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A Kingdom Growth Parable - The Talents

By Edited May 30, 2016 0 0

This extensive kingdom growth parable, found in Matthew 25:14-30, contains similarities with the parable of The Money. However, there are differences between the two and for this reason, this book studies them separately. The Talents focuses more on the thoughts and actions of the master while The Money deals with the activities of the slaves in the absence of the master. Like similar parables, the master who departs on the journey is Jesus, and the slaves are those of the kingdom who serve Him. The return of the master symbolizes the Second Coming and judgment. Matthew contains language more symbolic of divine judgment while Luke focuses more on the activities of the participants.

The key to this parable, as with the parable of The Money, is understanding the context and purpose of the narrative. If you do this, the meaning of both of these parables becomes clear, as well as the explanation these are not the same parable. As with all of His parables, these words focus on your attitudes, beliefs, and relationship with the Father rather than providing answers to specific issues or problems that you may be facing at the moment.

Matthew 25:14-30 “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. (15) 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. (16) Immediately the one who had received five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. (17) In the same manner, the one who had received the two talents gained two more. (18) But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. (19) Now after a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. (10) 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.’ (21) 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.’ (22) Also, the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Mater, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ (23) 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.’ (24) And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I know you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. (25) And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ (26) 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. (27) Then you ought to have put my money into the bank, and on my arrival, I would have received my money back with interest. (28) Therefore, take away the talent away from him, and give it to the one who has ten talents. (29) For 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. (30) Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

As he narrative begins, the master entrusts three slaves with different talents before leaving on a journey. A talent is a value of weight of different metals rather than a coin. Since the talent “could be of copper, silver or gold, and Jesus does not specify the kind of coinage in his story, it is impossible to calculate how valuable the talents were.” [1] The master gives one slave five talents, two talents to another, and one talent to the third. With this, as with most of the parables, it easy but wrong, to elaborate on what is not said by what is said. As with several other parables, Jesus uses the rule of three, which is the standard story-telling technique of the time and place.

The first slave begins trading and invests the five talents. By his actions, he is diligent and responsible, and the results demonstrate his proficiency and the wisdom of the master entrusting him with such a large amount. The second slave, given two talents, exhibits the same diligence and business acumen. He doubles what the master entrusts him earning two talents. The third slave, however, is different. Whether timid and lazy or afraid of failure, the parable does not say. Instead of following the instructions of the master, he buries the talent. “The important thing for this man was that the money was secure and that he could produce it when the time came. Keeping it in this way meant that there was no possibility of loss but it also meant that there was no possibility of gain.” [2]

Upon the return of the master, he calls the slaves to report. The first slave explains how takes the five talents and earns five more. This slave gives the master ten talents. The second slave describes the same degree of success. He doubled his two talents and gives four talents to the master. To both of these slaves, the master has the same praise of “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 phrase “enter the joy of your master” is a Judaic expression of satisfaction and appreciation. The last slave has not the same report as the first two. He foolishly expresses his opinion of the master; that he is a hard man who reaps where he had not sowed and gathers where he had scattered no seed. The master is not pleased and speaks harshly to the slave and condemns him for not, at least, putting the funds in a financial institution so the money could earn interest. He calls the slave wicked and lazy; wicked for accusing the master of being a hard man, and lazy for burying the talent. The master does not respond to the accusation that he reaps where he does not sow, which is interesting. In verse twenty-eight, the master orders the one talent entrusted to the wicked slave given to the one with ten talents. Some view this as a reward to the diligent at the expense of the lazy but this is incorrect, for he has been given opportunity with the one talent, yet chooses to do nothing. Verse twenty-nine also troubles some but we can best understand it as referring to anyone who has not earned anything. The one talent he is given being taken away reinforces the idea all belongs to the master, and he can choose how to distribute wealth, just as God has the same prerogative. In this last action of the parable, the master summarily ends his relationship with the slave.

The reason the last slave takes this action seems to have been fear of the master. Because he seeks to ensure the safety of the talent so as to return it to his master, he puts it where it could not be stolen. This was a fairly common action due to the constant threat of war, political turmoil, and theft. There is a rabbinic saying to the effect the ground is the only secure place for money. The slave explains his fear of the master for he is an exacting man and, furthermore, he takes up what he does not put down and reaps what he does not sow. The reaction of the master to condemn this man for burying the talent in the ground is likely surprising to those who hear the parable, and this may have been intentional so they would better remember the narrative. As effusive the praise of the master for the first two slaves is his anger toward the actions of the third. The punishment contains a strong connotation of judgment when the master instructs the slave to be thrown out into “the outer darkness; in that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” which is a Jewish eschatological statement of damnation.

This is an important parable in the sense of Jesus reveals to the disciples His expectations during His absence; to work diligently and to be productive. Implicit in these comments is that the master, Jesus, will be away for a significant period as the servants having the necessary time to increase their investments. Jesus speaks this parable to the disciples, bus some suggest His words also address the religious leaders and Pharisees for not fulfilling their duties. “Like the man with the talent, they desired to keep things exactly as they were – and it’s for that that they are condemned.” [3] While this interpretation may be feasible, it seems extraneous, particularly when we note that Jesus speaks this parable to the disciples and the Pharisees and scribes are not present.

We do not know why the master chooses to give one slave five talents, another two, and the last one. This is different than the parable of The Money in which ten slaves receive one mina each. The part of the narrative where master gives each slave a certain amount according to his abilities is troubling to some for it signifies prerogative by the master, which is in turn implicitly given to Jesus. Many scholars believe this aspect of the parable is allegorical in the sense God entrusts each person with certain spiritual gifts to perform in the kingdom of heaven in certain amounts; some receive gifts seemingly sparingly while others receive abundance but it is the choice of the Father. Whether these gifts extend to an individual's worldly abilities, such as a knack for repairing machinery, management, teaching, or engineering may be reading too much into these verses. More likely, this is referring to spiritual gifts, such as mercy, giving, serving, long-suffering, praying, serving, encouraging, evangelizing, and the like. Those who perform their tasks well the Father will praise and commend. Several passages echo the underlying concept of each believer receiving varying spiritual gifts.

Romans 12:3-8 For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you, not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (4) For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, (5) so we, who are many, are one body in, and individually members one of another. (6) And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly; if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; (7) if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; (8) or he who exhorts, in his exhortations; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Ephesians 4:7-8 But to each of us grace was given, according to the measure of Christ's gift. (8) Therefore, it says, 'When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.

1 Peter 4:7-11 The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. (8) Above all things, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. (9) Be hospitable to one another without complaint. (10) As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (11) Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever, Amen.

That He determines the assignment to each person should be reassuring. The Master evaluates each person upon the tasks given, and does not compare one to another. When the parable refers to the punishment of the third slave, it transitions out of the allegorical to reveal the nature of God's wrath. This condemnation “seems appropriate both for those who are overtly hostile to God and his revelation as well as for those who profess a commitment to him but whose lives show no evidence of the reality of their profession.” [4]

Again, like many of the parables, what is unsaid is often interpreted with as much zeal as what is said. To point out the absurdity of applying too much interpretation to this narrative, we should remember the talents and slaves are props or a means to an end. Another question is the comment of the third slave that the master is a hard man who reaps where he does not sow and gathers where he scatters no seed. If the analogy is true and the master who departs and returns to evaluate the slaves is Jesus, this is hard to understand. However, a couple of passages provide an explanation to these words seemingly meant to harm. We find one in the Gospel of John when Jesus is speaking to the Samaritan woman. When the inhabitants of the local village came to investigate, He refers to them as a harvest. We can see other illustrations in John and Acts.

John 4:35-38 “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest?’ Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. (36)Already he who reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who sows, and he who reaps may rejoice together. (37) For in this case the saying is true, 'One sows and another reaps.' (38) I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Acts 19:1-5 And it came about that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found some disciples, (2) and he said to them. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” (3) And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John's baptism.” (4) And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, Jesus.” (5) And when they had heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Following is an attempt to illustrate the error of over-interpretation of this narrative.

A certain landowner had a large grove of olive trees and went on a journey. Before his departure, he assigned three gardeners to care for some of his olive trees. One gardener was given twenty-five trees, another fifteen and the third five. Upon giving the three men their instructions, the owner of the oil tree grove departed. The gardener given responsibility for twenty-five trees even went so far as to put fresh fertilizer when necessary and water twice daily. His trees produced much oil of superb quality that brought premium prices, much more than expected. The second, who was given responsibility for fifteen trees, did some watering and occasional fertilizing. As a result, his tree produced a good harvest of olive oil and generated above average prices at the market. The third gardener, who was given five olive trees, neglected his trees and rarely provided water. When he took his olive oil to market, it was of such poor quality that the result was minimal income that caused the nobleman to lose money when compared to the costs of proper maintenance and care of the trees.

When the master returned to determine how the three men performed, the first man reported great profit from the sale of the olive oil from his trees. 'Well done, good man. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ The second gardener explained how he had taken care of his trees and had produced a good profit from the sale of his olive oil. To which the master said, ‘Well done, good man. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ The third man, however, said, ‘Master, I know you to be a hard man, picking olives from trees you did not plant. Because you had acted in this way, I deliberately neglected the trees that you had given me responsibility so as to equal the olives you acquired from the trees you did not plant.' After the wicked gardener spoke these words, the master replied, 'You lazy bum, you knew that I gathered olives from trees I did not plant. Then you ought to have had my other servants care for the trees I put in your care.' Speaking to the others, the landowner said, 'Take away the five trees away from him, and give it to the one who has twenty-five trees. For 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. Also, throw out the worthless bum into the outer darkness; in that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The master assigns the first gardener twenty-five olive trees, assigns fifteen olive trees to the second man, and assigns five olive trees to the third gardener. When the master returns to learn of the poor results of the third gardener, he becomes angry and dismisses the incompetent gardener and gives the trees formerly assigned to the third gardener to the first gardener. This is essentially the same storyline as The Talents but removes the opportunity for those who would interpret the word “talent” as God-given abilities or strengths. This simply illustrates that the servants of Jesus are to work wisely and diligently until His return. This alternative exposes the error of over-analysis and reveals the true purpose of this parable.

Copyright © 2016 Craig B. Manning. All rights reserved.


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  1. James M. Boice The Gospel of Matthew, Vol, 2. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001.
  2. Leon Morris Pillar New Testament Commentary – Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1992.
  3. William Barclay Daily Study Bible Series – Matthew, Vol. 2. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.
  4. Craig Blomberg Interpreting the Parables. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990.

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