Monday, 9 April 2012

The Parable of the Tribunal

In the comments to a previous post, I proposed that to have some talent, in itself, is not enough to achieve anything worthwhile.  You also need
  • Application. That famous "99% perspiration", or the "10,000 hours".
  • A generous measure of selfishness.  Life, particularly family life, with a creative genius is a quick route to despair, divorce, and denunciation.
  • Something to say.  Most rare of all. The Real Thing.  Accept no substitutes.
I might also add
  • A  trust fund.  Or, failing that, a taste for the (very) simple life.
Frankly, if you are in possession of all of the above, any actual "talent" is an unnecessary luxury.  And, lacking them, the possession of any amount of "talent" is little more than an embarrassment, like having a car but no ability to drive.

This is particularly the case for those of us brought up in the non-conformist Protestant tradition (my family is Baptist; I am not).  We have a difficult relationship with a deity that likes to get quite personal about things like laziness and failure.  That notorious "parable of the talents" (Matthew 25:14 and Luke 19:12) is a central teaching for what we might call "shopkeeper's Christianity", and has been responsible for a lot of unhappiness.

Interestingly, those infuriatingly smug "wise virgins", who have loaded up their spare jerrycans of lamp-oil at the pump, also pop up in the very same chapter of Matthew.  There's an unpleasantly petit-bourgeois flavour -- Thatcherite, even -- to these parables that is hard to reconcile with The Man's more profound teachings that challenge precisely this "because I deserve it" world-view.  I have to say, Jesus as reported in the Gospels does seem to blow confusingly hot and cold on the subjects of the deserving and undeserving poor, the proper uses of wealth, and how far the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a Building Society account prudently tied to the FTSE 100 Index.  Maybe he just liked to play with his disciples' minds.

With which thought, I did read said parable again -- it is Easter, after all -- and now present it to you from a different perspective.  Let the hate-mail commence!


This Industrial Tribunal has convened to consider the case of Simon the Servant brought against Lord Hardman for constructive dismissal.

Let me remind the Tribunal, that constructive dismissal occurs when an employer's behaviour has become so intolerable, or the original terms and conditions of employment have been varied so substantially, that the employee has no choice other than to resign. Since resignation in such a case is not truly voluntary it is, in effect, a termination of employment. For example, in a case where an employer has acted like an utter shit, in order to get the employee to resign rather than dismissing the employee outright, then that capitalist bloodsucker is trying to effect a constructive dismissal.  Are we on the same page, now?

OK, facts:

Lord Hardman decides to go travelling for a couple of months.  Nice work if you can get it.  He divides up some serious capital, eight talents, between his three employees.  However, this is not done equally or equitably.  OK, eight talents won't divide by three, but to divide them in the proportion five, two, and one says something about his view of their relative merits, does it not?  Also, it is a matter of record (Matthew 25:15) that Lord Hardman at no point explicitly instructed Simon the Servant what to do with the money entrusted to him, though we can accept the implicit instruction not to lose it or spend it on handmaidens.  What may or may not have been said in private to the other, more favoured employees is not recorded.

The plaintiff decided to play safe, and stashed the cash in a "hole in the ground" account, paying little or no interest.  One talent doesn't go far, and the minimum investment requirement for high-return cash investment products is a statutory two talents.  His fellow employees, by contrast, decided to gamble with their employer's wealth.  They claim the money was put into high risk structured investment vehicles, that they got lucky, and doubled their stake.  In a couple of months, in the current financial climate?  We should all be so lucky.  However, it is not the business of this Tribunal to make allegations of corruption, money laundering, manna dealing or other improper use of funds against any third parties.

On his return, Lord Hardman went through a little capo di tutti capi routine, that resulted in the promotion of the other two employees, and the ritual humiliation of the plaintiff ("Where's my freakin' vigorish, you wicked and slothful moop?"), with open threats of weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Lord Hardman is known to be a "hard man" who, in the words of the plaintiff's deposition, "reaps where he hath not sown, and gathers where he hath not strawed".  We think this means that Hardman is a nasty piece of work, using business practices that border on the criminal.  A man to be feared, in other words.

It is claimed that the whole thing was a set-up to persuade Simon the Servant to resign (and thus avoid payment of the statutory redundancy lepton).  One talent out of eight? It was an insult, and a provocation.  Understandably, Simon left Lord Hardman's employ immediately, but was encouraged by the Amalgamated Union of  Slaves, Indentured Servants and Handmaidens to file this claim of constructive dismissal.


The Tribunal upholds the claim of Simon the Servant against Lord Hardman, and awards him the exemplary sum of ten talents, to be recovered from Hardman Enterprises Ltd.


We assert that the Republic of Heaven shall be like unto this Tribunal, whereby no wickedness which has been  perpetrated against any of these, my brethren, will pass without redress and compensation, though we are divided as to the wisdom of casting any rat-faced exploitative wrong-doer into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  We also emphatically strike down and reverse the judgement that "unto every one that hath it shall be given, but from him that hath not it shall be taken away even that which he hath" as both implausible and unpronounthable.

Here endeth the lesson.

Addendum 10/4/2012:

I am appalled to be informed that there are people out there who do not know the parable referred to, or who do not have access to a Bible (have they never heard of the internet?).  For the benefit of those foolish virgins, here is the relevant part of Matthew's Gospel:

 14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
 15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
 16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
 17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
 18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.
 19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
 20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
 21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
 22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
 23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
 24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
 26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
 27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
 28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
 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.
 30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


Kent Wiley said...

Where's the hate mail?

This is one of your more humorous pieces in a while, Mike. Any chance you're working on more translations of the New Testament? I think you're going to have to develop the Tribunal further, since I'm getting images of Pythonesque Spanish Inquisition. And that's NOT what we want here.

Mike C. said...


Well, I wasn't really expecting any -- 80% plus of my visits are from previous visitors, and you all know what level of blasphemous poison to expect.

A complete re-interpretation of the New Testament, eh? Now there's project... On the subject of religion, I like David Malki's "Maltheism" -- see here:


Kent Wiley said...

"Maltheism" Ha Ha Ha! Damn funny. Thanks for that, Mike. I haven't checked out Wondermark in a while.

I wasn't really suggesting a complete rewrite of the New Testament. Only selected bits. I know so little of it I can't even suggest a place to start. Your "Parable of the Talents" is definitely an indication that you've got an amusing POV. But if you want to take on the entire New Testament, who are we to stop you? Profusely illustrated, I hope...