Clarence Jordan used to say that a parable from Jesus was like a Trojan horse: You let it in, and Bam!—it’s got you. But this business about the “talents” has never quite “gotten” me. Yes, it has that marvelous, often-quoted line, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I’ve tried that in a funeral sermon or two, but its emotional impact on the congregation is soured for me, as a voice (St. Augustine? Laocoön warning me to look inside the horse?) whispers darkly, “You’re doing the works-righteousness scam.”
James C. Howell is senior minister of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and author of What Does the Lord Require? Doing Justice, Loving Kindness, Walking Humbly (Westminster John Knox).