Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
“Ah! vous dirai-je, maman” is a French children’s song born from an anonymous pastoral tune in 1740. However, this melody is so well known to us that we use it to sing three English songs: 1) “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” 2) “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” and 3) “The Alphabet Song.” From a musical perspective, one might think that being a “children’s song” would make the tune simple enough for a child to plunk out on the piano with a single finger. And, indeed, in the hands of a beginner, that is true. However, one might be surprised to hear what a few renowned composers did with “Ah! Vous dirai-je, maman.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote twelve variations on this piece. Mozart’s composition has Köchel listing number 265 and is called “Twelve Variations in C on ‘Ah! vous dirai-je Maman.’” The melody has a length of about fourteen minutes! And no one listening to it would consider it “child’s play.” Not to be outdone, harpsichordist and composer Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach created eighteen variations on the tune for the keyboard. It takes about ten minutes to play “Bückeburg Bach’s” piece, “Variations on “Ah! vous dirai-je maman” in G major.” Even romantic pianist Franz Liszt had a crack at “Ah! vous dirai-je, maman.” Liszt’s version was short and sweet, taking only twenty-two seconds to play. But Liszt still managed to embellish the song with his flourishment despite its brevity.
So, though it is the same song, its complexity and appeal derive from the musicians’ abilities. This truth reminds me of a parable of Jesus. A master departing for a journey entrusts his valuables to three of his servants (Matthew 25.14-30). One servant received five units of currency, another received two, while the last servant, later called “lazy” and “fearful,” was given but one. When the master returned, the servant given five talents gave to his master five more which he had earned. The two-talent servant likewise doubled his share. But that lazy and fearful servant hid the money given to him in the ground. This servant claimed fear of loss caused him to hoard what the master entrusted to him.
We cannot ignore the original context of this parable which is money. A talent began its life as a measurement of weight. By the New Testament, the talent equaled the buying power of that weight in gold or silver. Most scholars believe that the talent to which Jesus referred was equal to 6,000 denarii. If you recall, from Matthew 20.2, employers paid workers a denarius for a day’s wage. So, one talent equaled the salary earned from 6,000 days of work! Thus, the master entrusted the “one-talent servant” with about 16 years’ wages. So then, how much more impressive that the five-talent servant increased his master’s investment by an amount that would have required the ordinary worker roughly 82 years of labor? (If my math is correct, that is.)
Today, we tend to remove our Lord’s parable from its fiscal context to refer to our stewardship over the abilities and skills we can muster in God’s service. Or we might use talent to refer to all the resources at our disposal as we worship and serve. That it is about money is seen in the master’s scolding of the lazy servant that the least he could have done was put his talent in the bank to allow it to draw interest (Matthew 25.27). The master’s rebuke implies that the lazy and fearful servant could have still been productive despite his character flaws. All he had to do was make a safe investment of his master’s funds with the bank. See how Jesus knew about compounding interest! Compounding interest is so incredible that even Albert Einstein’s genius esteemed it as man’s greatest invention. (Granted, interest rates must be more than they are now to grow wealth. I know one fellow who only earns about fifteen cents a quarter with the current rate.)
Elsewhere, the apostle Paul reminds us that a bountiful return follows when we sow bountifully (2 Corinthians 9.6). This Scripture is also about money. So, wealth reflects what we do with what we have. Returning to Jesus’ parable, one notes that the Lord specifies that the master knew the abilities of his servants and used that knowledge to determine how much he would entrust to each man. For this reason, Jesus could also say that God expects more of the one to whom He has given more (Luke 12.48). Please understand I am not promoting the prosperity gospel of such charlatans who play preachers on the TeeVee. If you aren’t a wealthy person, it is unlikely that God will shower you with money from Heaven simply because you prayed the prayer of Jabez or sent in “seed money” to someone’s ministry.
No, the Lord has already given you something. Using what God gives you may be like the previously mentioned child striking single keys with his fingers. But that is okay since it is what you can do with the tune. However, your brother or sister may be capable of making twelve or eighteen variations on that tune, making your jaw drop. Worry not; their talents are not an indictment of your own. You are still capable of playing a lovely song. Therefore, it is a matter of ensuring you play it your best. Don’t do like the lazy and fearful servant and hoard your talent. Such people rob God (cf. Malachi 3.8). In these difficult economic times and times of future prosperity, God will judge us for what we do with those talents with which He has entrusted us.