I am often amazed at what a difference digging can make. Reading a scripture or two without thinking about what is being said can very easily leave one with an impression opposite to what really is being conveyed. And I strongly suspect that the main culprit in preventing such reflection is one's own traditions, preconceptions, beliefs and prejudices. Of course we all have them - and so it is that there are not just one or two "ways" of interpreting scripture. That is, there are multitude views, opinions and "understandings" even if there is only one correct understanding. The post-modernist may ask how we can know which one is right, but I'm not here to engage that vain philosophy. Rather, to look at a short passage with a little probing. Whether it is stretching credulity to call what I am about to do "exegesis" I leave for the more learned reader to judge. I don't know Greek and so if I manhandle the underlying text (inadvertently), please feel free to point it out directly.

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.
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.
But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.
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:
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
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:
Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

Matthew 25:14-15,18,24-27

Maybe ironically, my own (initial) shallow reading of this text - calling it a reading is generous - may mirror the approach of the parabolic character Jesus referred to in the snippet of interest. My focus is not intended to be so much the failings of this man in terms of ability but in his "follow-through", so to speak. That he viewed the Master as "an hard man" is not the main concern of this parable (nor my focus) but the Master's "therefore".

Until very recently, I would read this passage and think that one of the messages of this text is that there should be a certain tolerance for dissent and conviviality between those of differing views. The 3 men in this parable, after all, were all considered servants of the Master. And while not all had the same abilities, the Master didn't judge them all the same way yet considered them all servants. But if one follows what is being said to the full logical extent, then it demands strict barriers between the servants - clear demarcations between differing views on handling of the trusts given to those who call themselves the church by the God whom they claim to serve. Rather than suggesting a mild ecumenism, it demands each man follow to the full what he is convinced of and convicted about. It sees God rewarding men of differing abilities and trusts but doing so by adding in direct proportion to what one already has. So a thorough-going drive for truth must be paramount.

Looking at the text, I find the following :

1. This man who was given 1 talent was, according to the text, given it in direct proportion to his ability. The term "talent", of course, had a sense of quantity. The Master was distributing His "goods" to His servants in direct proportion to their abilities. This is stewardship. This third servant was given little, then, because his abilities were correspondingly small. By extension, if we are differing between individuals as well as groups (denominations, for example), some must by necessity be unable to properly administer truth in any great degree. I draw this analogy because if it can be said that teaching and preaching are "feeding the flock" then when Jesus commanded Peter to "feed My sheep", that Peter was so directed to do so and given the tools so to do. There was nothing of the apostles that spoke of them apart from God being able to give anything of eternal value. Therefore, in that sense, they were stewards of God's "goods". Paul, in I Corinthians 4:1-2 speaks of the ministers as stewards of the mysteries of God. Peter, in I Peter 4:10 speaks of them as "stewards of the manifold grace of God". So what they were disseminating was "God's goods" (or the benefits thereof). Then can it be any stretch to extend that to entire groups of believers given the same degree of understanding and ministration of the grace and mysteries of God? And is that not simply acknowledging that denominations all differ but are still servants of God?

Again, this is where the temptation may be to become ecumenical and wax eloquent about how all denominations are serving God and so each one should respect the truth in the other and honor the differences. But that is not what the parable says. If we are to allow the denominational analog to hold, we must follow it through completely.

2. A passing note. Since the talents are bartered with to increase their number, it must be reckoned with how God's truth, mysteries, grace etc... can be seen to be multiplied by men without God (the Master is said to have gone far away and left these with the servants). Certainly, man can not be expected to give to God what God does not already own and bring to fruition. But if we recognize that Jesus, in another parable (in Mark) told us that the key to all parables was found in that of the sower and the seed, then it should be no stretch to see how the multiplication of these "talents" directly parallels the growth of the seed. Denominationally, it appears to be analogous to building other believers up in the faith - not building numbers of the church but making mature disciples. Some may object that a church that makes a disciple that stays in that church is only perpetuating the errors that that denomination makes. But nowhere do we find one servant being chided for not bringing forth fruit that might be expected by another servant. That is not, in itself, to justify one or the other servant - but to recognize that the "growing in grace" one enjoys in a particular denomination is directly related to the amount of "talents" that denomination bears. God is not expecting the one with three talents to bring forth 5 more, but is pleased with his 3. That likewise doesn't mean He would be as pleased with 3 from the first servant (given 5). There is no such comparison anywhere. And that is where we begin to see that this parable touches on consistency. Not consistency with another, but consistency with what we have been given. Not so that we compare ourselves with ourselves, but for the purposes of comparing how we end with how we began. And, of course, the only way to know good fruit from bad (or fruitfulness from unfruitfulness) is to measure it against those standards given in scripture. The Lord's Word provides us with all we need. And our capacity to handle what God would give varies. Even the disciples (John 16:12) could not handle all that He had for them near the end of His earthly ministry. So we should be thankful that God does not judge us according to the measure of faith He gives another (Romans 12:3). We are not called to judge who is better among us all, but we are called to judge ourselves against the Word of God. Again, not a call to ecumenism, but a directive for us to be perfectly faithful to what God has done in us and give to us individually (and denominationally). And that, inevitably, will mean there is conflict between denominations (Jesus promised conflict even in families). This is not distressing. The love enjoined the disciples of God is not one which ignores those differences, but one which calls each one to spur each other on to be faithful to the Word without compromise. If we can have a clear conscience before God yet differ from a brother, we are not called to reconcile that difference, but hold both him and ourselves to the same high standard. In the end, there may need to be a divide, but that does not necessarily mean each serve different Masters. Rather that one may not have received what another has.