Parable of the Talents

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.  To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.  The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.  So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.  But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.  The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“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!’

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“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!’

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold 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.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“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?  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.

“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.  For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

–          Matthew 25:14-30

 

“Jesus’ parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 25:14-30 was a warning that it is possible for us to misjudge our capacities.  This parable has nothing to do with natural gifts and abilities, but relates to the gift of the Holy Spirit as He was first given at Pentecost.  We must never measure our spiritual capacity on the basis of our education or our intellect; our capacity in spiritual things is measured on the basis of the promises of God.  If we get less than what God wants us to have, we will falsely accuse Him as the servant falsely accused his master when he said, ‘You expect more of me than you gave me the power to do.  You demand too much of me, and I cannot stand true to you here where you have placed me.’  When it is a question of God’s Almighty Spirit, never say, ‘I can’t.’  Never let the limitation of your own natural ability to enter into the matter.  If we have received the Holy Spirit, God expects the work of the Holy Spirit to be exhibited in us.

“The servant justified himself while condemning his lord on every point, as if to say, ‘Your demand on me is way out of proportion to what you gave to me.’  Have we been falsely accusing God by daring to worry after he had said, ‘But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you’? (Matthew 6:33).  Worrying means exactly what this servant implied – ‘I know your intent is to leave me unprotected and vulnerable.’  A person who is lazy in the natural realm is always critical, saying, ‘I haven’t had a decent chance,’ and someone who is lazy in the spiritual realm is critical of God.  Lazy people always strike out at others in an independent way.

“Never forget that our capacity and capability in spiritual matters is measured by, and based on, the promises of God.  Is God able to fulfill His promises?  Our answer depends on whether or not we have received the Holy Spirit.”

–          Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

 

I have never heard this interpretation of the Parable of the Talents.  Note that the newest NIV translates it as bags of gold.  For my entire life, I have heard people talk about the talent, or as Chambers says, ‘the capacities,’ that people waste.  For a common one: if you can carry a tune, you have to be in the choir.  I was once told that since I knew how to find things in the Bible, and I was bold about talking about my faith, I should be a preacher.  But if we have committed our lives to Jesus Christ, shouldn’t we serve him from the pew or the choir or the pulpit?  If we love Jesus, should we not have a burning desire to know more about Him?  Yet, I have read some study notes that state that the use of the word ‘talent’ to refer to abilities and gifts was originally derived from this parable.  (Yes, let’s misinterpret one of Jesus’ parables to reverse engineer the language so that we can use circle logic to prove our point.  What was our point?  Oh, yeah, you need to join the choir!)

 

I think that the ‘burning desire’ is what Chambers is talking about here.  The first two servants had a burning desire to please their master, and they each doubled their ‘capacities.’  The wicked, or as Chambers says, ‘lazy,’ servant did not.  He spent his free time in the master’s absence thinking up his tale of woe to be told when the master returned.

 

Now some will argue that the parable isn’t very good, because these days, to make money, you must have money.  Yet, the single talent might have been worth roughly 20 years wages for the basic laborer.  That is a good enough nest-egg to start a business.  Even if this estimation is drastically off, a talent was a sizable amount of money, and the wicked servant had no legitimate excuses.

 

Yet, to apply Chambers’ interpretation to the parable, we are all on equal grounds with regard to the Holy Spirit.  Our only inability is our willingness to embrace God’s guidance.  I think that is why Jesus had one servant get 5 talents and another get 3 talents.  The servant that had more was willing to trust in the Holy Spirit’s guidance in His life and produced more as a result.  Did the servant produce more or was it the Holy Spirit within him/her?  Does it matter?  If you rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you, you are a willing servant that God will fill with the energy and understanding to get the job done.  That’s where Matthew 6:33 comes in.  Jesus is not going to send us into the wilderness without the tools and the strength to survive.  How do I know this?  He said so.

 

I read in a C. S. Lewis book that Lewis considered the parable of the sheep and goats (which immediately follows this parable in Matthew 25) to be a bit scary.  If we will be judged by our service to those less fortunate, how much service or how less fortunate?  I admit that the parable of the talents has bothered me.  Then again, I became a Christian in my senior year of high school and then pursued a career.  I did what I could for others, but something inside me said that my ‘talent’ was buried in a jar under Funk and Wagnall’s front porch.

 

(Okay, for those who don’t know the reference, one of Johnny Carson’s comedy routines was Carnac the Magnificent.  Ed McMahon would explain that the questions were kept hermetically sealed in envelopes in a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnall’s porch since noon yesterday, for example (location and timing subject to change).  Ed would go on to explain that only Carnac could open the envelopes.  Then Carnac (Carson wearing a turban and cape) would hold each sealed envelope to his forehead, conger the answer, then open the envelope and read the question.  Typical answer: “UCLA,” question: “What happens when the smog clears?”  Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

 

My point is that I had the ability to retrieve the mayonnaise jar and open the envelope myself.  I didn’t have to rely upon someone else.  I had Jesus in my heart, and I kept asking God what He wanted me to do.  In asking that question, I admitted that I knew that what I was doing was not fulfilling, although I helped others in doing it.  Then again, when I started asking that question of God, the internet did not exist and there was no such thing as a blog.  Sometimes we suffer the waiting period for God’s perfect timing.

 

I think that the parable of the talents bothered me, because God had something for me to do, but He had to orchestrate the technology for it to be available at that crucial time when I ‘retired’ and my question then became, ‘What do I do now that I have time on my hands?’

 

But the point is also that I never accused God.  I whined about circumstances, but out of my own frustrations resulting from my personal mistakes.  Yes, in a way I have had a tug of war with God.  We all want our cake and eat it too.  But when that lightbulb snaps on inside our brains, we realize that God’s plan is infinitely better than that piece of cake that I was reaching for.

 

What does this new interpretation (100 years ago?) of the parable of the talents accomplish?  It levels the playing field.  We can get as many ‘talents’, bags of gold, or whatever else that we can get based on how much faith we have in God’s plan and the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  Then it is our job to multiply what God gives us, or rather – be a willing vessel through which God’s plan is carried out.

 

Is God guiding you to write?  Is God guiding you to teach?  Is God guiding you to start a soup kitchen?  Is God leading you to have the life of a missionary in a far-off land?  Whatever it is, trust in Him.  He will help your ‘talents’ to grow.  And remember that God isn’t really interested in the numbers.  He’s interested in what happens within your heart and those that are affected by you.

 

Soli Deo Gloria.  Glory to God Alone.

 

2 Comments

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  1. This was an interesting and thought provoking post, thank you. I’ve also found the Parable of the Talents difficult over the years, and I just wrote about it myself in my fledgling blog. It’s not untrue that God gives to each person a measure of gifts, which is not typically a bag of gold at birth. The lazy servant didnt lack gifts, he had something; but no faith. Now, if the lazy servant had even a little faith, even very small like the mustard seed parable, then he would have done ‘something’ with it. But he did nothing at all. Truly, apart from Christ we can do nothing. I think on Mr Lot, he had faith, and spiritual gifts (and perhaps not bags of money – we don’t know), but he had what Gid counted as righteousness, wisdom, kindness, love, hospitality, obedience. These are more precious than gold. If we ask the question of him, What talent/gifts were you given by the Lord, and how did you multiply it? He may say, well, I raised my family to the Lord, and though I didnt know they were angels who visited me but travelers seeking refuge, I refused to hand them over to the town’s wretched mob. Then I left town as instructed and didn’t look back. My wife looked back, and I suffered her loss, but I and the rest of my fam was saved.

    I feel like Lot. The townspeople dont have anything to do with me, though I’d give them the shirt off my back, they chide even an encouraging word. I’m a pauper, but I turn from sin, don’t look back and my life spared calamity. But what multiplication of my ‘talent’ have I earned for the Lord? Sadly, I dont know.

    Liked by 1 person

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