The Parable of the Talents
an open letter to white folks
I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus’ Parable of the Talents¹ and how it relates to us today. If you’re not familiar, I’ll give you a short summary:
A man is going on a long journey and entrusts three servants with talents (money) before he leaves. To the first he gives five talents (~100 years’ wages for a laborer). To the second he gives 2 talents (~40 years wages). And to the third he gives one talent (~20 years wages). Upon returning the man settled accounts with his servants. The first servant with five talents doubled his money and was praised by the man. The second with two talents also doubled his money as was praised. The third however hid his talent in the ground for fear of losing it. The man called him wicked and lazy for not even investing it with bankers where it could at least gain interest.
I’ve wrestled with this parable a lot lately. And while its message is for everyone, I’d like to direct it specifically to White folks for a minute, myself included.
Privilege is a loaded word, and it makes a lot of White folks upset. It can make you feel like you didn’t work hard for what you have, but that’s not what it’s about. You can work hard and be privileged. It’s right there in the parable. Some servants were given more than others, and there’s no indication that the amounts were based on merit. And that doesn’t mean they didn’t work hard with what they had. It’s hard to double your money. They likely had to be prudent about their investments and work diligently to deliver such a large gain. And good on them for doing so! The man praised them when he returned.
You may not feel like you have a lot privilege. You might make just enough, or stretch it to make not enough work. You may not be a social media influencer with tens of thousands of followers. You might not be in a prominent position at your company. But everyone is given something, some privilege. And here’s the message:
One day we’re going to have to settle up and answer for what we did with what we’ve been given. There’s no way around that. Whether you feel like you have a little or a lot, you’re going to have to give an account for it.
White folks, it’s not enough for us to simply believe racism is wrong. It’s not enough for us to believe police brutality and corruption are wrong. It’s not enough for us to believe a system that treats us better than people of color is wrong. It’s not enough to be silent. The servant who hid his talent in the ground did so out of fear. It is scary to confront racism, to look it in the eye and see the injustice. It is deeply unnerving to know that you largely escape those challenges not by the content of your character, but by the color of your skin.² I feel that fear. But we will be held accountable for our actions, and if you bury your privilege in the ground and do nothing with it, that is antithetical to the message of Jesus.
The lesson of this parable is being a good steward of your privilege. So what can you do? Speak up. Use your privilege and influence to support people of color and speak out against racism. Maybe you’re afraid to say something wrong or ignorant, and you might. Your message might be off-key, but not speaking up against something so wrong is far worse. You can also call or email your city officials, you can contact your legislators, and in November you can vote. If you have the means, you can donate to charities that advocate for people of color. And you can educate yourself. Listen to people of color and read books about systemic racism.
¹ Matthew 25:14–30
² Reference to MLK’s “I Have a Dream” address