Monday, December 15, 2008

Guantanamo and the Parable of the Talents

The priest began to tell the Parable of the Talents. How a wealthy man, parting on a journey, gave five talents to one of his servants, two to another, and one to a third. And the servant with five talents invested wisely and earned another five. And the servant with two talents did the same, also doubling his money. But the third, fearful of his master, hid the talent in the ground and earned nothing.

And the first two enter “into the joy of thy lord,” but the third “wicked and slothful” servant is cast into “outer darkness.”

“Where is this parable told?” the priest asked.

A child’s hand shot up. “Saint Matthew!”

The child was right. But what of this parable in a land where there’s nothing to invest in? Was it a “free-enterprise parable,” as John Howard, the former conservative prime minister of Australia once called it, a reminder that if you are given assets you must add to them, just as if you are entrusted with the word of God, you must spread that word?

Or was it, rather, a parable about the cost of standing up to authority, of being a whistle-blower like the third servant, who calls his master a “hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown?” Was it about the courage to face down totalitarianism and its rich apparatchiks?

I wondered, but preferred mystery to answers. I’d seen America’s Guantánamo prison. I’d felt the suffering of the woman in the car. I’d left New York’s financial disaster, based on greed for redoubled assets, and found the economic ravages of Cuba’s head-in-the-ground Communism.

Yes, pity. And if this priest had the power to turn the wafer into the flesh and blood of God, and if the people gathered here believed that and were consoled, I was ready to bow my head in silence.

From Roger Cohen's OpEd piece in the NY Times, "A Church in Guantanamo"

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