by Anthony Reddie.
This Spectrum paper is a report on a talk given by Professor Anthony Reddie at the Spectrum conference in May 2022.
In Anthony’s three talks participants were encouraged to engage in Bible studies in which they were challenged to think critically around how scripture can provide a means of interpreting the world.
In this first talk participants engaged in a Bible study entitled ‘Situational Analysis’. Anthony began by sharing some stories from growing up in working class Bradford. He reflected on the role that the church as a whole, and Methodism in particular, played in helping him to dissect the world and to see how issues of power, politics and preference were played out in terms of how societies were organised and who was affirmed and who was not.
The Bible study was based on Matthew 25: vv. 14-30 – the Parable of the Talents. Participants were split into three groups (each one identifying with a character in the story) and were asked ‘Why do you do what you do?’ When the participants returned from their group discussions, they were asked for their reflections. Then, offering a postcolonial hermeneutic, he encouraged them to connect their reflections with his, in order to challenge the more spiritualised reading of this text.
A postcolonial, materialistic reading is one where the socio-political perspectives in which the text was located (in this case, Roman imperialism of Judea, and a reminder that it is the Romans who crucify Jesus and not his fellow Jewish people) are put to the fore and they are taken into account when compared to our contemporary experiences of empire and exploitation.
It goes without saying that most of the participants in character, did not love the master. In fact one might even say that perhaps the actions of the third person of the three different characters (servants or slaves depending on which translation we read) towards him are more honest than those of the other two. For whereas the other two do not give any great indication that they love him, nevertheless they still go along with his wishes and seek to operate within the framework of his expectations and power. But the third servant does not hide his or her lack of affection for him. Instead, he simply gives him back his money and asks him to be happy with it.
Well! We all know what happened to him for daring to question the master’s authority.
The critical question posed by Anthony was why countless generations of believers had been convinced to see this parable as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God?
Why is a cruel and greedy master seen as a synonym for God? Why do we believe that the Kingdom of God has anything to do with the final verse which states ‘To those that have much, more will be given to them, but to those who have little, even the little they have will be taken from them’. This sounds more like a critique of neo-liberal capitalism that has invariably underpinned the modern incarnations of empire as opposed to the generous and loving kindness that underpins the Kingdom of God.
When the participants were asked to inhabit the characters of the three servants in this biblical text, that was an opportunity to go beyond the spiritualized ways in which the reading and interpretation of these stories have often been taught and into one that asks you to live the reality of the people at the centre of this narrative. When the real, lived realities of these characters are placed alongside the historical experience of Black peoples, and then interpreted in light of these experiences, suddenly a new interpretation of the text emerges. Black theology is a form of Christian-inspired reflection on the ways in which life should be lived under the guidance and sustenance of God, for the purposes of full life and liberation for those who are exploited and oppressed. It is informed by those who have been and continue to be exploited and cheated of their full rights, reflecting on the realities of their marginalization and using that as a means to reinterpret the basic meaning of the Christian faith.
1. How do you respond to this post-colonial way of interpreting this parable?
2. Are there any other of Jesus’ stories which need re-interpretation?
3. Reflect upon the context in which you feel we are situated today.
We are pleased to continue our partnership with Spectrum, a community of Christians of all denominations which encourages groups and individuals to explore the Christian faith in depth. This year the study papers are from talks by Prof Anthony Reddie and Rev’d Simon Sutcliffe on the theme ‘Being the Salt of the Earth (A look at some peace and justice issues)’. This is the second of six coming through the year.