Still on the Mount of Olives and immediately following The Parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus recited The Parable of the Talents to his apostles. Whereas in the former parable Jesus emphasized watchfulness, in the latter he stressed that his disciples need to work while they wait with watchfulness.
" For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:14-30).
In this parable, three stewards are entrusted with their master's assets during his protracted absence. Two functioned faithfully without direct supervision, but the third did not function as a steward (1 Corinthians 4:2). He neither squandered the funds left in his custody nor did he covet his master's possessions. The third steward, though, was unfaithful. The Parable of the Talents' message primarily involves to the conduct of this man.
The Greek word translated "servants" in verse 14 is the word for slaves. Slaves sometimes superintended their masters' estates (e.g., Joseph, Genesis 39:4). In the parable before us, the lord of these servants entrusted to them "his goods" (verse 14) and "talents" (verse 15). The talent here mentioned was a measurement of weight that varied in places and times. Commentators estimate that a talent of silver in the time our Lord was worth not less than $1,000 and perhaps more than twice that amount. A talent might be of silver or gold.
The Lord of the servants proportioned the distribution of funds and the assignment of duties according to their respective abilities and anticipated opportunities. To one he gave five talents, to another he gave two talents and to the third he gave one talent (verse 15). The stewards with five and two talents prospered, doubling the money entrusted to them (verses 16-17). The one-talent steward hid the single talent he had in the earth (verse 18). Consequently, that man did not practice good stewardship.
The Lord of these servants inventoried the goods and funds upon his return (verses 19-25). With the first two servants their Lord was well pleased and he promoted them. With the unfaithful steward, however, the lord was displeased.
This unprofitable steward attempted to mask his culpability by accusing his lord of unrighteousness (verse 24). He further tried to excuse his dereliction because he was afraid (verse 25). This servant's master, though, was not intimidated nor was he distracted by such charges from this critical review. Frankly, this slave was in no position to evaluate his master. Further, his effort to transfer his unrighteousness to his lord was unsuccessful. The master did not defend himself but rather critiqued his servant as "wicked and slothful" (verse 26). The folly of the excuse was demonstrated when the master noted that at least the one talent could have been invested with bankers by which it would have produced interest (verse 27). That one talent was taken from the lazy steward, after which he was discharged from his post (verses 28-30).
(Another interesting thought explaining why the master did not refute the charges made against him is as follows: The master did not deny the servant's accusations because they were true. However, the master is only attributed with being frugal, that is, harvesting even the corners of the field or even areas next to his field to which wind or water may have displaced the seed.)
The "man traveling into a far country" represents Jesus Christ. The "servants" are the apostles first, and by extension all members of the Lord's church. The "far country" is equivalent to heaven. The "goods" and "talents" represent the Christian's responsibilities toward all that he is and has in the service of Christ. The delayed return corresponds to the interim between the Ascension and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The return of the lord in the parable stands for the Second Coming. The lord's inventory and assessment of his servants' activity is the final judgment. Casting out the servant represents the removal of a Christian from the church at the final judgment and his assignment to hell.
As each servant in The Parable of the Talents was a recipient of goods and funds, each Christian has some responsibility in the church today. There were not any no-talent stewards and there are not any no-talent Christians either. However, individual abilities, possessions and opportunities vary between Christians. Therefore, one's degree of responsibility is dependent upon those variables. Opportunity equals responsibility!
The variable distribution of talents and the variable results indicate that Jesus only expects Christians to do what they are able to do (1 Corinthians 10:13; Philippians 4:13). "While God does not require me to be great, God does require me to be faithful . . ." (Connally, pp. 229-230.)
Small ability does not justify a lack of faithfulness. . . . God overlooks no one, regardless of the size of the church . . . God always demands our best. Partial obedience, half-way service and lackadaisical attitudes will not be tolerated at the last great day." (Ibid., p. 333.)
". . . the Lord looks for fidelity in little as well as in much." (R.C. Trench, Notes on the Parables of Our Lord, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1990, p. 97.)
Every Christian is obligated to work for Jesus Christ while awaiting his Second Coming. The Parable of the Talents emphasizes individual responsibility in Christian service and individual accountability in judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10-11; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; Revelation 20:11-15). It is acutely imperative that each Christian understands that service in this life (or the lack thereof) will determine his or her eternal disposition (Matthew 25:31-46). Like the master in this parable, Jesus will deal honestly with Christians in judgment. Faithful Christian workers will rejoice therein, but lazy Christians will dread such a Judge.
It cannot be overstated that Christians who perceive that they have limited abilities and opportunities must not excuse themselves from Christian service. Those Christians need to accept the abilities, possessions and opportunities that are afforded them. They should not bemoan their lot in life, but enthusiastically embrace their Christian responsibilities.
All of us doubtless have wasted opportunities while waiting for even greater and obvious opportunities. May we each earnestly pray for a personal door of great opportunity (1 Corinthians 16:9) and further muster sufficient courage to cross its threshold (Acts 4:29). The apostle Paul repeatedly cultivated opportunities from even the most irregular and diverse circumstances (e.g., in prison, bound to a guard, during court proceedings). Each child of God must view the world through the spectacles of opportunity and responsibility. Otherwise, though we are Christians, we will not view heaven first-hand.
The parables of the talents had a profound impression on my life. As a young man working in the world I began to read my Bible during the supper break and was very upset over the truths of this momentous passage. I was concerned over getting to the judgment and seeing lost people who would have been saved if only I had been a preacher and used the talent God had given me! This haunted me until I agreed to try and see if God could use me -- the rest is history. Thank God for the parable of the talents. It lays a tremendous responsibility upon each of us. (Connally, p. 329.)