Investing, Not Exploiting

By Michaela O’Donnell

February 7, 2021

Scripture: Matthew 25:16-18 (NRSV)

The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents.  But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.


Every choice we make to spend money is a way of investing in systems and goods and communities. And so we can ask ourselves: are we investing in ways that exploit people? Or are we investing in ways that align with God’s redemptive work in the world?


For the most part, I’ve always thought about this parable in Matthew as pretty straight forward. It’s a story about making wise financial investments even in the face of risk. Based on that interpretation it can serve a kind of creed for a variety of types of investments—be it our time, money, or like I wrote about yesterday, our relational investments. Don’t be paralyzed by fear in the face of risk, seek a solid return wherever possible, and enjoy the fruit of good stewardship!

But, when I was doing a bit of research on this parable in preparation for these devotions, I found an interesting theory by some scholars that made me question my assumed interpretation. These scholars argue that perhaps it’s not the first two servants who are worth modeling our behavior after, but instead the third—ya know, the guy who buries the money in the ground. They say that based on likely money practices of the time, it’s quite possible that servants one and two engaged in exploitive business practices in order to double their money.  Their theory is that the two servants were engaged in shady lending practices—the kind that prey on the vulnerable, put them in debt, and charge so much interest that it’s hard to ever get out of it.  If this were to be true, the third servant who refuses to participate in such a practice—and goes on to speak truth to power later on in the text—is the exemplar.

Now, I’m not the New Testament scholar at De Pree (paging Mark Roberts!), so I’m not going to say “this is the way it is!” In fact, most of the time I find those kind of black and white answers less helpful, anyway. So, for today, let’s just consider what it would mean if these scholars were right. What would it mean if this was a passage that was more about not participating in exploitation than it was about the fact that God loves wise investing?

Regardless of who’s the exemplar, this possibility challenges us to think about not only the risk and return involved in investing but also the methods by which profit is made. Profit is good, but not if it comes at the exploitation of others. That’s about the furthest thing from being entrusted to someone’s care. In some ways, it feels hard to know if the money we earn costs others too much along the way. If you’re like me, your investments are managed by a company who specializes in that and whose goal is to ensure you see good returns.  And, I’ll admit, I don’t always keep a close eye on things.

But, our investments go beyond the stock market. Think about all the discretionary spending you do: where you shop for clothes, what restaurants you eat at, or what news you pay for. Every choice we make to spend money is a way of investing in systems and goods and communities. And so we can ask ourselves: are we investing in ways that exploit people? Or are we investing in ways that align with God’s redemptive work in the world?


If you have investments in the stock market, do some digging. Work to understand if what you’re supporting comes at the cost of others, or if it aligns with Kingdom values.


For more on Biblically Responsible Investing, check out our Making it Work episode with Rachel McDonough.


God, we want to invest in things that matter to you. We want to invest in ways that are wise and don’t exploit people. Grow our understanding and help us to recognize when we might need to look at things a different way. Amen.

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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Resources on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Resources for Christian Investors

Michaela O’Donnell

Mary and Dale Andringa Executive Director

Michaela is the Mary and Dale Andringa Executive Director Chair at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership. She is also an assistant professor of marketplace leadership and the lead professor for Fuller Seminary’s Doctor of Global Leadership, Redemptive Imagination in the Marketplace progr...

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