TALENT OR MAMMON?

TALENT OR MAMMON?

Divine Service, Aalto University School of Business, Ceremonial Conferment The Church at Taivallahti, 20 May 2016

Homily

Esteemed Celebrating Masters and Doctors, dear academic community, dear sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ,

In the Gospel according to St Matthew, Jesus tells a parable of a master and three servants. Each of them was assigned the task of watching over the capital entrusted to him, that is, talents. This parable suits a university whose mission it is to contemplate the principles of economy.

Dear honorary doctor Sari Baldauf, would you, please, read the Gospel to us.

A man was about to go on a journey, and he called his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five silver talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

Now after a long time the master of the servants came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joyful feast of your master.’

Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joyful feast of your master.’ 

And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore, take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’

For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless servant into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt 25:14-30)

The talent is an ancient monetary unit. During the New Testament times, one talent equalled 6,000 dinars, totalling a daily wage for 6,000 persons. The comparison of ancient money to the modern world is difficult. In any case, the startup money given to the three servants was considerable, one talent equalling approximately one million euros. Not bad.

The talent is, however, not only a monetary unit, but also an expression of the gifts given to us. Without good talents, no one can enter Aalto University School of Business. Without excellent talents, achieving the doctorate is not possible. In order to receive an honorary doctorate, one is expected to have exceptional merits and talents.

Why did Jesus speak about the use of money and about increasing capital in such a positive manner? Why are human talents and skills appreciated so much?

***
I presume that underlying Jesus’ parable are three ideas, or shall I say, three points.

First of all, it is unusual that Jesus of Nazareth, a religious figure, uses secular phenomena, such as commerce and investment, as positive examples. The servants who had used their talents right were praised, whereas the servant who had neglected increasing his capital was reprimanded.

Jesus’ parable does not show signs of an attitude where money is looked upon negatively. Earning money is not a sin. The worker is worth his wages. A moderate pursuit of profit and growth is an integral part of our earthly lives. We need merchants, sales personnel and buyers. We need investments and capital. No society survives without a common purse for the disbursement of welfare. While Jesus was not an economist, he would have certainly understood the research and instruction carried out in Aalto University School of Business.

So, the first message of the Gospel is: money is a necessary part of communal life.

***

The second message of Jesus’ parable takes our thinking a step deeper. The ultimate focus of the parable is not on the increase of monetary value. The main attention is placed on our bearing responsibility. Even with the smallest of tasks, we are to remember our own responsibility. Responsibility is more important than the amount of money involved. More important than the profit margin is that we do our duty and are accountable for it.

The plot of the parable of Jesus runs as follows: in Act 1 the master assigns the tasks, some bigger, others smaller. Act 2 is a period of activity; the servant is supposed to get down to business. Act 3 starts when the master returns and demands to ‘settle the accounts’.

What happens when the master comes back? The first servant was praised because he immediately went to work; he did not delay. Speed is rewarded. Both the first and the second servant were shown the same gratitude. The Finnish Bible translation has an exclamation mark at the end: well done! That was an “A plus” or at least an “A”. We Finns say laudatur or at least eximia cum laude approbatur.

The second message in Jesus’ parable has its apex in the words of the master: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things…” Those who take care of their business are trusted and given more responsibility.

But how about the third servant? The fact that he avoided responsibility was the reason why the third servant was given such a severe punishment. He did not do his duty. He did not even take his money to the bank, that is, to the money lenders. We wonder if the bank interest was too low even back then.

Responsibility and loyalty belong together, even when it’s a matter of something small. We need to be faithful and responsible. Responsibility does not only begin when we have had success in life. We have to remember that responsibility and diligence need to belong to our lives starting already in childhood and in the teenager years.

Today, on this festive day it is suitable to say that responsibility does not mean being overly strict and serious. Responsibility and celebration are not opposites. This is something the business students from the very first year of their studies have always known well. In KY you had good parties already in sixties. And this is something we can and we should remember also tonight at the Kalastajatorppa restaurant.

The second message of the Gospel is: be responsible.

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Jesus’ parable contains a third message, namely, who the servants were responsible to. They were responsible to their master, not just to themselves. In many of Jesus’ parables, the master, the king, the father of the family, or the owner of the estate reminds us of the ultimate one demanding responsibility, God Himself.

The three servants were first of all responsible to their earthly master, but Jesus takes responsibility even a step further. They were responsible to God. The responsible servants were promised a future larger than this life: “enter into the joyful feast of your master.” The irresponsible servant, on the other hand, was sent into darkness, that is, away from the light and a bright future. Our earthly responsibility is coupled to responsibility before God.

We do not need to draw a detailed picture of the hereafter, of the joyful feast in heaven, or the place of darkness. What is most essential is to remember that, we are all responsible to one another and, ultimately to God. Responsibility before God is the paramount point of Jesus’ parable.

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A few years ago while in Stuttgart I listened to a speech delivered by Wolfgang Schäuble, German Minister of Finance. His words had a great impact on me. Schäuble, who is a Christian, spoke not only of the challenges facing the economy, but of the fact that we must be ready to set limits for ourselves. He said: “Faith in God exhorts us to accept limits on our own activities. It reminds us that there is always someone above us, no matter how famous we are.”

Schäuble, who is very careful with the economy, also knows how to properly, in a healthy manner, be critical of the power of money. He went on: “What we have does not ever seem to be enough. People with good incomes think they need even bigger incomes. Is there any limit to this?”

***

Dear listeners, the Bible does not talk about money as talent only, but it reminds us as well that money can become an end in itself. The means becomes the end. A talent turns into mammon, into an object of worship.

Philosophers remind us that it is important to draw a distinction between instrumental values and intrinsic values. Money is good and proper as an instrument of commerce and trade, but if it becomes an intrinsic value, it turns a talent into mammon, or a “god”, an idol.

Even 500 years ago, Martin Luther reminded us of how money was the most common idol. According to a classical definition, our God is the one in whom we ultimately place our trust and from whom we expect the greatest good. As I said, if money becomes an intrinsic value, then it will often, without our recognition, become our god, our idol. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns: “You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24)

Money turned into god is a deceitful idol. It can lure and entice us, but when the accounts are settled at the end, it will be of no assistance. There are no pockets in the burial shroud, in other words, you can’t take it with you.

The third message of the Gospel is: ask yourself, who is your God.

It is essential to ask ourselves if we place our trust in God, Who pardons us and loves us, both in this life and in the next. We can be thankful to Him for everything we have received in life and for whatever we will receive in the future.

2018-12-17T16:20:59+00:00toukokuu 20th, 2016|Eero Huovisen saarnat ja puheenvuorot|