Today we’ll be wrapping up our study on the parables that Jesus taught. In this series we’ve talked about several stories, all examples used by Jesus, that teach us what it means to live lives in the Kingdom of God.
This week, we’ll wrap up by talking about another common parable; the parable of the talents.
Let’s begin by reading from Matthew 25:14-30.
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more.
17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 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.’
21 “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!’ 22 “The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “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!’ 24 “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.
25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 “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? 27 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.
28 ” ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
So what’s going on here?
In this story, like the parable of the unforgiving servant which we studied a few weeks ago, this involves a very wealthy man, and 3 of his highest ranking servants. While the story describes these men as servants, these would be well-known and highly trusted individuals…they would have to be for this rich business man to entrust them with his business and life.
These were men who, sure, worked for another, but they were in many ways, shareholders alongside the business man. Most commentaries mentioned the fact that these men would have reaped benefits from their master turning profits. They had a direct tie to the success or failure of the business.
Money, money, money
Now, in this story, we watch as this business man gave to each man a number of talents. To gain a measure of scope in this story, it’s important to know how much money we’re dealing with.
It’s difficult to really nail down how much a talent would be work today. One of the more reliable ways people have attempted to find a currency exchange rate is by figuring that 1 talent was worth about 6,000 denarii.
Maybe you’re thinking, no, that doesn’t really help at all!
But I would remind you that if you remember, we learned a few weeks ago that a denarii was worth roughly a days wages. So, when you do the math, you come to 1 talent equaling, roughly, 300,000 dollars. Quite a large bit of cash!
Money to the 3 servants
So, we watch as the rich man gives 5 talents, or ($1.5 million) to the first servant.
To the second, we watch him give 2 talents ($600,000).
And to the third we watch him give 1 talent ($300,000).
I think the first thing we can safely say is that this rich man, regardless of how much he gave to one man or the other, invested a great deal into each of these servants. Right?
One many point of emphasis in this story is that not every man is given the same amount. There was probably some wisdom in how the rich man divvied up his money.
There is the old proverb that say, “to those whom much is given, much is expected.”
This, at least, on the surface, seems to hold true in this story, as well. Chances are, the recipient of the 5 talents had proved himself to be true and worthy.
The master, then, left to go on an extended trip. He was to be gone a very long time. Many believe that Jesus was hinting here about the fact that he was soon to ascend into heaven, (going on a journey) to return after a long, yet unspecified time.
So, with the master having left, let’s take a look at how the servants performed.
The actions of the servants
The first servant, as we remember, was given 1.5 million, or 5 talents, and he immediately goes out, puts the money to work, and doubles his money, netting him a cool 3 million.
The second servant, in like-fashion to the first, puts his money to work and doubles his income. He now has 1.2 million to show for his efforts.
The third servant, possibly more timid, afraid, or probably lazy, forgoes investing the money. He instead takes the money, buries it, and (as I like to imagine) draws a treasure map with “X” marking the spot.
He did this, some speculate, because the banks of the day were not reliable or trustworthy. In other words, it was safer to bury the money instead invest.
What did they do with their money?
When I read this story early on in my life, I think I always had an image in my mind of these servants going out and investing this money in the “stock market” or in a bank of some kind.
But what this passage is actually saying is that these men took the money, viewing it as “seed money” and started up a new business venture. They took what was entrusted to them, acted on a dream or passion of theirs and turned the investment into a profit.
Sure, it was a risk, but they used what was given to them to create something new, exciting and ultimately profitable.
So, in this story we witness 2 gain financial returns, and one lazily keeps the same amount.
The master returns
As the story carries on, the master returns and comes to settle accounts with the 3 servants. He wants to know what has happened, how they fared, and to receive the money that he is owned.
1st servant reports
He first talks with the servants he had given 5 talents to, and he sees that this servant doubled his money. The master is extremely pleased. He responds by saying that he is a good and faithful servant.
He then tells the servant that he was faithful with the little things, and thus will be entrusted with more. He is then invited to come and share in his masters happiness.
2nd servant reports and master responds
He then talks with the second servant, who has, like the first servant, doubled the money he was given. The master, in the same way as with the first, is thrilled. He responds the very same way. He praises the faithfulness of the servant, tells him that he will now be trusted with more, and then invites him to come share in the master’s happiness. (More on what this means in a minute)
3rd servant reports
The final servant, as you would expect, didn’t have quite as rosie an outcome. As if earning the master nothing wasn’t bad enough, he reports by saying (my paraphrase), “I knew you were a hard man, harvesting where you haven’t sown, and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed.”
Basically, this servant is saying, “nope- I didn’t earn you money. I was scared because you’re a mean guy. A mean guy who doesn’t tolerate failure, and who takes from places he has no right to take from.”
Nothing like coating your failures in sugar, eh?
And I quote: “You wicked, lazy servant.”
He then takes the money, and he gives it to the man who was given the 5 talents and earned 5 more.
What problem is Jesus addressing in this story?
This is actually a trick question because Jesus is addressing TWO!
First: To fail to do good with what we’ve been entrusted with is a grievous sin.
Maybe you’re asking yourself, “What has been entrusted with me?”
We’ve been given a lot, haven’t we? Whether that gift is the truth we hold on to, the truth that we are invited to belong to the Kingdom of God, and the truth that this belonging will set us free, or whether that truth is that we are forgiven, we are part of something very, very good. Aren’t we?
In the same way, we are all in different places on the economic scale. Some of us make more than others. That’s normal. But, no matter our situation, no matter how tight our finances are, we are ALL better off than the majority of the world. The stresses in our life are, very rarely, life threatening. We know that, should we lose our job, we have a system to fall back on until we get back on our feet. The chance of us starving to death is slim to none.
This isn’t the case for everyone.
So we are blessed with the good news, and we are blessed with a good life.
One final blessing: Talents
Each one of us has been given gifts. Many of these gifts are special or unique to us. We are passionate about something. When we talk about it, our eyes light up.
Actually, there is some linguistic speculation that the English word, Talent, finds its roots in this story. The basis being that we are given a gift, or a talent, and we are now expected to “use it or lose it.”
I want to ask you this: Are you using the talents God has given you?
Are you sharing the good news, are you generous with your good life, and are you using those special talents that God has given you?
Second: We must not become passive in our watchfulness
We are a people looking towards the second coming of Christ.
We sing songs about how he will return one day, and if you just google “second coming,” you will find thousands and thousands of search engine hits about how that day is coming. And people trying to name that date are a dime a dozen…for example we all remember…Harold Camping.
Camping claimed that the rapture would be on May 21, 2011 followed by the end of the world on October 21 of the same year. Camping wrote “Adam when?” and claimed the Biblical calendar meshes with the secular and is accurate from 11,013 BC–2011 AD.
And then there was Ronald Weinland.
Weinland predicted Jesus would return on September 29, 2011. When his prediction failed to come true he moved the date of Jesus return to May 27, 2012. When that prediction failed he then moved the date to May 18, 2013 claiming that “a day with God is as a year” giving himself another year for his prophecy to take place. Weinland was convicted of tax evasion in 2012 and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in federal prison.
The reality is that we can become so focused on wanting Jesus to come back, so focused on not messing up in the event that today is the day, that we fail to go out and work at investing the talents he’s given us.
In other words, we’re so afraid of failing, that we never try.
Or, maybe we’re afraid of succeeding, and so we don’t try.
Or, maybe we just don’t much feel like trying.
It doesn’t matter the reason. We’re told that if we don’t put our talents to work, and if we don’t invest what God has given us (life, faith, good news, gifts…etc), then we are in danger of being cast out of his sight and into eternal darkness.
I know what you’re thinking, and yes…it really is that big of a deal!
Good and faithful
If there I something I know, it’s that it isn’t easy to fail. It’s scary to take off and try to do something and know that there are no safeguards, and nothing keeping this newly planted effort from becoming a major, and very public failure.
And, considering the fact that our image of God is so often the image of our father, or of an influential pastor or mentor…we can begin to fear letting God down.
Maybe you have always been taught that failure is unacceptable.
Notice, though, what Jesus commends the first two servants for.
He said they are good and faithful. HE doesn’t say they are the most talented. He doesn’t say they are the wealthiest. He doesn’t say they are the most charismatic or that they are the most influential.
He commends them for being faithful with what they were given.
And its in that faithfulness that they are rewarded.
This isn’t a matter based on intellect. It’s based on the heart.
Are you investing the talents given to you?
Are you sharing the good news?
Are you investing your gifts in others.
Are you investing your finances.
Are you investing your time?
I can promise this wont be convenient, but it is a vital part of the kingdom life.