The Parable about the Talents

This parable is from Matthew 25:14-30 (ISV) Let’s jump right in…

“Similarly, it is like a man going on a trip, who called his servants and turned his money over to them. To one man he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, based on their ability. Then he went on his trip.

First, I overlook the fact this guy has servants by thinking of them as employees. Whoever these three guys are, they are trusted enough by the boss to give them an amount of money called talents. Apparently there is a difference in the level of trust for each, because they do not all receive the same amount. The first guy is given five, the second is given two, and the last guy is given one.

Before moving on, let’s figure out what a talent is. There are many opinions, but I will settle for the talent as being a lifetimes worth of pay. See, using the English word ‘talent’ we can also think in terms of specialized ability, which would be used to earn money for an entire lifetime. So, this all makes sense, and it leaves us open to speculate deeper levels of meaning. But, for now, we will just look at this as the boss providing the resources needed to run things while he is away. Let’s jump into the story:

“The one who received five talents went out at once and invested them and earned five more. In the same way, the one who had two talents earned two more. But the one who received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and buried his master’s money.

Now, aside from wondering why, we can just follow the story and note that the first two guys invested the talents in a manner that doubled the investment. We are not given a time frame or anything, just that each of them used their talents to increase their worth. The guy with only one talent decided to keep it safe for the return of the boss, so he buried it.

“After a long time, the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came up and brought five more talents. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you gave me five talents. See, I’ve earned five more talents.’

“His master told him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant! Since you’ve been trustworthy with a small amount, I’ll put you in charge of a large amount. Come and share your master’s joy!’

Judgement day! The boss returns and asks for his talents back. The first guy returns the talents along with the talents he earned. The boss is quite pleased with this and gives him a big promotion! This clues us in on the fact that this was a test for the servants. Checking the trustworthiness and this first guy passes.

“The one with two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I’ve earned two more talents.

“His master told him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant! Since you’ve been trustworthy with a small amount, I’ll put you in charge of a large amount. Come and share your master’s joy!’

The second guy has also passed with flying colors. He is also promoted. I notice now that the promotion of these two guys makes them partners in the business, as they get to “Share the Master’s Joy!”

“Then the one who had received one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you haven’t planted and gathering where you haven’t scattered any seed. Since I was afraid, I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here, take what’s yours!’

Here is where I start to get uncomfortable. I can totally relate with this guy. No instructions were given at the beginning of this story. This guy was given one talent and he knew it didn’t belong to him. He set it aside to make damn sure he didn’t lose it because he knew that judgement day was coming. He didn’t dare risk it and was quite pleased to return the talent to the rightful owner. He kept it safe and secure.

“His master answered him, ‘You evil and lazy servant! So you knew that I harvested where I haven’t planted and gathered where I haven’t scattered any seed? Then you should’ve invested my money with the bankers. When I returned, I would’ve received my money back with interest.’

The boss did expect action to be taken. He would’ve been content with a simple interest from the bank. I suppose that was the alternative he had when he left on his long trip. (There are even those who argue that the servant expended MORE energy in the action of burying the talent. So, the servant DID take action, it just happened to be a wrong action.) This is quite a scolding.

Then the master said, ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the ten talents, because to everyone who has something, more will be given, and he’ll have more than enough. But from the person who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away from him. Throw this useless servant into the darkness outside! In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Holy crap! He isn’t simply demoted, he is FIRED! Cast out! A permanent mark on his record assures he will “never get work in this town again”! The other two were given the original talents, the talents they earned, and more! This implies that the boss never intended to have the talents returned, and yet, this guy had his one talent taken away. I also am discomforted by the one talent going to the one with the most talents. I am confronted with the words ‘lazy’ and ‘evil’ being used to describe this guy. I am confronted by the weeping and gnashing of teeth at the end for the guy I identified with.

I get the gist and moral of the story. What bothered me in this story is there was not a fourth person. Why wasn’t there a guy who got one talent, invested it, and LOST it? What would’ve happened then? This was the question I asked several pastors. It seriously bothered me that there isn’t a case study to tell me what happens to someone who makes the effort but fails.

The only pastor who didn’t roll his eyes at my question simply stated that the fourth option I wanted to hear wasn’t included because the implication is YOU CAN’T FAIL!

This didn’t sit well with me at all. This parable simmered and festered in the back of my mind for years.

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