THE TALENTS: Matthew 25: 14 – 30
The parable of the talents is another of the Parables of the Kingdom at the end of Matthew’s gospel account of the ministry and teaching of Jesus and just before the Passion narrative, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. It comes immediately before the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, and after that of the 10 virgins. It is also paralleled by Luke’s Parable of the Pounds, in Luke 19: 11-27 which is broadly similar.
I have no doubt that if Jesus had a good story to tell, He did not confine Himself to telling it only once – He probably repeated it, subject to minor changes, as the occasion served.
For us the parable also has the power to alarm us for it plays to our sense of effort and responsibility to use what we have and to use it well. But it also probes our sense of equality for the talents were not distributed equally but according to the ability of the servant. Moreover, it makes us look more carefully at the answer of the third servant who had hidden his talent and his explanation for so doing.
First of all, it probes our sense of equality for we would expect the lord to give the talents out equally, but this is not so. They were issued so that the servants could use them for their lord’s benefit, and according to his sense of how well each would use them. In our culture we may object that this was unfair and that the servants should have had equal opportunities to thrive and to prosper.
But then our sense of equality does not extend to sport where we indeed expect the fastest athlete to win the race and the best team to win the match. Some of us may excel at sport in general or one sport in particular but we do not object that this should be so. Indeed, if one of us is successful we may bask in a kind of reflected glory. And the same applies in other areas of life, and we are pleased rather than resentful when a highly qualified practitioner worships among us.
And it goes further than this for in writing about the gifts of the spirit, Paul describes their variety and how they are distributed in a congregation. Not all people will exercise a spiritual gift all the time, some may exercise one or more regularly, some occasionally and some not at all – at least not in public. But they are given according to the sovereign will of God and in His own manner and time. Part of their beauty is their variety and Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians discusses this at some length.
But then there is another question as to what a talent, in the sense of the gospel, really is. In the parable a talent is about 15 or 20 year’s wages. But in life in general, different people excel in different things. For one it is physical fitness and strength while for another it is academic prowess. Another may be effective in business and in human interactions and bargaining. Another may have had a loving and nurturing family life while another may have had to deal with rejection issues and personal failure in various aspects of life.
For some it will be the ability to rise above the reverses of life without becoming embittered, and the ability to forgive and in doing so, to forget.
While the gospel parable keeps this very simple, to apply it effectively in the life of a believer there may be many respects in which we may recognise and then exercise our talents.
Yet the next thing that the parable raises and probes is the action of the servant entrusted with only one talent. It is not just that he had failed to trade effectively with what he had. It is that he positively refused to do so, knowing that the others were using what they had and doing so diligently.
Here we find a sense of defiance and of grievance. Having taken the action in burying the talent, he persisted in it, and at the final accounting rendered to the lord a reply of total insolence, even of insult.
Now he may not have been much of a trader – for the lord had evidently recognised it in entrusting him with a relatively small amount of money. But there was more, for the servant seems to have revelled in it. It is as if he was so wholly immersed in his sense of grievance that he saw and desired nothing more. It was as if he felt that the lord or the other servants or the world in general owed him a living.
To have used the talent entrusted to him poorly was one thing – but to refuse it altogether was quite another. Better to make the attempt and to fail than not to try at all. Better to step out and slip than to hide under the bed.
The final sentence in the parable is also disturbing, for in it Jesus says: (v29) ‘For to him who has, more will be given, and he will have in abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.’
There is a sense in which we grow in the things of God or we fall back. We develop our sense of prayer and of understanding or we allow them to atrophy. We continue in faith and commitment or we become discouraged and disillusioned, looking to other distractions and interests. We find that our sorrows and reverses consume us or we find that in the mercy of God there are ways of rising above them and of dedicating them to His glory.
Jesus came that we might have life and life in full abundance; His peace is beyond understanding but it is not as the world gives it; His love is a love that is always outward-looking and self-giving, and not an exercise in self-realisation or self-fulfilment. He came that His joy may be in us and that this joy may be complete.
In short Jesus came with an agenda for our lives, but one that He wants us to cooperate with and not to resist. As we dig into this parable we find that it also probes us, but that it probes us in ways that we may not have expected.
- Was the lord in the parable being unfair?
- How may we recognise opportunities in life and dedicate them to the Lord?
- Are there areas where we are also being defiant or resentful in the presence of how Jesus has led us and dealt with us?
- Are we envious of the portion of life that has been accorded to another person?