The reason for suggesting a contemporary re-imagination of the extremely familiar Parable of the Talents is outlined in the sermon you can read at this link. It is heavily influenced by an earlier sermon published by Alison Sampson in Melbourne which you can read at this link.
Once upon a time there was a very rich man. Like many self-made men he had got where he was by focussing closely on his own interests. If costs or corners needed to be cut he would cut them, regardless of the consequences to anyone else. His ruthless exploitation led him to amass a considerable fortune which he stashed in a number of different tax havens. Most of this, he was amazed to find out from his lawyers, was entirely legal but, not satisfied, he’d started in dabbling in schemes that were borderline to say the least. The tax authorities in his own country were catching up with him and it was provident to spend a few years abroad to ensure that he no longer qualified as resident for tax purposes.
He still had considerable business interests so called in his three closest advisors. To his most trusted advisor he allocated 5 million pounds and to the next he allocated 2 million. There had always been something he considered a little strange about the third, so he only allocated him 1 million. He then left for somewhere sunny.
The first advisor was delighted at the freedom this gave him. He set up a small venture capital company which bought start-up companies who had demonstrated early profitability from making new and more devastating weapons. He stripped them of their assets and relocated production to parts of Africa where he could pay rock bottom wages. He used his network of business contacts across the Middle East selling to a number of dictators who were often fighting each other and occasional needed to silence minority groups of one sort of another in their own countries. He made money hand over fist and in no time at all had doubled his master’s stake. He considered that enough to give back and secreted the rest in the same tax havens his master had used so that he could keep it for himself.
The second advisor only(!) had 2 million pounds so had to be more modest. He took over a boutique fast food restaurant that specialised in locally sourced organic burgers. He soon realised that he could buy much cheaper meat from factory farms on the international market. They fed their cattle on cheap soya from farms in what had once been the Amazon rain forest. The advisor only ever employed 16 and 17 year olds in his restaurant as the legal minimum wage for them was considerably lower than for anyone older. He outsourced his deliveries to “sub-contractors” which meant he didn’t even need to pay them that much. Again the money rolled in. He doubled the original stake even given the huge salary that he paid to himself and his wife who he’d appointed as company secretary.
The final advisor was different, he’d never liked his master’s business methods. He’d been disgusted by them but, coming from a poor background, had little choice but to carry on to keep his employment. Had he once given a hint to his master of what he truly felt he would have been dismissed immediately. Here was an opportunity. He was his own man while his master was away. He’d earned well over recent years and could actually afford to do nothing for a while if he didn’t want to.
What should he do with the money while he took his break? He’d read that even the paltry interest that the local banks offered was often derived from exploiting workers in different parts of the world or from projects accelerating climate change. He didn’t want to be dishonest, so he chose to just bury the money. It felt like a weight of his back. He went into the surrounding country and got together a small group of friends. They wandered around telling people of the wonders of God and the immanence of his Kingdom. They cast out demons, healed the sick and even gave sight to the blind.
Eventually the very rich man’s tax consultants thought it was safe for him to return and he summoned his advisors to give an account of their activities. He was delighted with the first advisor, his prodigy, a real chip off the old block. He slapped him heartily on the back, “Well done, I’m going to appoint you to an even more senior position than you have already, but first join me tonight for a feast, where there’ll be rich food and fine wine and beautiful women.”
He was no less delighted with the second advisor who he thought had done equally well. He slapped him heartily on the back, “Well done, you’re going to get a top job as well, but first join me tonight for a feast, where there’ll be rich food and fine wine and beautiful women.”
When it came to the third advisor he looked with disdain on his original million pounds which was presented back to him. “I always thought there was something wrong with you … “he started to rant. But the third advisor stood his ground, he’d had enough. “I’ve always hated working for you”, he said, “the way your bully and intimidate your managers and exploit your workers. You reap where you don’t sow and gather where you have scattered no seed”.
It was no surprise that this insensed the very rich man even more. He summoned his security guards and ordered them to escort the third advisor off the premises immediately. He took the final million pounds and handed it to the first advisor to manage, “more productively”.
.. but the story doesn’t end there. The rulers of the country had been watching the third advisor. They were alarmed that he was encouraging people to turn from accumulating needless wealth for themselves and instead to spend time giving thanks for the gifts with which God had already endowed them. They saw him encouraging people to think of each other and work collectively to oppose oppression. They saw him teaching people to think for themselves and challenge authority. The rulers recognised that, if this went much further, the whole economic and political system would collapse. They foresaw that they would lose their power and status. What would happen to the wealth and luxury to which they were accustomed?
They sent a small cohort of soldiers to arrest the man. They convicted him at a sham trial held at night. Then they stripped him, mocked him, bound him and whipped him. Eventually they led him to a hill outside the city and nailed him to a tree. They left him there to die.
Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires;
the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!