerges when exploring one of Jesus’ brief instructional stories in this way.
Several years ago, when I was living in Los Angeles, I tried my hand at modernizing “The Parable of the Talents” found at Matthew 25:14-30. Surrounded as of course I was in swimmin’ pools and movie stars, considering what would in modern cultural parlance would resemble something as valuable as a “talent” (130 lbs of gold) and be as expected to significantly increase in profit, I came across the article that would turn Jesus’ parable about talents into….
THE PARABLE OF THE BIG HOLLYWOOD BLOCKBUSTERS
And Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is as if a powerful Hollywood studio chief who was going to go on his third honeymoon called in his assistants and entrusted his current projects to them. To one he gave five scripts, to another two scripts, and to another, one script, each according to their ability. Then he went out of the country. The assistant who received five scripts turned them into blockbuster hits that each spawned equally successful blockbuster sequels. The assistant with two scripts also produced two films and two sequels. But the assistant with one script went off to a cabin near Duluth.
After a long time, the chief came home to see how his studio was faring. The assistant with five scripts showed him the millions in profits from the five blockbuster hits as well as the five smash sequels. The executive replied, ‘Well done, worthy assistant! You have made my company lots of money with a few scripts, and now you will make even more with a lot of scripts! Let’s crack open the Dom Perignon!’ The assistant with two scripts also came. ‘Sir, you have entrusted me with two scripts, and, you see, I have also made two sequels!’ The mogul replied, ‘Well done, worthy assistant! You have made this company millions of dollars with a few scripts, and now you will make even more with a lot of scripts! Let’s crack open the Dom Perignon!’ Then the assistant who had received one script came.
‘Sir,’ he said, ‘All we ever make around here is a bunch of schlock with lots of bare breasts and gratuitous violence, and I’m sick of it! I can no longer contribute to the decline of Western Civilization. I left that script on my desk and devoted my time to writing a script about the ozone hole.’ The studio chief replied, ‘What an ass you are! And who are you to call my films ‘bad’? The billions of fans who come again and again seem to like them just fine! Hell, if that script stunk up your cubicle so badly why didn’t you unload it off on somebody else – even our dorky mail room clerk could have put together something that at least could have gone right to video!
Take that script and give it to the gal with the golden touch who got me ten big hits. For everyone who’s got it, boy will they make it and make it BIG! But for those who don’t want it, well, it’s not a very pretty picture. Throw that punk his two weeks’ – no two days’ severance -- and then kick him onto the streets. Let’s see how much he writes about his precious ozone hole then!’ “ Let all who have ears, hear.
Wow, modernizing this parable can really give it a whole new meaning, yes? Usually we’re led to believe Jesus emphatically wants his followers to be like the servants who take the talents they’ve been given and generate more, much more for the master; those who squander the master’s valuable gifts, even and especially if they have received only one, are, well, kaput.
However, when transported the world of multimillion dollar film production, it all looks quite different (unless of course we can’t begin to wait for American Pie 7 or Die Hard 8….)
Just as we cheer the assistant who chooses to do something besides develop the one potential blockbuster assigned to him, could Jesus in fact want us to be cheering for the chap who buried his (actually, his master’s) talent?
Jesus’ first hearers were poor peasants. For them, money was a rogue commodity to be despised. Peasants were used to transacting business through barter. Once money was introduced into their system (by the wealthy who could accumulate it), it lowered the value of common goods and made the poor only poorer; the rich could buy up more at cheap prices, resell and become that much richer. Anyone wheeling and dealing in the world of talents, each talent worth 16 years of servant wages, was someone who had probably screwed over innumerable peasants to get where they were.
In addition, the character of the master, soon to split for an undisclosed amount of time, is, in Jesus’ initial hearers’ minds, perhaps not God or Jesus as usually presumed. Instead, this big shot could very well have been recognized as one of the odious “absentee landlords” who had unfortunately become more and more prevalent in the Galilee. They were usually rich Roman citizens who lived elsewhere and had the clout to usurp the peasants’ property when the latter couldn’t pay their debts. Peasants were then often reduced to renting the beloved land that had been in their family for generations. It was awful.
It’s interesting to note that the poor guy who in good conscience courageously speaks truth to power, and ends up in no uncertain terms thrown into the terrible darkness, sounds a lot like what happened to Jesus himself on the cross....
It was, after all, through this terrible, difficult, courageous, faithful process of complete and sacrificial loss that the Kingdom of God actually emerged. Could this be what Jesus is teaching, as he lathers on several layers of irony, and maybe a wise-fool wink or two, when he tells his impoverished audience a parable (and parody) about how the Kingdom of God is like a bunch, and then another bunch, of talents?
And how we, as his followers committed to expanding that Kingdom, can continue to make it happen??