The Talents

In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus, in His Olivet Discourse, gave us two more “kingdom parables,” that of the ten virgins and the talents. We must point out that this chapter is a mostly ignored part of the Discourse, for most people think of chapter 24 when speaking of the Olivet Discourse; but the fact is that Jesus spent much more time teaching His disciples and other hearers about being perceptive (being wise as serpents) and how to act (being gentle as doves) than He did talking about wars and rumors of wars and things of that sort.

We are interested in the second of those parables, that of the talents, but first, beginning in verse one, He opens by saying, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to….” So, after completing the first parable at the end of verse 13, the “it” in verse 14 is again referring to the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said, in Matthew 25:14-18: “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one, he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner, the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”

Now, this parable takes into account an issue that is of utmost importance today in America – that of slavery. If we can, for the moment, come off our high horse and look at the issue biblically, we might discover something. While one people enslaving other people is never to be condoned, it is a fact of life; it has been going on since the dawn of man and is a testament to the evil in man’s heart. In case anyone asks, Egypt, in the northeast corner of the African continent and where the people are predominantly black, enslaved the Israelites for four hundred years, which are not.

Jesus, in His ministry, did not work to end slavery, nor did He speak to end slavery, but He did include slaves in more than a few of His teachings such as this one. Those words that He spoke were more to the spiritual aspects of life, dealing with sin, and of being slaves to sin. Man, because of his fall from grace in the Garden of Eden, has a sin nature. When God was about to send the flood in the days of Noah, the Scriptures say, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). That is a scathing indictment of mankind, and it is for that reason that man enslaves his fellow man.

In the parable, Jesus spoke about a man who entrusted his possessions to his slaves. The Greek word is δοῦλος which is pronounced doulos and means slave, or servant. Either way, the man gave five talents to one, two to another, and one to the last – each according to his own ability! While we are all created in the image of God and so in that respect, we are created equal, we each have different gifts, abilities, and talents. In this case, the talents given to the slaves by the man are a measure of wealth, not the innate gifts given to each by God. The man gave each a different amount, each according to his ability – because each was different. We are all different.

25:19-23: “Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

“Also, the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’”

The takeaway here is, aside from the fact that the master entrusted one with five and the other two, they both doubled that with which they started. Therefore, the reward was equal, “Well done, good and faithful servant…. Enter into the joy of your master,” the master praised them. That is a spiritual message. We all have a different lot in life, much of that lot being predicated by what we have done in life, therefore we must play the hand life deals us.

25:24-30 “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

“But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival, I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’

“For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

So then, we have come to the last one, who was fearful of his master and did not even put the one talent in the bank to earn interest. Instead, he hid it away and gave it back intact. In other words, whereas the first two used the talents they had and were willing to take a risk to earn more for his master, the last took no risk at all, had no motivation in life to even attempt to do so, and ultimately squandered his opportunity in life by using none of his God-given talents and offered no effort. The master called him lazy and worthless, took away the talent that he had given him, and gave it to the one with the ten.

A harsh response, no doubt – but fair? Who, in this case, is to determine fairness? Are we to look down our nose at this master and demand that he show compassion on the worthless and lazy slave? Is it not the right of the owner of the talents, the one who takes the measure of the man and determines how much to entrust to each, to determine the final disposition? In addition to that, Jesus’ words to take away even the little from those who have nothing because of their sloth is a lesson for today.

Turning two talents into four, as we said, is proportionately equal to turning five into ten, but “the law of large numbers” means that, in reality, gaining five more is harder to do for five is two and one-half times larger than two, and therefore takes more talent and effort. So giving the one from the lazy slave to the one who had ten is the prudent decision and one that the master is entitled to make.

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