Day 20: Talents



It’s really not fair for me to tell you that the parable of the talents was misinterpreted often and then not explain how I came to that conclusion or what I think Jesus meant to teach us through this story.

Here’s it the parable again.

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
— Matthew 25:14-30 ESV

The best rule in interpreting scripture is to look at it in context.  What comes just before this and what comes just after it in that particular book of the Bible.  So let’s do that.

In the book of Matthew, right before the parable of the talents is the parable of the ten virgins.  Matthew 25:1-13 tells the story of ten brides on their wedding night.  It begins the story with these exact words, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”  The idea of taking a lamp on a wedding night is not a custom that I am personally familiar with for two reasons, I’m American and I’m not Jewish.  But it is something we can read about easily on the internet.

It is clear from the very first sentence of this parable and from the very first imagery presented, this parable is painting a picture of something very eternal, the day that Jesus comes for his Bride, us.

This story tells us that not all of the brides were ready for their bridegroom, “those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.”  And then it ends with the warning, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Those are the ending words of the parable of the ten virgins.

Scripture immediately begins the parable of the talents with these words, “For it will be like a man going on a journey...”

It is clear to me that Jesus is running these two stories together because they are illustrating the same thing.  The return of our bridegroom is also the return of our master.

Let’s look at the scripture immediately after the parable of the talents.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
— Matthew 25:31-46 ESV

This is a scripture you are probably more familiar with.  It is painting a picture of the final judgement.  We as His bride, His servant are challenged to treat the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned among us as Jesus Himself.  And we are promised that by caring for lowly, least among us here on earth, that we will in fact be caring for the King Himself.

We have now looked at the whole 25th chapter of Matthew, and from start to finish, it is speaking of eternal matters.

Once we put the parable of the talents in context, it is impossible for me to believe that Jesus would be wanting to teach us anything about something earthly like money.  He has to be showing us something much greater.  He is drawing us out a diagram of the workings of the kingdom of heaven.

So when we look at this parable with eternity in mind, we can begin to gain some ideas that are much deeper than just good stewardship.

First, let’s clarify the term of talents.  I think most people read this and think dollar.  That isn’t a fair comparison at all.  A talent is actually a weight.  But saying pound instead of talent doesn’t really compare either.  To be more specific, a talent is a weight of drachmas, and a drachma is a Greek unit of weight.  So a talent is a weight of a weight.  This isn’t getting any clearer.

People who are smarter than me have concluded that the best way to explain a talent was that it was equivalent to 20 years of work.

This makes much more sense to me, and with that definition I can begin to understand what Jesus was trying to tell us.

The master prepares for his journey by entrusting his three servants to his property.  He gives the first servant 100 years of work.  He gives the second servant 40 years of work, and he gives the third servant 20 years of work.

Something about this brings out my inner second grader.  I instantly have the gut feeling of “that’s not fair.”  And it isn’t fair.  This is realistic.  We are not all entrusted with the same amount of resources.  We all have been given a starting spot in life that isn’t the same as everyone else's.  Some of us are born a child of Bill Gates.  Some of us are born while our mothers are serving prison sentences.  Some of us are born in huts in the jungle.  Some of us are born in the sterile hospital of a communist country.

The unfairness continues.  Some of us won’t live to the age of 5, and some of us will see well past 100.  Some of us have high IQs, and some of us will never utter a complete sentence.  Some of us can run marathons or even from one ocean to the other, and some of us will never hold a cup and bring it to our own lips.

Let me just clarify that not all of these worst case scenario are because of God.  We live in a fallen world, and we live in a world where there is a great lion that seeks someone to devour.  God allows these unfair situations to exist.  But just because He allows it, that doesn’t mean He likes it.

For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.
— Psalm 33:4-5 ESV

Honestly, truth is refreshing to me.  We all know that life is unfair, and that we all don’t have the same amount of crackers on our preschool plate of life.  Often I think that the world doesn’t get the picture of Christianity as a religion that can wrestle with tough questions.  We can sometimes give the message that we are living a shallow faith because the worst thing that we could image happening is a curse word might come off our radio and hit our ears.

Our God isn’t shallow.  Our God doesn’t call us to shallow, and He knows that sometimes with a phone call or a ran stoplight or a routine blood test or a sonogram, we can be thrown into the deep end.  He is there in the deep end with us.  Psalm 139 and Romans 8:38-39 tell us that we cannot escape His presence.

So how does the master decide which servant should get 5 talents and which servant should get one?

This is the phrase that explains that conundrum, “to each according to his ability.”

The Lord knows what we are going to do with our life, and he gives us anywhere from 20 years to 100 years of work, based on our ability, not to impress, but to serve.  Remember, we are servants in this analogy and in any calling to follow Him.

In Luke 12, Jesus was telling a similar parable to these that we have just read.  Peter was listening to the story, and he asks Jesus a questions that I might not have the audacity to ask, but that is why we love Peter.

In verse 41 Peter says, “are you telling this parable for us or for all?”

Jesus doesn’t directly answer his question.  He doesn’t say “for you, Peter” or “for everyone.”

What Jesus does tell Peter is “blessed is the servant,” that He will put the faithful servant in charge of all of his possessions, and “everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required.”

Now is a good time to point out that those talents never belonged to the servant, and they never will.  God created everything; everything belongs to Him.  We are incapable of taking ownership of anything.

In life, we are to hold possessions, abilities, advantages, jobs, traits, and skills loosely.  Know that they belong to our Master, our King.  They are not yours, and they don’t define you.

As we hold them loosely, we also have to hold them delicately, knowing they are precious.  Why?  Because we are going to have to answer for how we have used them.

Somedays I have felt like the servant with 5 talents.  I’ve looked at what God has trusted me with, and I’ve prepared myself for the great race of endurance of Hebrews 12.  Somedays I can see one hundred years of work that God has set in front of me, and I’m ready.  I put on my shoes and sprint.  I love the unloveable and welcome the stranger.

Then there have been days were I feel like the servant that received one talent.  When I am struggle with social anxiety, I want to just bury every bit of everything underground, and do nothing.

But I’m not the servant that receives one talent, that servant said these things about the master.

“Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid...”

I don’t believe those things about my good and faithful God who gives every man free will.

It is clear that the servant does not know God, because the type of master he is describing bares no resemblance to our Lord.

I also want to point out that the servant that only received one talent had not received a raw deal.  He received an amount worth 20 years of work.  If he was an adult when he received it, then 20 years was a lifetime of work.  If had not buried it underground, he could have clearly doubled it to two talents, which is worth 40 years of work.

The biggest call to action of this parable is for the man or woman who does not know our Lord.  If that is you, you must come to a point of decision.  Know that our God is loving.  He loved you so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross for your sins.  All you have to do is believe you need that forgiveness and accept it.

If you already know our Savior, then your biggest call to action is to join His Kingdom work.  He calls every believer to come and follow Him and become a fisher of men.

You may feel like you have little to contribute or offer in Kingdom work.

First, I know God has entrusted you with something.  And second, there are things that He offers to share with us, if we just ask.

God offers wisdom (James 1:5), love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), nearness to Himself (James 4:8), forgiveness (Matthew 6:14), and directed paths (Proverbs 3:6).

When my days are done, I long to hear these words from the master, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  What about you?



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