Matthew 24-25 Parable: Servants entrusted with Talents

From Matthew 24-25

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The parable of the talents reminds us we are to serve Jesus. He is our master and as his servants we have a job to do. The parable reminds us that he is generous to those who serve him. It warns us against insulting him and refusing to serve him out of spite.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

Today’s passage is one of a series of nine parables that specify the requirements and consequences of judgment by the Son of Man (24:30–31). They do this by teaching about the time of the end, vigilance, responsible behavior while waiting, and the criteria used in judgment.

In the context of chs. 24–25 the master is the Son of Man or Jesus, his return is the end of the world, and the accounting of the slaves is the final judgment. Matthew has set this story within the context of a household, which symbolizes his community and the Jewish community at large. (Saldarini, A. J. (2003). Matthew. In J. D. G. Dunn & J. W. Rogerson (Eds.), Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (p. 1053-4). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Jesus begins this parable with a cryptic formula and is different from most other parables which refer explicitly to the kingdom of God or the end times.

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. (Mt 25:14–15)

‘For it will be like a man on a journey’. What is the ‘it’? Jesus is referring of course to the kingdom of heaven (Mt 25.1). The kingdom of heaven will be like a man going on a journey.

The man has servants. Not everyone is his servant. These are the privileged few who are. This will become important later on. He gives his servants responsibility. He ‘entrusts’ them with his property. Its not their property, its his.

They are meant to invest his talents, to look after them, to make them work for their master. The master wants a return. Like fertile seed, He expects what he has will grow. A talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years’ wages for a laborer. He gives to each according to their ability.

People have different amounts of giftedness which can be used by the Lord.

I always thought second best was pretty cool. Even so, there is always someone better than me. Perhaps it can become a source of resentment for some. It doesn’t have to be.

16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. (Mt 25:16-17)

The one with five talents is eager. He leaves at once. Wanting to please his master and make him some money. He trades with the talents. He goes to the marketplace and flashes the talents around. People want to deal with him and they do. Over time he makes more and more. Making another five talents for his work.

The one with two talents also goes out and trades with what he has to make more. Like the other, his work pays off and he earns the same amount back.

Just to make sure. This parable is not about gambling on the stock market.

I don’t think Jesus is interested in the stock market.

18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. (Mt 25:18)

The last is the odd one out. He behaves much differently than the others. He does not bring it to the market to trade with it. He does not use it to make more.

Rather he hides it. He digs a hole in the ground and buries it. No one can see it. It will not grow.

19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. (Mt 25:19)

The master comes back. He wants to know how his money has grown. He expects it to grow. He expects his servants to have faithfully served him. He gets his book out.

20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘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.’ (Mt 25:20-21)

The one who started with five talents comes forward. He was first out to trade with the money. Now he is first before his master showing him what he has done. He is not ashamed. Rather proud and happy with what he has made for his master. The master in return is happy with what his servant has done. He commends him and rewards him with more responsibility.

Those who like building the kingdom will be blessed with more and more kingdom work.

The master says, ‘enter into the joy of your master’. I suspect he means something like, the joy arising from the completion of work and labour of love. He has been working. Since the parable is about the kingdom of heaven. This is the ‘joy’ he refers to. He has been working for the King and his kingdom. It his work has been brought to completion. The consummated kingdom of heaven. After a long time of faithful service he enters into that joy.

One might think he enters the joy because of his work. Because he was faithful. Not entirely correct. He enters the joy because he was the masters servant and he worked faithfully for his master. Those who are not servants do not enter into the masters joy.

22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘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.’ (Mt 25:22-23)

The same happens for the second servant. He’s a happy camper as well.

24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ (Mt 25:24-25)

Once again, the third is the odd one out. He comes out saying the master is a hard man, reaps and gathers where he himself has not done any work. These are hardly flattering statements. He won’t win any points here.

I’m stretching a bit here. I think he has revealed something more about the work of the faithful servants. They have been reaping and gathering in places where the master does not normally sow and plant seed. They work on his behalf of course. They have been sowing / reaping / trading in unexpected places and the master has reaped the rewards.

So the big questions here are what do the talents represent and where have the first two servants been working?

The third servant was afraid, he didn’t want to do this strange work. So he hid the talent. Hid it so no one in could see and trade with it. Hid it and it couldn’t grow.

26 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? 27 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. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. (Mt 25:26-28)

Surprise, surprise. The third servant is condemned. He knows how the master operates. In spite he refused to work for him.

Echoes of the story of Jonah anyone?

He didn’t even invest with the bankers. Something easy to do I expect.

29 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. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  (Mt 25:29–30)

Those who faithfully serve the master will be given more. Those who don’t will be cast out. Where they will cry and grind their teeth in pain.

About Jesus

Jesus is the master. I think the talents represent his gospel.

The gospel is meant to be aired out publically. It needs to enter the marketplace and seen for its amazing worth. People will want to trade with it. It will keep on growing.

The gospel is to go to people of all nations and especially people groups previously thought untouchable by God and his kingdom.

Jesus will judge his servants and evaluate them according to how they have served him. Those who serve him faithfully will enter into his consummated kingdom and serve him all their days. Those are ashamed of the gospel, who insult Jesus and refuse to serve him out of spite will kicked out and punished.

Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.