October 20, 2017

What Is This Parable About?

Parable of the Talents, Matthaeus Merian the Elder

On Monday, my pastor asked if I would like to preach this coming Sunday. I accepted his kind invitation, and have been thinking about the day’s Gospel text ever since.

Would you be willing to help me in my preparation?

If so, I’ll give you some information here, and then you can join in the discussion, contributing your insights on this passage of Scripture.

• • •

Our text is commonly referred to as Jesus’ “Parable of the Talents” (Matt. 25:14-30).

As we prepare to talk about this text, let’s first put the parable in its context:

This parable is found in the fifth and final discourse attributed to Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew organizes the teachings of Jesus into five sermons (ch. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 23-25). The Gospel’s conclusion commands the church to make disciples, teaching them to obey everything Jesus taught. These five discourses summarize those teachings and provide an organized “catechism” by which Jesus’ followers can fulfill his great commission.

The final discourse is made up of teachings that involve “the end of the age” (24:3). The first part (ch. 23) is Jesus’ final word of judgment to the Jewish religious leaders and his lament over their failure to welcome Israel’s king. The second part (ch. 24) is usually called, “The Olivet Discourse.” It is Jesus’ message about “the end,” the destruction of the Temple, and “the coming of the Son of Man.” The third and final section (ch. 25) is composed of three parables: (1) The wise and foolish bridesmaids, (2) The master and slaves (the talents), and (3) the sheep and goats.

Next, let’s look at the text itself:

Parable of the Talents, Leemputte

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 1master’s money.

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.’

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.

• Matthew 25:14-30 (NASB)

Parable of the Talents, Elliger

Now, let’s make some observations about this text:

  • The parable follows a common three-fold organizational pattern — (1) the master, (2) the two faithful slaves, (3) the worthless slave.
  • The amounts of money are fantastic. A “talent” was a measurement of weight, and when applied to money, indicated approximately 130 lbs of gold or silver. Commentators suggest one talent was worth perhaps 15 years of common wages.
  • Neither of the first two slaves give any reason for what they did. They simply took what the master had given them, invested it, and multiplied it. However, the third slave, who buried the money, speaks about his perceptions of his master, and cites those perceptions as his motivation for acting as he did.
  • Like both other parables in Matthew 25, there is a time of reckoning at the end. The rewards or penalties given in each case are for actions taken or not taken. The penalty for the offending parties in each case involves separation from the authoritative figure in the story.

OK, I have given you the basics. It is your turn.

Why did Jesus give this parable? What was he trying to communicate to his followers? If you were preaching or teaching this passage, what points would you emphasize?

Let’s teach one another.

Comments

  1. One thing in this parable that struck me years ago is the time of reckoning. If this parable is to teach us about how we will be judged in the end; there was not a hint in sight of any slave being granted access based on his believe or on grace.

    Another thing I would focus on is on the fact that the silver was and remained the property of the Lord. There is no apparent reason why each got the amount they got and there was no question about using it for themselves.

  2. Not sure about the superiority of one translation over another, that is over my head but several translations render the master’s’ response to the slave who did nothing as a question:

    ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed?…’

    When I taught this parable to a small group a couple of years ago, this really struck me. First, it means the master is refuting the notion that he is this sort of master, not confirming it. Second, the advice makes sense. Paraphrasing…”even if I was an unreasonable, merciless master you could have taken the easy way out and earned me SOMETHING!”

    Taking the two together, the implication is profound. Jesus is not an unreasonable and merciless master so we do not have to take the ridiculously extravagant amount of grace and life he’s given and “play it safe”. We can take it and go out to take risks, do things that appear foolish in the eyes of the world, and attempt great things. We can risk failing and, yes, even fail. Because Jesus is THAT sort of master–generous, merciful, supplying more that we could possibly need. He’s not counting pennies at the end of the day and looking to find fault.

    Just one last comment before this post becomes hopelessly too long. I am talking about trying foolish things and taking risks in the context going, making disciples, baptizing and teaching as articulated in Jesus’ final command of the Gospel of Matthew, not simply any dumb risk we want to take.

    This was a big lesson to me from this parable. I hope it at least makes sense, as I’ve tried to explain it.

    • I, too, think that the “wicked slave’s” perception of the master is one rich vein to mine in this parable. Our view of our Master will determine how we think and act. Thanks, Brian.

      • +1

        I agree. I think we tend to look at this parable backward by focusing on the coins rather than on the relationship.

        • “…we do not have to take the ridiculously extravagant amount of grace and life he’s given and ‘play it safe’.”

          Yes. I think you are handling the passage very well.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Then what about all those Christians hiding in their churches and church activities 24/7, keeping their noses squeeky-clean so they won’t be Left Behind when they cash in their Fire Insurance and Rapture Boarding Pass?

    • Brian,

      I think you have it right.

      Take risks in spreading the good news. Be imaginitive in doing so. But don’t just sit on it.

    • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

      About a week ago, I got a CD from Key Life in which Steve Brown was making that exact same point regarding this parable. If you’re serving a hard master, you’re gonna bury that with which he entrusts you. But if your master is like Jesus, you can risk things and end up reaping rewards for it. Would the Master have been ticked off if one of the slaves made an investment with his money that didn’t pay off? I.e. what if one of the slaves tried and failed and cost the Master rather than making him more money? Dr. Brown asserts that the Master probably wouldn’t been angry. I.e. the wicked slave did the WORST possible thing he could have done: nothing.

    • I like what you’ve done with this parable, Brian. Contrast the wicked slaves notion to the ridiculous generosity of GOD Himself who has given so much without prompting. I also think this is a case of becoming the way you see the Father, for good or for ill.

  3. I frequently use this parable to illustrate the spiritual truth that we are called to “use it or lose it.” In other words, God has uniquely gifted each and every one of us to reveal God in the world and to play our part in bringing “heaven to earth.” We are called, compelled even, to seek, discover, nurture, cultivate and then freely and generously share our unique giftedness in the world. Paul expands on this idea in his letter to the Corinthians by opening our eyes to the fact that our unique giftedness might in fact be in what we perceive to be our greatest weaknesses, challenges or perceived imperfections. In God….darkness and light are but one and we are invited not to judge or question the ways in which God uses us to reveal love in the world. If we do not use our gifts, God doesn’t punish us…..but we do in fact, suffer. We experience the internal suffering of our Divine call thwarted….and here we experience wailing and gnashing of teeth! 🙂

    Lauri Lumby
    Authentic Freedom Ministries
    http://yourspiritualtruth.com

  4. This, like most of His parables, it like the story of the blind men describing an elephant by touching one part of the beast only. To one, the elephant feels like a high solid wall, another reports on his ropy tail, or his trunk, or rough skin and silky ears. Who is right? All of them, but only PARTLY right, with some, but hardly all, of the real meaning of “elephant”.

    So it goes with parables, which to me can be a kalidescope that changes with every turned view. I have heard this parable described as being about using our God-given gifts for the glory of God and the good of others; as a warning against usury and exploiting the “little guy” to make a profit for a corrupt rich guy; as an admonishment against fear; and as warning against sloth. AND…..I can see how one could make a case for all of these points.

    Personally, what resonates to my soul is the idea that God gives us all gifts of some sort. Money, beauty, the ability to make beautiful items or music, the gift of healing or teaching or building; political astutenss, a loving heart for children or animals or the mentally ill……and on and on and on. No matter how much of “the least of these” we are, we have SOMETHING to contribute and share. Not using what we are given is a sin of OMISSION, of not doing something that we ought to do, whether out of laziness or out of fear that we aren’t “good enough”. It is throwing back the gift from our Master, who gets angry with us for not recognizing our Gift(s) and keeping them buried.

    In addition, it is a reminder that there IS judgement to come, but it is NOT the kind that comes from being without sin, from “coloring within the lines” of all the rules and laws, from going to church or going on missions or making converts or anything else. We will be judged on whether or not we accepted the LOVE AND GRACE of the Risen Lord and allow Him to work through us to love Him and each other.

    But….JMHO!

  5. Speaking as the third servant, I know his motivations all too well. I take my belief and keep it to myself; I don’t practice, I don’t spread, I don’t share. It might as well be buried in a hole for all the good I am doing with it.

    I have the right form of belief; I have never had any problem with intellectual assent or doubt. But breaking my heart of stone? That’s a different matter.

    And it won’t make any difference in the end that I was a “good” person (read: never committed any of the big, splashy, publically visible sins like murder or adultery or living in sin or theft or ending up in court for drugs offences) – that’s as much cowardice and having no inclination to those particular faults as virtue.

    That’s the fault of the third servant: cowardice. Afraid to trust, afraid to risk, afraid to do anything to lose what he had because he’s afraid of the accounting in the end.

    • Thanks be to God that for the Christian the accounting had already take place. In your baptism.

      You were rightly judged guilty and drowned with Christ, and then declared righteous, and raised with Him.

      Romans 6.

      Good News, isn’t it?

      • Margaret Catherine says:

        Except that chief among the gifts God gives us is that gift of baptism, of faith. We will have to give accounting for our use of it as well.

      • Steve, that’s the talent in my hand. Now what do I do with it?

        🙂

    • I think Martha is on the right track, CM. The form of our belief is often great, but the actual substance of it is often lacking. We’re great at orthodoxy…not always so good at orthopraxy.

      Another line of thought I have here is that we believers often define ourselves by the things we don’t do…”I never killed anyone…had an abortion…performed homosexual acts!”…but Christ is challenging us to define ourselves by our actions…the things we do. I’m reminded of a quote from the Hospitaller in the movie “Kingdom of Heaven”…”Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves.”

      In the words of an old preacher I once served under, “If you want to hear well done, then you better well do.”

      Another great quote from Kingdom of Heaven is from Godfrey of Ibelin…”I once fought two days with an arrow through my testicle.”

      But that’s another sermon altogether.

    • Martha says: “…afraid to do anything to lose what he had because he’s afraid of the accounting in the end.”

      Very deep, profound statement! How ironic that it’s the fear of being held accountable that causes him to be judged so severely!

    • Brother Bartimaeus says:

      Couldn’t this parable be equally applied to our tight hold on orthodoxy?

  6. Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

    I’ve two questions that may help with this study/exegesis/d’rash/whatever:

    1) To whom is this parable addressed? I.e. who is Jesus’ immediate audience?

    2) What is the significance of this being one of the “Kingdom Parables.”

    My suspicion is that when our Sunday School teachers used this parable to chide us for “not living up to our potential,” they were missing the point and mis-applying the text.

  7. Clay Knick says:

    There’s something here about the generosity of God in this parable that I find very attractive. Plus the “fear factor” in the third slave who runs and hides the gift given to him. That’s where I’m headed with this, I think, for Sun. While I also prepare for a funeral and limp around on this very, very sore ankle. 🙂

  8. Good questions, Isaac. I think there are four possibilities re: who is being talked about/warned here.

    1. He is speaking of the judgment to come soon upon Israel for rejecting her king.
    2. He is speaking about how his disciples should behave in the interim between his 1st and 2nd comings; and the judgment is the one at the end.
    3. He is speaking generally about all people and how they should behave in the interim between his 1st and 2nd comings; and the judgment is the one at the end.
    4. Some combination of the above.

    These are “kingdom” parables because they are speaking to the situation now in Israel/the world now that Jesus the king has inaugurated God’s kingdom.

  9. I wonder if it’s not possible to turn this parable on its head from the way its commonly read. First off, one thing that’s bugs me is that the character of the master in this parable doesn’t seem to be consistent with the character of the Father in Jesus’ other parables – specifically, the Prodigal Son. Also, to the Jews participating in a system where interest is charged and gained by the wealthy isn’t really a good thing. It was really forbidden. Could Jesus have been saying that the person who refused to participate in that fallen system risks being killed and “thrown out” by that system. Could this parable be more of a warning about what is going to happen to Jesus and to His followers when they dare confront the corrupt systems of the world?

    • Very interesting, Phil. I will have to think about that.

      • Phil, what you write is interesting but the last sentence of the parable says, “Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus always talks about the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth as the place that people go when they have denied God. So, it doesn’t seem like he is talking about Jesus and his followers when he is talking about the “worthless slave.”

        Something about this parable has always bothered me. I didn’t know why the worthless slave would say, “reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed” if the master is a reference to God. But Brian’s statement that the master rephased that as a question, that the master was refuting that he could be described this way can help out with that section.

        This is not my favorite parable! (Maybe because I fear that I am like that worthless slave…doing nothing with what the Master has given me due to fear, laziness, etc.)

        • I understand what you’re saying Joanie. It doesn’t answer all questions. Sometimes I thinks that’s our problem, though. We try to read parables as if they’re riddle that we have to solve. I don’t think they necessarily work that way.

          Regarding the “outer darkness”, if you ever read any Jurgen Moltmann, a central thought in a lot of his writing is Jesus’ words on the cross, “My God why have you forsaken me?”. The cross is the place where God and God-forsakeness come together. So there is this idea that by going to cross, Jesus became one who was thrown into the outer darkness for us. He experienced utter separation from God for our sake.

          • Btw, the Phil above is me. I’ve been trying to add the “M” when I post now because I noticed there’s another Phil who occasionally comments as well. The name field on the comments thing just autofill “Phil” for me though. So I have to remember to change it.

        • Grace, might help to explain how the Master reaps where you did not sow and gathers where he scattered no seed. Small things done with faith become great things through grace.

        • “I didn’t know why the worthless slave would say, “reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed” if the master is a reference to God.”

          It’s what C.S. Lewis says in “The Great Divorce”; God will have everything. We can’t hang on to any little private shreds of favourite pet sins or doing things our own way. Either it all gets turned to gold, or it all gets turned to rust. We can bring our attachments with us, all the way to Hell.

          Cut off the hand. Pluck out the eye. Go blind and lame into Heaven, or whole into Hell.

          More hopefully, the other sheep not of the flock – they will be gathered up by the Shepherd also (who may be accusing of rustling the sheep belonging to Krishna or Buddha or Darwin) 😉

          • Jack Heron says:

            “Which of you men, if you had ninety-nine sheep, and wanted more of them, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one belonging to Krishna, until he found it? When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the sheep which Krishna lost!’

          • Jack, more along the lines of “Lord, when did we see Thee hungry/thirsty/naked/sick/in prison?” and He replies “Insomuch as ye did it to these, the least of My brethren, ye did it to me”, thrown in with a bit of “Purgatorio”, Canto V:

            91 And I to him: ‘What force or chance
            92 took you so far from Campaldino
            93 that your burial-place was never found?’
            94 ‘Ah,’ he replied, ‘at Casentino’s border
            95 runs a stream called Archiano
            96 that springs above the Hermitage among the Apennines.
            97 ‘To where its name is lost I made my way,
            98 wounded in the throat, fleeing on foot,
            99 and dripping blood across the plain.
            100 ‘There I lost sight and speech.
            101 I ended on the name of Mary and there I fell,
            102 and only my flesh remained.
            103 ‘I will tell the truth–you tell it to the living.
            104 God’s angel took me, and he from Hell cried out:
            105 “O you from Heaven, why do you rob me?
            106 ‘”You carry off with you this man’s eternal part.
            107 For a little tear he’s taken from me,
            108 but with the remains I’ll deal in my own way.”

            and “All the service thou hast done to Tash, I accept as service done to me”

            🙂

          • Jack Heron says:

            I now have a mental image of a sheep throwing itself into what it believes to be its shepherd’s arms only to find that this Shepherd is different. It is an exceedingly charming image.

    • This resonates strongly with the perspective on (albeit Luke’s) presentation of the parable that Richard Rohr presents in his book Simplicity (and which Shane Claiborne explores in Jesus for president). The audience of the time would have understood the subject of the parable quite differently. they would have seen a parallel between the master and Herod. As Rohr states “Thus Jesus isn’t talking about some sort of rejection of God and God’s gifts, but about altogether down-to-earth topics of politics and oppression………I used to think that the first two servants were the heroes; but that’s a prejudice of the capitalist mind-set…………The third man is the one who is really prepared to take the consequences of his conviction.”

      I’m still digesting this perspective but am growing in my conviction that this parable has been used for too long to support a capitalistic world view and fails to acknowledge the simplicity and humble life that Jesus calls us to.

      • Randy Thompson says:

        This seems to reflect somebody’s interest in liberation theology more than the text!

    • I agree with your take here, Phil. One of my good friends was talking to me about this parable just last week. He looked at the parable a little differently. He said the parable was meant to be a warning to anyone who chose to participate in the evil system setup by the Pharisees, Saducees and Herod, which involved the taking of interest, screwing the poor, robbing widows, etc.

      Maybe it isn’t true, but I found it interesting, as I had only heard one interpretation of it previously.

  10. David Cornwell says:

    I’m glad you are doing this Chaplain Mike. It’s very similar to the discussions our pastor leads every Wednesday evening on the lectionary passage for the following Sunday. He normally makes a few preliminary observations of his own, followed by discussion. This has turned into a popular study and the discussion is always lively and for the most part stays within the bounds of acceptable interpretation.

    Normally I prepare for the discussion by doing a study of my own at home. Sadly I haven’t had time to get far into it as yet this week, and may not attend tonight for various reasons. Later I may make some comments and will be reading the discussion.

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The parable follows a common three-fold organizational pattern — (1) the master, (2) the two faithful slaves, (3) the worthless slave.

    This is called “the rule of three” in story plotting.

    Three similar plot events. The first introduces the pattern, the second establishes/confirms the pattern, the third breaks the pattern.

    Most widespread example: “The Three Little Pigs”.

  12. The parable can be viewed as a teaching on the Kingdom of God and judgement. The talents can be viewed as overwhelming and undeserved grace–or from the Catholic perspective the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the 7 Sacraments. The third servant has squandered grace–he buried his life in the Spirit. Here are links to a couple of homilies given at the Trappist Abbey near Dubuque. I like the second one alot.

    http://www.newmelleray.org/archives.asp?page=sharing&pagedate=Nov. 16, 2008
    http://www.newmelleray.org/archives.asp?page=sharing&pagedate=November 13, 2005

  13. The parable can be viewed as an image of the Kingdom of God and judgement, with God as the master and grace as the talents. One talent was the equivalent of many years’ salary. Talents could signifiy overwhelming and undeserved grace or life in the Holy Spirit. The master is acting in a crazy and a prodigal way: he’s giving away an enormous treasure (His Son and the Holy Spirit/the Church and the Sacraments). The third servant can be seen as squandering grace or burying his life in the Spirit. The master, God, is saying I gave you my Son, I gave you my Spirit , I gave you the Church, I gave you grace . . . and you didn’t respond.

  14. Here’s a link to a sermon given at New Melleray Abbey in Dubuque that more clearly presents the idea: http://www.newmelleray.org/archives.asp?page=sharing&pagedate=November 13, 2005

    • Hi Rick,

      None of the 3 links you provided are working, at least not or me. Any suggestions to locate what you were referring to?

  15. from the similar account in Luke 19:20-23 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’

    “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’”

    The most sobering aspect of this account is the Master’s anger at the fearful servant: “I will judge you by your own words…”

    I have always understood Jesus pointing out the obvious; we will indeed view God, and react to Him, in direct proportion to what we believe about Him…

    So if He is viewed as the Sheriff-in-the-sky that is harsh, unloving, keeping a detailed rap sheet on every sinner, then we will respond to others as we envision God to be…

    Our own life will be spent cowering in fear, while we judge others unmercifully hoping to turn God’s focus on those worse sinners than ourselves…

    This has been hinted out in previous responses, but for me, this is the one spiritual dynamic I have recognized as the most applicable in the parable…

    • “hinted at” not hinted out…haven’t had my 2nd cup of coffee yet… 🙁

    • Joseph writes, “So if He is viewed as the Sheriff-in-the-sky that is harsh, unloving, keeping a detailed rap sheet on every sinner, then we will respond to others as we envision God to be…

      Our own life will be spent cowering in fear, while we judge others unmercifully hoping to turn God’s focus on those worse sinners than ourselves…”

      I like that, Joseph.

      • yeah, i see this parable represented also in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt 18).

        and then Jesus points out the sobering realization in Matt 6:14-15: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

        we are on-the-hook so-to-speak at representing God rightly to others, & then acting according to His true nature, not our warped caricatures of who we think Him to be…

        God has no patience it seems with any religious misrepresentation being promoted in His Name. i believe this is the greater consideration in the 3rd commandment about not taking the Name of the Lord God in vain…

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          we are on-the-hook so-to-speak at representing God rightly to others, & then acting according to His true nature, not our warped caricatures of who we think Him to be…

          Years ago, I was explaining the concept of “heresy” to someone when he gave the following response:

          “Oh! It’s Criminal Misrepresenation!”

          i believe this is the greater consideration in the 3rd commandment about not taking the Name of the Lord God in vain…

          From what I’ve gleaned from Jewish sources, that IS the original definition of the 3rd commandment.

          However, limiting it to cussing and only cussing is much more convenient.

          • The Previous Dan says:

            I have never heard that interpretation of the third commandment before, but it makes sense. I like that, thanks!

        • “God has no patience it seems with any religious misrepresentation being promoted in His Name.”

          You are full of good things today, Joseph!

          • i am always full of good things JoanieD, it’s just more obvious on some days than others… 😉

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Joseph writes, “So if He is viewed as the Sheriff-in-the-sky that is harsh, unloving, keeping a detailed rap sheet on every sinner, then we will respond to others as we envision God to be…

        Our own life will be spent cowering in fear, while we judge others unmercifully hoping to turn God’s focus on those worse sinners than ourselves…”

        Just like the Godly Commanders of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale, acting in loco parentis for God. (Or at least their image/idea of God.)

        • HUG: you are quick with the movie or music of book references/parallels. do you read/watch/listen to these things you mention???

          as always, i am ‘way’ impressed… 😉

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Yes and no. I’m a natural-talent speedreader, so I tend to absorb information continuously, in a torrent. When I was 10 I had more in my head than most people absorb in a lifetime, with only a 10-year-old’s ability to sort it all out. The result of this is any reference or allusion causes a massive linked-list reference cascade in my head of analogies, cross-references, and data dumps. I have little or no control over it; it just all comes out in a torrent.

  16. Margaret Catherine says:

    I would like to know more about how it is that our ‘talents’ are not only taken from us, but given to others as further reward.

    • talents in the common sense our abilities and/or spiritual gifts intended to bless others by using them in accordance with kingdom standards…

      i tend to view the idea in the parable as more of a ‘measure’ of grace and/or faith. i like the idea of grace in the sense that God does prepare some settings for service (Paul’s analogy) by using precious metals (gold, silver) or simple clay that is neither adorned or glazed/fired…

      whatever our measure of God’s unique favor (not favoritism), we are then loosed upon a needy world as sheep among wolves. we are to joyfully express the very nature of God according to the unique personality & abilities we have been divinely given…

      those that have been given much, much is required. but not because of fearful deference to a autocrat, but because we engage in the very things that please our Master so much…

      forgiveness. acceptance. mercy over judgment. graciousness. patience. joy. goodness. rightness. high regard for others over ourselves, etc.

      for those that ‘spend’ the measure they were given, to him more will be given because there is now a much larger negative bank balance to be refilled… 🙂

  17. Christiane says:

    Well . . .

    what great treasure did Our Lord entrust to us, and then He ‘went away’?

    I was watching the extended preview of Father Robert Barron’s ‘Catholicism’ and Father Barron speaks about the explosive power of the Gospel . . . so I thought, ‘perhaps that was the TREASURE’ entrusted to us.
    We are ‘sent out’ with this treasure to ‘plant seeds’ throughout the world.

    Some have ‘hoarded’ it and formed exclusive tight clubs that restrict admission only to the ‘worthy’.

    Perhaps it refers to the GOSPEL: the good news and what we did with it ???

    Here is the preview that mentions this ‘power’ of the Gospel:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXz7CiIovJ8

  18. Randy Thompson says:

    While reading this parable in preparation for a sermon next Sunday, I was struck by the fact that these servants all lived in the same master’s household. They knew their master and they knew he reaped where he didn’t sow and gathered where he scattered no seed. As part of his household, they knew how he operated–in modern terms, they knew his investment strategies! Imagine, for a moment, that the master here is Warren Buffet. Imagine the servants here are his senior managers. These folks would know Buffet well, and certainly would have learned a lot from him simply by being near him! In short, the master of the parable was a very successful man, to put it mildly, and the servants knew how and why he was successful. Two servants lived out what they saw in heir master. The took the money he gave them, used it as he would, and made yet more money. The third servant, however, knowing what his master was like, having known him and observed him, does nothing with what he’s been given. He has been blessed, if you will, he has received a very gracious gift (or, at least, opportunity) from his master, but does nothing.

    The parable is about what the kingdom of heaven is like. It is about grace and generosity, and those of Christ’s “household” have been given much and taught much. To do nothing with grace such as this is to lose it. To respond to grace–to receive grace and then give it to others–is to grow in grace.

    The pathetic third servant is an ingrate. In Paul’s words, the servant knew God, he did not honor God or give thanks to him (Romans 1:21, for you proof-text checkers!). Likewise, “what can be known about God” is plan to this servant, because God showed it to him (Romans 1:19).

    The other servants “get” the Kingdom of God. They know the truth of the Lord’s word to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Their master reaps where he did not sow; so do they.

  19. I see this parable as mostly about stewardship, a “What am I doing with what God has given me to help further His kingdom?” sort of thing. Jesus seems to be saying, “Do something – ANYTHING – with what you’ve been given, and it will turn out good. But do NOT just sit on what you’ve been given.”

    I’ve been tremendously guilty of being like the third servant. The church I attend has also become tremendously guilty of it, too. We’ve become a church “in and of ourselves,” rather than a church for reaching out to the needy, for bearing fruit and for furthering His kingdom.

    Fortunately, He is a gracious God. He has sent His spirit to move strongly through some of our congregants now, and I think we see how even small, courageous steps of faith can and will be rewarded. I (and we) have a long way to go, but what a great testimony as to His grace and power if our church finally “gets it”!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      That interpretation of the parable could all to easily slip into “Wretched Urgency — Hamsters on a Wheel”.

  20. Some really great ideas guys, thanks. I particularly like the thoughts about sowing/reaping…

    I did some preparation on this passage for Bible Study tomorrow. Here are a couple of thoughts not mentioned so far:

    1. The servants did not earn these talents. Rather, they were temporary endowments from from their master.

    2. Each servant did not get the same amount of money. In the same way, each of us is blessed in different ways and to varying degrees.

    3. Even though the second servant “only” gets two talents and the other “only” gets one, both of these servants received significant amounts. As noted above, a talent is approximately three hundred thousand dollars. From this we learn that even the least of God’s servants have been gifted abundantly. Even if we “only” have a single talent, the Lord has given us something of tremendous value.

    I found a few great quotations from Jerome in the Catena:

    “The servant who of five talents had made ten, and he who of two had made four, are received with equal favor by the Master of the household, who looks not to the largeness of their profit, but to the disposition of their will” – St. Jerome

    “To offer excuses excusing sins…so that to slothfulness and idleness was added also the sin of pride. For he who ought to have honestly acknowledged his fault, and to have entreated the Master…, on the contrary [raises petty objections], that he did it with provident design, lest while he sought to make profit he should hazard the capital. “ – St. Jerome

    I also came across a really interesting remark from St. Hilary who saw the relationship between the Jews and Gentiles in this passage:

    “This servant who has received one talent and hid it in the earth is the people that continue in the Law, who through jealousy of the salvation of the Gentiles hide the talent they have received in the earth” – St. Hilary

    In summary, I’d say that in this week’s Gospel we are told again to “Be Ready!” The Lord requires that we use the gifts He has given us. We are to use them in service of our neighbour and for His greater glory. We wait for the Lord’s return, but we do not wait idly.

  21. The stumbling block for me in this parable is the last paragraph of it: “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.”

    It seems to be presented as the “moral” of the story, but the idea for me runs completely counter to Jesus’s other teachings. It doesn’t even make sense for me in the context that most people view this parable in. I assume that I am missing something, though, and am willing to be set straight. 🙂

    • Jack Heron says:

      This is what interests me as well. Much like the parable of the great banquet, there seems something slightly off about it, as if the obvious reading (that the master and his first two slaves were right) is not wholly the truth.

    • I was glad someone else brought this up……it doesn’t sound like the rest of the story to me.
      And I do hear this part in today’s life as a justification for the “haves” getting more, and the “have nots”
      not getting any part.
      It doesn’t say in this part that the “have nots” are bad or the “haves” are good….or that either did anything…
      it sounds like injustice.

      • “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

        During life we either nurture the divine life or crush it. Maybe Jesus saying that what we do in this life will reach its fulfillment in the next? If we nurtured grace we will have it in completeness. If we rejected (or ignored) it, we will be completely deprived of it.

  22. These comments are deeply insightful and have helped my understanding of the passage. I’m still left wondering what to make of this though:

    “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.”

    If we agree that we have all been given gifts from God, then who among us are the ones who do not have? Even if we say that they are the unbelievers, haven’t they too received God’s gifts?

    • Dante’s virtuous pagans in Limbo? Not deserving of punishment of Hell, but the cardinal virtues are not sufficient for salvation, which is why we need the theological virtues – faith, hope and love?

  23. This Parable always reminds me of 1Corinthians 12:4-11 ~

    Now there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit gives them. Also there are different ways of serving, but it is the same Lord being served. And there are different modes of working, but it is the same God working them all in everyone. Moreover, to each person is given the particular manifestation of the Spirit that will be for the common good. To one, through the Spirit, is given a word of wisdom; to another, a word of knowledge, in accordance with the same Spirit; to another, faith, by the same Spirit; and to another, gifts of healing, by the one Spirit; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the ability to judge between spirits; to another, the ability to speak in different kinds of tongues; and to yet another, the ability to interpret tongues. One and the same Spirit is at work in all these things, distributing to each person as he chooses.

    There is a story from the Early Church Fathers about a Monk who had been a circus performer (a juggler) before he became a Monk. Other Monks had more practical had skills, such as singing and chanting, organising, farming, and cooking; but this Young Monk’s single ability was in juggling.

    One night, having nearly despaired that he could do nothing else very well, the Young Monk decided to go into the Church to offer his one talent, juggling, in front of the Holy Icons of the Saviour and the Theotokos. The Abbot awoke in dismay to discover this Young Monk juggling in front of the Holy Icons! The Abbot beat him without mercy and locked him in his cell. But that very night, the Theotokos visited the Abbot in a dream: “How dare you treat this precious servant of God in this manner.” She warned the Abbot, “Go to this Young Monk’s cell and beg his forgiveness this very instant…for this was his one talent which he has offered in love before the very throne of God.”

    The Abbot awoke and straight way went to the cell of the Young Monk to beg his forgiveness. And it was that night that the Abbot learned a lesson about humility; of the potential in every person, and the value of every offering given in love.

  24. Brother Bartimaeus says:

    Just food for thought, but this parable sounds a lot like Occupy Kingdom.  The rich get richer and the poor get slamed for being lazy or blowing their “wicked” whistle on the 99% who are pilfering everyone else’s pockets to get rich (“I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed”). 

    Each were given a talent, in accordance with their “talent”, so the master certainly didn’t have a high regard for the last one who only received 1/8th of the distribution.  He probably didn’t have very high expectations, and might have already pre-determined that he was going to discipline the slave regardless of the outcome.  This might explain why he’s the only one to recognize the wickedness of the master, having been a victim before.  Plus it sounds like the master is doing a bit of teeth gnashing himself.
     
    Might not the master described be the Pharisees and their temple system?  With them portioning out the kingdom as they see fit and putting the boot to the poor, impure, and outcast?

  25. Dana Ames says:

    CM,

    What makes the most sense to me is starting from what the people who first heard these words would have understood. For that, my “default” is NT Wright, who says that whenever Jesus told a parable about a master and servants, the master was God and the servants were the Jews, and the action generally came around to meaning that the Jews had been unfaithful in manifesting God to the rest of the world so that all peoples could know him. So the parable is about faithfulness to God’s way of (ultimately) giving oneself (and possessions, etc) up for the rest of the world, then (first) the immanent judgment about to fall by way of the Romans and (secondarily) a warning to those of us who call ourselves God’s people about judgment beginning with the household of God.

    If it were me, I would talk about what giving oneself up for the life of the world means, on this side of the cross.

    Blessings-
    Dana

  26. In this parable, the servants are rewarded (or punished) according to their merits. Cf. the parable of the laborers, in which the men are paid equally regardless of how long they have been working. Which is the Kingdom of Heaven like?

    • I would suggest that the purpose of each parable is what’s important here. The purpose of each of them is different.

      The purpose of this parable is to teach watchfulness and good stewardship of God’s gifts.

      The purpose of the parable of the laborers is to show that even the Gentiles who came late to the game would still get the same reward as the Jews.

  27. Richard McNeeley says:

    I am curious as to why you chose the Matthew passage rather than the one in Luke. I actually prefer the Luke passage as it discribes a historical event involving Herod the Great.
    The things I see in Matthew’s version are the Kingdom of God is in the unknown future, resources are given by the master in order to fulfill his commands, the master expects public faithfulness, the talents as well as the gain belong to the master, the reward is greater responsibility, the servant that fails to act betrays his master, the servant that failed to act pronounced judgment upon himself.

  28. Something is required of us. The exercise of our talents and employment of our gifts. Sitting on our arses is not part of the game plan. Christ engaged the world and so must we. The cross must be carried by each. We are part of the work, not observers of it.

  29. My points of emphasis: this is a contrast between faithful and unfaithful service. And putting myself and yourself into the story, causes me to ask how are we doing in impacting this world? Are we sharing the gospel? Do our words or our actions reflect that? Are we ministering to those Christ told us to minister to? And so on…….

    Interestingly enough, in chapter 23 of Matthew we see Christ pronouncing seven woes upon the religious leaders of that time. So perhaps this parable is also subtly being pointed towards them as a way of reminding them they had squandered the talent God had charged them with as spiritual shepherds over the flock of Israel.

  30. Chap Mike:

    Please keep us informed of the message development/progression & the end result presented this coming Sunday, November 13th?

    Blessings in the prep!