Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #187

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

I will be in Marquette, Michigan, for a men’s conference tomorrow, May 5th, at St. Peter Cathedral, beginning at 10:00 AM. If you live in the area, I’d love to have you come out. You can get more information by going to: http://www.dioceseofmarquette.org/images/file/Communicator/2012/February/addendum4.pdf

Also, I will be at St. Ann Church, in Coppell, Texas, on May 16 and 17. If you live in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, you can call St. Ann’s parish for the details.

Finally, I have 5 new talks, from 5 different people – many of you will have heard of most, if not all of them – that I will be announcing in the next newsletter. Please keep this project in your prayers as we have a few final details to work on, but I’m excited to be able to expand the list of offerings that will be available through the Bible Christian Society.


I have not yet heard back from Mr. Weber (see Issues #184 and #185), and I don’t really think that I will. I believe he is one of those who likes to preach, but expects no response to his preaching, and if he does get a response, he does not like to listen.

So, I will move on this week to another topic, although, it is very much in line with my last newsletter. In the last newsletter, I responded to some “faithful” Catholics who had written a letter to the editor of the Birmingham News, lambasting the Bishops of Alabama for their principled stand regarding the HHS regulations from the Obama administration that will forcibly require Catholic institutions to pay for such things as contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients. “Faithful” Catholics wrote a public letter dissenting from the leaders of the Church. The blindness and ignorance about their faith that these folks displayed was astonishing in its scope and depth. And the sheer arrogance of what they said was breathtaking.

The fact is though, that the people truly responsible for what those self-described “faithful” Catholics believe, are the Bishops, priests, and theologians who have either been teaching garbage, or allowing garbage to be taught, in our parishes and Catholic schools for the last 50 years or so. So, while I do hold adults responsible for their words and deeds, I also hold those who taught them this garbage, or allowed them to be taught this garbage, responsible.

Fortunately, that is beginning to change,
and orthodoxy and common sense and logic are starting to once again prevail in Catholic education and in the parishes, but as this week’s newsletter shows, there is still much work to be done. This newsletter fits perfectly with the last one in that the last one dealt with those within the Church who have been taught garbage, this one deals with those who teach that garbage.

Below is a question I received, in one form or another, from several people all on the same day back in November. It has to do with a novel interpretation of the Parable of the Talents. The question is in italics, and then my response follows.


Yesterday at Mass, the priest gave a new interpretation of the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) that basically says the master in the parable is greedy and cruel and is not representative of God.  According to this view, the master is part of an unjust economic system that preys on the poor and that the servants who received the 5 talents and the 2 talents and multiplied them were participating in this unjust system, but the one who buried the talent given to him and did nothing with it was the hero of the story for refusing to participate in such an unjust system.  In all honesty, I was shocked when I heard this.  Have you ever heard that version of the parable? 

My Response:
I have indeed heard that version, or interpretation, of the parable, but the first time I heard it was only a few months ago.  That parable was the gospel reading one Sunday this past November, and the day after it was read at Mass, I received several calls and emails, from folks within my diocese and from around the country, and they all said their priest had given a homily that Sunday which was basically that same version of the parable – the master was greedy and wicked, unjust economic system, the two servants were rewarded for being greedy like their master, and the third servant was the one who acted heroically in protest of the unjust economic conditions and was unjustly punished by the wicked master.

It didn’t require a great deal of thought to realize that if several different priests, from different parts of the country, all gave basically the same homily, on the same day, and all of those homilies had this new “twist” on the Parable of the Talents, then there must be some common source material that they all drew from.  So, I went online and pretty quickly identified the source – the November 7, 2011 edition of America Magazine

There was an article in that edition of America Magazine, written by Sr. Barbara Reid, O.P., a Professor of New Testament Studies at Catholic Theological Union, that was entitled, “Unmasking Greed.”  Everyone needs to read this article, it is beyond the pale.  You can do so by going to: http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/tales/67114973/unmasking-greed, and then clicking on the  “READ THE ARTICLE” button.

This article is on the Parable of the Talents and put forth the following notions regarding that parable: 1) the parable offers an “image of how an individual can take measures to undermine a system that allows the rich to become richer while the poor become poorer;” 2) the master in the parable is greedy, cruel, and self-aggrandizing; 3) the third servant is the “honorable one – only he has refused to cooperate in the system by which his master continues to accrue huge amounts of money while others go wanting;” 4) what happened to the third servant is a sobering reminder of “what can happen to those who blow the whistle on the rich and powerful.” 

Sr. Reid is undoubtedly a very intelligent person, but if I were a student at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and I wound up with her as the Professor for one of my courses, I would undoubtedly end the semester by suing for my money back.  If this article is an accurate indicator of the overall quality of her work, then she deserves an “F” in New Testament Studies. In this particular circumstance, at least, she completely missed the boat.  There are certain principles of scriptural interpretation that one must always keep in mind when exegeting, or interpreting, Sacred Scripture, in order to come up with a valid and sensible interpretation of any given passage, and Sr. Reid seems to have completely ignored pretty much all of them. 

For example, one principle that you have to keep in mind when interpreting Scripture – or any type of literature, for that matter – is to be mindful of the context.  What is the context of this passage from Matthew 25?  Well, first we see that Matthew 25 starts with the phrase, “Then the Kingdom of Heaven shall be compared to…”  So, we should expect to find in this chapter information regarding the Kingdom of Heaven.  And, the first parable of the chapter does not disappoint.  It is the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids.  Five of the bridesmaids carry extra oil with them, five do not.  When the bridegroom is late in coming, the five who didn’t bring extra oil have to go buy more and they end up being locked out of the wedding feast. In this parable, the bridegroom is Jesus and the bridegroom’s coming is pointing to the return of Christ at the end of time where the faithful will join Him for the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb in Heaven.  It signifies the prudence of those Christians who live with a view to the return of the Bridegroom. 

The last portion of Matthew 25 is a description of the Last Judgment.  And it starts off with, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory…”  In other words, it, too, is all about the return of Christ and, as we see, the eternal reward of the Kingdom of Heaven for those who have rightly conducted themselves and the eternal punishment of those who have not.  Very similar to the opening parable of the chapter.

So, Matthew 25 begins with a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven and the return of Christ.  Matthew 25 ends with a description of the Kingdom of Heaven and the return of Christ.  So, what would we expect the middle of Matthew 25 to be about?  Well, Sr. Barbara Reid, the author of “Unmasking Greed,” wants us to believe that sandwiched in between the parable about, and the description of, Christ’s return and the reward of His faithful disciples, is a parable that has absolutely nothing to do with the Kingdom of Heaven, and that the master who goes away and then returns is not representative of Christ, but rather it is a parable about a wicked master and about how an individual can undermine an unjust economic system!  Sorry, Sister, but that dog don’t hunt. 

Again, Matthew 25 starts with a parable about the return of Christ and the reward of the righteous at the eternal wedding banquet in Heaven, and it ends with a description of the return of Christ and the rewarding of the righteous with Heaven.  So, the story that is sandwiched in between those two, which speaks of the “return” of the Master and the rewarding of the “good and faithful” servants by them entering into the “joy of [their] master,” is supposed to be – according to this new interpretation – about the return of an evil and unjust master and how an individual can help undermine an unjust economic system? 

That interpretation simply does not fit the context – it isn’t even close.  That is bad, very bad, scriptural exegesis.  That is inserting one’s own political and economic philosophy into the words of Scripture, and making Scripture say what we want it to say, rather than searching for the meaning God intended it to reveal, which is what good scriptural exegesis is all about  (Catechism, #109). 

Besides not taking the context of the passage into account, another principle of scriptural interpretation that Sr. Reid violated here, is that we are supposed to read and interpret Scripture according to the heart of the Church, or within “the living Tradition of the whole Church” (Catechism, #113).  In other words, we need to pay attention to how the Church has traditionally seen this parable.  Sr. Reid instead seems to have interpreted this passage according to the heart of Karl Marx, or the heart of the Occupy Wall Street gangs. 

So, how do we know the heart of the Church in regard to a particular Scripture passage?  Well, there are a few ways.  First, how does the Church use this reading liturgically?  When this Gospel passage was read back in November (33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time), the first reading was from Proverbs, and it was about giving a worthy wife praise and reward for her good works.  There is generally a common thread running through the readings on any given Sunday, particularly between the Old Testament reading and the Gospel.  So, if in the Old Testament reading we find someone being rewarded for their good works, we would expect to find a similar theme in the Gospel reading. 

Also, that particular week, the 2nd reading was about the return of Christ on the “Day of the Lord.”  So, if the first reading speaks of rewarding someone for their good works, and the second reading speaks of the “Day of the Lord,” we would expect to find similar themes in the Gospel reading.  Which we do, if that reading is interpreted as being about Christ as the Master who returns after a long absence to reward those servants that He finds doing His work while He’s been away.  But, if we interpret the Parable of the Talents as being about the return of a wicked and greedy master and two equally greedy servants and an unjust economic system and the hero is the servant who did nothing with what his master had given him, then it is completely out of sync with the other readings.  It doesn’t fit. The fact is, though, there simply was nothing in either of those other readings about unjust economic systems and the return of a wicked and greedy master. Which further negates Sr. Reid’s novel interpretation of the Parable of the Talents.

Another way we can fairly easily determine the heart of the Church in regard to a particular passage of Scripture, is to see if that passage is referenced in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  There is a 32-page scriptural index in the back of the Catechism that gives us every paragraph of the Catechism that cites a scriptural passage.  This index basically cross references Scripture with the Catechism and it helps the reader of Scripture to better understand and appreciate how Church teaching and Scripture go hand-in-hand with one another.  It is a wonderful tool for anyone who wishes to read and study Scripture and I highly recommend always having your Catechism around when reading Scripture. 

And how does the Catechism view the Parable of the Talents?  Well, we see in paragraphs #546, 1029, 1720, 1936, and 2683 that the Church sees the Parable of the Talents as being about Christ giving His servants different gifts before He goes off on a journey, the return of Christ, the servants being rewarded in accord with what they did with the gifts they had been given, and those servants who made a return on what they were given being rewarded with eternity in Heaven – the “joy of their Master.”  Nothing about the master being evil and greedy, or an unjust economic system, or any other such novelties. 

There is one more way that we can discern the heart of the Church when it comes to Scripture, and that is by looking at the writings of the Church Fathers.  I’ll do that in just a minute, but first, let’s look at a few points Sr. Reid made in the article: 1) “Jesus did not live in a capitalist system in which it is thought that wealth can be increased by investment;” 2) “One who amassed large amounts for himself would be seen as greedy and wicked;” and 3) “The parable is not an exhortation for people to use their God-given talents to the full…it was not likely the way Jesus’ first hearers understood the parable, since ‘talenton’ [the Greek word used in the parable] does not have this metaphorical connotation in Greek.” 

The response to point #1: While Jesus may not have lived in a “capitalist system,” if it was not thought that people could increase wealth through investment, then why does Jesus have the two industrious servants go out and increase wealth through investment?  Sr. Reid even contradicts herself in the article by noting that, in the version of this parable in Luke (Luke 19:12-28), the master “instructs his slaves to invest the money.”  If they had no concept of increasing wealth through investment, then why does the parable say the first two servants increased their wealth through investment?  That is a ridiculous thing to say.

The response to point #2: Simply not true.  In Jesus’ day, those with wealth were looked upon as being blessed by God.  That’s why, when Jesus tells His disciples that it is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, they ask, in astonishment: “Who then can be saved?” (Matt 19:23-25).  If the rich were generally seen as “greedy and wicked,” why the astonishment at Jesus’ words?  Why wouldn’t the folks react by saying: “Yeah, those greedy and wicked jerks are going to have a hard time getting into Heaven!  You tell ‘em, Jesus!”  No, they were “astonished” that rich men were going to have a difficult time getting into Heaven and they basically ask, “If the rich can’t be saved, then who can be saved?”  What a dumb question to ask if the rich are generally seen as wicked and greedy.  One would think a Professor of New Testament Studies would know such things.

The response to point #3: Was the idea of the “talents,” or “talenton,” as representing people’s “God-given talents” unknown to the ancient audience?  Is that interpretation an invention of more modern audiences?  The testimony of the Church Fathers would run contrary to that claim.  St. John Chrysostom (4th century), “This parable is delivered against those who will not assist their neighbors with money, or words, or in any other way, but hide all that they have.”  St. Jerome (4th century), “In the five, two, and one talent, we recognize the diversity of gifts wherewith we have been entrusted.”  Origen (early 3rd century), “They to whom five talents were given, and they to whom two, and they to whom one, have diverse degrees of capacity, and one could not hold the measure of another.”

So, we see that the “talenton” were recognized, very early on in the Church, as being the talents, the abilities, the worldly goods, the totality of the gifts, given to us by God.  It seems that the assumptions that underlie the interpretation of the Parable of the Talents as being about an evil master and an unjust economic system are simply without merit.  One would think a Professor of New Testament Studies would know this.

More from the Church Fathers on the Parable of the Talents: St. John Chrysostom, “Observe that not only he who robs others, or who works evil, is punished with extreme punishment, but he also who does not good works.”  The servant who buried his talent is not seen as the hero of the parable here.  St. Gregory of Nyssa (4th century), “Let him then who has understanding look that he hold not his peace; let him who has affluence not be dead to mercy; let him who has the art of guiding life communicate its use with his neighbor; and him who has the faculty of eloquence intercede with the rich for the poor.”  All of these things – understanding, affluence, the art of good counsel, and the faculty of eloquence – were all viewed as talents, talents that should be used on behalf of God to help one’s neighbor, but which were instead buried by the wicked and slothful servant. 

The Parable of the Talents, when you consider the scriptural context within which it is written, the culture within which it was written, how the Church views this passage, and how it was viewed early on by the Church Fathers, is about Christ giving each of us a particular set of abilities and gifts, and that those of us who use those talents and abilities to provide some sort of return on what Christ has given us, will be rewarded by the Master upon His return.  But those of us who do not use what we have been given to do the Master’s work while He is away, will suffer horrible punishment.

Sr. Barbara Reid, Professor of New Testament Studies, at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, knows this. It is only by ignoring sound principles of scriptural interpretation, by ignoring the living Tradition of the Church, by ignoring the teachings of the Church Fathers, and by ignoring common sense and logic, that one can one come up with this outlandish interpretation of the Parable of the Talents that she has devised.  One can only surmise that she has  succumbed to the temptation to be popular with her piers – by introducing a novelty that she knows will cause people to notice her and talk about her and which will have many of her colleagues lauding her ingenuity and the depth of her interpretive abilities – rather than striving first and foremost to do the honest work of a scholar and a theologian.  This is what we battle from inside the Church, and it is as dangerous, if not moreso, than what we battle from outside of the Church. 

In Conclusion

Lesson #1: If one comes up with a novel interpretation of Scripture – an interpretation that no one in 2000 years of interpreting Scripture within the Church has ever thought of, in any shape or form – then it’s probably not an interpretation that holds any scriptural water.

Lesson #2: If you have a subscription to America Magazine, you might want to cancel it.

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Apologetics for the Masses