God bless the talents

Ever have one of those eureka moments when you realize that one piece of information you have is related to another piece? Then it’s OBVIOUS, when it had not been.

My wife’s reading this book about education, and there is a reference to the Matthew effect, basically this: “Early success in acquiring reading skills usually leads to later successes in reading as the learner grows, while failing to learn to read before the third or fourth year of schooling may be indicative of lifelong problems in learning new skills.” (This suggests that services such as Head Start are vitally important.)

It was the naming, though, that brought me up short. It is dubbed for a verse in the New Testament, Matthew 25:29 -“For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” This is described in my wife’s reading as a very un-Sermon on the Mount type sentiment, that Sermon also being found in the book of Matthew.

The verse in question is at the end of Jesus’ parable about the talents, where three guys get 10, 5 and 1 piece of money, and the first two double its value by investing, while the third one buries his. He is chastised by the moneylender in the story. You can read several interpretations of the text here. The sentiment is echoed in Matthew 13:12, the explanation of the sower of seeds parable, which observes that “for whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” Context, though, everything, which is why one oughtn’t to mine Scripture for single verses.

Interestingly, the talents story takes place just before that cool stuff that inspired Matthew 25: Ministries, “to fulfill Matthew 25:34-40 of the New Testament by providing nutritional food to the hungry, clean water to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, affordable shelter to the homeless, medical care to the ill, and humanitarian supplies to prisoners. Additionally, Matthew 25: Ministries is committed to fulfilling Matthew 25:40 by educating the public on the conditions and needs of the ‘least of these’ and by providing resources for action.” This is the Jesus narrative that makes sense to me.

But that’s not what the revelation was. It’s that the parables of the talents and/or the sower, which I’ve read several times each, is the basis for the lyrics of the song God Bless the Child, which I’ve heard many times:

Them that’s got shall get
Them that’s not shall lose
So the Bible said and it still is news

Yes, the strong gets more
While the weak ones fade
Empty pockets don’t ever make the grade

Here are recordings by Billie Holiday, the co-writer with Arthur Herzog, Jr.
Billie Holiday, an earlier (original?) version
Blood, Sweat and Tears, from the second, hit, album, and the first with David Clayton-Thomas on lead vocal

3 thoughts on “God bless the talents”

  1. That “out of context” thing is a huge issue with people quoting the Bible, particularly the words of Jesus. I had someone try to argue that Jesus supported the death penalty based on Matthew 15:4, when the passage it’s taken from is about how ritual law isn’t the most important thing for getting in good with God.

    That said, the “Matthew effect,” though poorly named, is obviously very real.

    When I first opened your blog I probably stared two minutes at that cartoon. Really summarizes how I feel trying to save up to buy a house.


  2. I read that parable differently. I see the one who buried his talent as a timid, scared soul…afraid and doubtful about life. God has given us “talents,” and it’s up to us to make the most of them while we live in this world. He has given each of us spiritual gifts to use in hopes of using them for His glory. To bury our gifts, unused is, in a way, rejecting the trustworthiness of the who gave them in the first place.


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