To understand the “parable of the talents,” we need to look beyond the surface of the story itself and examine the lesson that Jesus is teaching. Like always, we must begin with the context in which this parable is spoken. To do so, we must read Matthew chapters 24 and 25. In these chapters, Jesus is responding to a question asked by His disciples in Matthew 24:3 saying, “As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
In His response, Jesus responds by explaining and teaching about:
- the signs of the end of the age (Matthew 24:3-14),
- the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15-28),
- the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:29-31),
- the lesson of the fig tree (Matthew 24:32-35),
- no one knows that day and hour (Matthew 24:36-51),
- the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13),
- the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), and
- the final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).
Throughout this discourse, the theme arises that Jesus is teaching about the coming of the Son of Man, the kingdom of Heaven, and judgment. Based on these conclusions, let us examine this parable to understand its meaning.
To begin, what are the “talents” mentioned in the parable? In our everyday English language, the term’s usage is often related to a “gift” or “ability.” In contrast, the talent in this parable refers to a measure of money. In Roman times one talent equalled 6,000 denarii (commonly assigned value). A denarius was roughly a day’s wages for a common labourer. Based on these amounts, the talents distributed to the servants were substantial amounts of money.
The parable starts with a man going on a journey. He called his servants and entrusted them money by giving one five talents, another two, and another one – each according to his ability. Immediately the one who received the five talents went and traded, making five more. Likewise, the one who had two talents made two more talents. But the one who received one talent went and dug in the ground and hid the master’s money.
After a long time, the master of those servants returns and settles accounts with them. The one who had five talents came forward, bringing five more talents. The master says, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ Likewise, the servant with the two talents also came forward and delivered two more. The master was pleased with this servant too, and he was set over much. He was also invited to enter into the joy of the master.
However, the last servant who had received one talent came forward and said in Matthew 25:24-30, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The master in this parable is clearly representing Jesus Christ. In the parable, the master returns after a long time (Matthew 25:19). No one knows the day or the hour concerning the return of Christ (Matthew 24:36).
Often, the parable of the talents is misunderstood due to the use of the word talent. It is often used to say God has given each person specific giftings or abilities that need to be used. Other times, we are taught to be good stewards of money, making more money with what we have. Use what God has given you and multiply those gifts for a reward in heaven. All these are self-seeking of what you can gain and multiply for your benefit. This is opposite to the teaching in this parable. The gain is to be for the master. Your work is to be faithful and increase “for the master” what He has entrusted to you for a period.
The talents are to be considered as something of “great and immense value” that Christ has given you. The master will return, and when He does, you are to be accountable for what you have done with it. The first and second servants were faithful and returned double what they received, whereas the third didn’t. What are these of great value we have been given? It is the gospel and testimony of God. This is what Christ is leaving with His disciples and all who have received the gift of salvation.
If we are to take into account the parable of the sower and the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:1-30), the one who returns what the master has given is the one where the word of the kingdom was sown on good soil. They are the one who hears the word and understands it. They are the ones that bear fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and another thirty (Matthew 13:23). Amen! The other seeds were like the servant who hid his talent in the ground. They heard the word but did not understand because the evil one comes and snatches it away, it doesn’t take root, and when persecution or tribulation comes, they fall away. Others hear the word, but the cares of this world and deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Likewise, in the parable of the weeds, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. When the plants came up and bore grain, the servants told the master what had happened. The master commands the servants to let the weeds grow along with the good seed. The weeds are to be gathered and burned at the harvest time while the wheat is gathered into the master’s barn.
You see, the unprofitable servant is the one who does not produce fruit. Who buries the word and does not allow it to take root. They are the ones who are not faithful to the word they have heard. The worries of this world, personal gain, and the works of this world mean that they do not work for the master and increase what He has entrusted; instead, they work for themselves.
The master is seeking those who are faithful. No matter the number of talents you receive, the question is, “are you faithful?” Whatever He has given, you must remain faithful. When you do so, and when the master returns and finds you doing, then you will be commended on the fruit and will be invited to enter into the joy of the master. Those who are not found doing so and not having produced anything will be cast into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
So the difference here is between one who is “truly” a disciple of Christ. One who has received the word producing fruit in their lives, making disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). The aim is to increase for the Kingdom of Heaven. The unfaithful servant does not produce fruit for the Kingdom of Heaven but is self-seeking in all they do. These could be the tares, someone proclaiming to be a follower of Christ but does so in a self-seeking manner and not out of pure love for Christ. Or it could be someone who hears the word but rejects it completely.
In conclusion, examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith. Examine if you are a faithful servant doing the work of God for the Kingdom of Heaven and that you are producing fruit with what Christ has entrusted to you. John 6:29 says, “Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Amen!
In Matthew 25:31-46, after the parable of the talents, Jesus speaks of the final judgment. Again, here we see the separation of the sheep from the goats. The sheep are those who are found doing the work of the master. They are invited to take their inheritance because they have served the King’s brothers (Matthew 25:34-40). In contrast, those who did not do so are cursed and banished from the King’s presence and sent to eternal fire (Matthew 25:41-46).
Look beyond personal interests, personal gain, selfish thinking, and instead believe and love Christ. By doing so, you will desire to glorify and honour God. Allow the word of God to produce fruit in your life by the power of the Holy Spirit, love your neighbour, and make disciples of all nations. Amen!
If you are faithful over a little, He will set you over much. As a result of such great salvation we have received, let us be found working and be found going about the Master’s business as we await His return. Amen!