How Talented Are You?
Scripture - Matthew 25:14-30
This is the third in a series of judgment parables. It focuses not on the accountability of church leaders as does the first (parable of the slave left in charge), nor on the general responsibilities of ordinary Christians as does the second (last week’s parable of the 10 virgins). Today’s focus is on the obligations of those who have been given special gifts.
s with the first 2 parables, we can assume that several of these details are allegorical for Matthew. According to verse 15, the servants are entrusted with large amounts of money. A talent (valuable coin) was equivalent to about 6,000 denarii, or the earnings of a day laborer for 20 years. In Luke, each slave is given one mina (or 100 denarii). The use of talents instead of minas not only peaks one’s interest in the story but undoubtedly has allegorical meaning; the immensity of the sum is intended to remind us of the preciousness of the gifts that God has entrusted to our care.
Whereas each slave gets the same amount in Luke, in Matthew the 3 are given different sums, according to that servant’s ability. This detail suggests that Matthew regards the entrusted money as representing different gifts, not something shared equally by all Christians, such as the gospel message or the gift of life. The differing gifts are wisely conferred; no servant is given more than he is capable of handling. Even the one with the least ability is given a significant responsibility, an honor for which he should be grateful. To be entrusted with a mere $250,000 is not something to be resentful over!
In Luke, instructions are given by the departing slaveholder: Do business with this until I return. But in Matthew, the determination of what is to be done with the money is left to each person’s initiative. Concerning the first slave Matthew reports: The servant who had 5 valuable coins took them & went to work doing business with them. He gained 5 more. No attempt is made to describe how the slave doubled his money; all emphasis is put on the fact that he worked. The allegorical significance of this detail is not clear, but probably Matthew understands it as referring to Christian service.
The first & second servants are rewarded for their faithful labor with a warm commendation & an invitation, come, celebrate with me. This probably takes us beyond the parable setting – a rich man settling accounts with his slaves – into Christian expectation regarding the Messiah’s victory banquet. Jesus’ worthy servants are invited to join him at table in the kingdom of heaven. The verb come is the same one used in 18:3 with respect to entering the kingdom of heaven.
Despite this reference to the joy that faithful servants will share with their master, the parable gives far more attention to the negative example & disastrous fate of the third servant. For this reason, it is justly considered a parable of judgment. Of central importance is the dialogue between the unfaithful slave & his master. The slave rationalizes his failure to do anything with the talent entrusted to him by blaming his master! His master is a harsh & hard businessman, a ‘sharp dealer’ who extracts far more from a business transaction than is his proper due: harvesting grain where he hasn’t sown & gathering crops where he hasn’t spread seed. The master’s assignment is therefore no privilege or honor but a terrifying responsibility because failure may return severe punishment. By burying the talent, he has preserved the capital for his master. Here, you have what is yours. With these words taken from business language the servant refutes any further responsibility for the money. He may even be expecting to be commended for showing such prudence & returning the capital intact. But the slaveholder answers the unproductive slave using his own words against him. But note: the adjective translated as hard is dropped. Matthew probably thought it inappropriate in an illusion to God or the Messiah. Whereas the slave characterized himself as being justly afraid, the master calls him evil & lazy. At the very least the slave should have taken the trouble to place the money in a safe investment with a banker, so that a small profit would have been made.
The parable makes no attempt to examine the causes of the slave’s laziness, but one fact is evident from the dialogue: this slave has no love for his master. He is really interested only in himself, & therefore security, not service, is his goal. There is not the slightest trace of gratitude that his master entrusted him with such a great amount. Respect for his master is limited to a grudging acknowledgement of his power.
The parable, as with the use of human language to explain spiritual things, also does not put the slaveholder in a particularly good light. We know he is extremely wealthy; we know he very much likes becoming even richer (especially if the work is done by 2 slaves), but otherwise what we know of him comes from the lazy slave. He is described as hard & harsh, and the first words out of his mouth to the third slave seem to prove the point. Allegorically, the slaveholder is God, but it is not a flattering picture of God. Again, I think the problem lies in the limits of language.
Now if we are correct in taking the phrase he gave to each servant according to that servant’s ability as indicating that for Matthew the parable challenges Christians to make full use of the gifts that God has entrusted to them, the portrayal of the third servant reminds us that love for our master must be demonstrated in faithful & untiring service to other people.
A church member was angry & complained to the Pastor that the church had wastefully purchased five new brooms. He felt the expenditure was unnecessary. The Pastor mentioned it to the church treasurer who responded: “No wonder he was upset. How would you feel if you saw everything you gave in the past year spent on five brooms?”
Go ahead, smile! You can do it! Look around you & smile! What did you notice? Did someone smile back at you? Did someone laugh or giggle? You just completed an experiment. Most smiles are infectious! Someone might catch it & smile at someone else & before you know it the whole place is filled with smiles. That is not the worst thing that could happen.
A smile — such a simple gift! But what about other gifts? Some people have the wonderful ability to teach; others to preach; some to be in ministries of healing; some to be in construction & building; others in farming & growing our food; some in working with people who are troubled; others who work with businesses – the list can go on & on. Think about it for a minute! What gifts have you been given?
I had a friend who had the ability to do very nice landscape paintings but because she felt she wasn’t the best at it or “even very good” as she would say, she didn’t let people know what she could do. Her paintings were lovely. You could sense her warmth & sweetness in her work. Finally, we got her to show some of her work, which took a lot of persuasion, to someone who owned a little art gallery. He asked to show about 5 of her paintings &, lo & behold, they sold! She was surprised. She decided that maybe she could use her work to make people smile; but before that she thanked God for her gift & the love God instilled in her for painting. And she vowed to give God a portion of the funds she received from the paintings in gratitude for the gift. She did very well & the church that received this special gift from her was able to create an afterschool art program for latch-key children. The church provided space for her group which met on Tuesdays. Her gifts brought children into the church, brought God’s word of love to them & introduced the children to the blessings of art.
There are many more stories like this & I imagine you have many gifts that you can use to help others & for the glory of God.
Remember 2 of the servants received gifts & used them for good; but one hid the gift because he was afraid.
So, take a risk! Believe in the gifts God has entrusted to you. It can begin with a smile — then see what else you can do.