The Parable of the Talents

Ordinary 33A

Matthew 25: 14 30

Introduction

We have almost reached the conclusion of our Lord's teaching ministry. This parable is part of the previous lesson: be ready, and be doing what is within your reach, now!

J. C. Ryle makes this observation:

The parable of the talents, which we have now read, is near akin to that of the ten virgins. Both direct our minds to the same important event, the second advent of Jesus Christ. Both bring before us the same persons, the members of the professing Church of Christ. The virgins and the servants are one and the same people, but the same people regarded from a different point, and viewed on different sides. The practical lesson of each parable is the main point of difference. Vigilance is the key-note of the first parable, diligence that of the second. The story of the virgins calls on the Church to watch; the story of the talents calls on the Church to work.

For an overview of this passage read the section from The Gospel Story, by R. Cox.

Some Notes On the Text

Verse 14

Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them.

Actually, the parable begins abruptly with the words, in Greek, "For just like a man going on a journey…"

Thus it is to be read in association with the parable of the ten bridesmaids, and so it is for all true members of the Church. Verse 14 establishes that the master, going away for an unspecified time, entrusts his property to chosen (trusted) servants. The next verse tells how much property he gave to each.

Verse 15

To one he gave five talents of money,
to another two talents,
and to another one talent,
each according to his ability.

Notice the text does not say the master handed out abilities or skills; but rather different volumes of money. Ronald Cox suggests the talent, being the largest unit of money, was equal to about 16 years of wages. The master was not handing out talents in the modern sense of the word: they already had ability, in varying degrees, as verse 15 implies.

Our Lord is, in fact, talking about his teaching, his word. This is his great legacy to us.

Verses 16 18

The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.

The five talent man and the two talent man both acted with alacrity. They had a duty to perform and they did it "at once". The one talent man chose not to perform the duty he was assigned. Professor Samuel Tobias Lachs writes, "Burying money or valuables or any entrusted property in the ground was considered the safest way of keeping a bailment (a delivery of property on trust) and hence being free of responsibility."

Verse 19 23

After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.

The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'

His master replied, 'Excellent, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.

His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

This sub-set of verses opens with the familiar ring of Jesus echoing the return of the Messiah.

The five talent man reported first, and presented his master with double the amount of money he was originally given. His master is ecstatic, and affirms him with the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" Then comes an amazing statement, which could be paraphrased as, "You have been faithful with such minor property as 80 years wages; I will put you in charge of much much more!" Our Lord is hinting that his disciples should be ready to prove their loyalty to his cause. Rabbinic literature helps us understand the model he is using:

"This motif is found frequently in rabbinic literature.

e.g., "God does not give greatness to a man till he has proved him in a small matter, only then does He promote him to a great post. Two were proved and found faithful and God promoted them to greatness.

He tested David with sheep…. and God said, " You were found faithful with the sheep, I will give you My sheep that you should feed them,' and so with Moses, who fed his father-in-law's sheep. To him God said the same."

Samuel Tobias Lachs

Our Lord repeats the same procedure with the two talent man. Though this person was entrusted with less than half of the first, he receives the same reward! He shares in the master's happiness! The Greek word (chara) can mean a feast or holiday celebration (Lachs) suggesting a warm welcome and a full sharing in the festivities, according to the person's capacity.

Verses 24 and 25

Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'

So, finally we get to the one talent man. He had made a decision that with only one talent, it was not worth the risk to put it to work. Besides, it was much easier to hide it on the pretext of keeping it safe.

When called to account, this man quickly "gets in first" and annihilates the character of the master to his face. He betrays himself, however, by making out that he was afraid of such a hard and greedy master. This is obviously a sham, since if he really believed his master was a hard grasping man exploiting the hard work of others; he would have tried to increase the one talent entrusted to him. Instead he projects on to his master his own mean and ungracious character; a common but futile practice of a devious and unfaithful person.

Verses 26 and 27

His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?

Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

The master sees through his servant's pathetic excuse for doing nothing and rightly condemns him as evil and lazy. He will not accept any excuse for lack of willingness (if not enthusiasm) to carry out one's duties and obligations.

Verses 28 30

Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents.

For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth'

The master's sentence is the irrevocable severance of the relationship between himself and his servant!

Conclusion

Before drawing our conclusions to this dramatic yet uncomplicated parable, we pause to read from the notes of the great Archbishop Gore who wrote:

"The Lord's gifts are not talents in the modern sense, but the endowments of the spirit bestowed without measure on him 

(Jn. 3: 34) and through him, upon his servants…..according to ability.

It is probably upon the teaching of this parable…..that the Apostolic teaching about spiritual gifts is based: (cf Rom 12: 6 ff; 1 Cor 12: 4 ff esp v. 5 and 7; Eph 4: 7; 1 Pt 4: 10).

In the distribution of the Lord's goods, our natural endowments are taken into consideration; the spiritual gifts consecrate the natural and enable them to accomplish what would otherwise be beyond their power."

In many ways, the lessons are obvious. The parable is a total reversal of worldly views.

  • One's reward for hard work in the kingdom of God is not more money but more work!
  • We are all given tasks to do for the sake of the kingdom, but these are always in proportion to our abilities.
  • God does not value the return on one unit of responsibility any less than the return expected on two or five units. All receive the same reward for an honest and faithful effort.
  • As mentioned in the notes, Jesus is making a clear statement at the close of his teaching ministry, about the volume of precious instruction, the body of spiritual knowledge, he has handed on to his disciples, which includes the Apostles, as well as all the faithful. All are called to take it to heart, let it constantly echo within them as the living word of their master, and let it flow forth in their own words and actions.

Jesus was never clearer than when he said that what has been entrusted to each will one day be seen as miniscule compared with the superabundance of spiritual blessings when each hears the call"

"Come and share your master's happiness!"

Our Lord has truly proven himself the fulfilment of all the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament. But his work is unfinished until we have completed our assignments!

"Son of man, take into your heart all my words
that I speak to you; hear them well."

Ezechiel 3: 10

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