How much does a talent weigh? And what would be its value?
Of course I do not mean talent as an aptitude. That is the most common use these days, but it is a secondary meaning, the result of centuries and centuries of Christian symbolical preaching and psychological sermonizing. (Wasn’t there some nasty character who said something about repeating things over and over again until they become a reality?) The word TALENT is a prime example of what we are against if we want to liberate ourselves from the bad theology which has influenced perceptions, culture, and even language itself. Originally TALENT was a unit of weight and a unit of value.
The oldest definition of TALENT in the Ancient Near East was “a weight of a person in gold” and would be about 110 lb. (You see, back then people were evidently much smaller and also slimmer.) The currency equivalent of the ancient gold talent would be approximately $2.8M today. Later, in Hellenistic times, a TALENT became lighter and was used to measure silver. In New Testament times a TALENT weighed about 80 pounds and its value in silver would be the equivalent of $40K today.
And so it goes. In order to understand the basic vocabulary of Jesus’ parables, we need to go back to his time. To understand his true intention and his revolutionary and liberating message, we need to undo (unlisten and unlearn) hundreds of years of really poor theology. For decades theologians knew that the parable of talents (Matthew 25:14-30) was not about individual aptitudes or encouragement for enterprising spirits and even less an apotheosis of venture capitalism. Unlistening, unlearning and in process being liberated, that is what we will do again this Sunday.