Advent series: Parables of faithful waiting
I’m asking the question once again this morning, “Will you be ready for Jesus’ second advent?”
This comes to mind because we’re celebrating the first advent of Jesus in this Christmas season, and we know that many among the people of God were not ready for it. And as Jesus warns us, some will not be ready for his second advent.
We’ve been looking at several parables of faithful waiting to help us see what we need to do to be ready. And today we look at the familiar parable of the slaves with responsibilities or as it is often called, the parable of the talents.
Our passage is found in –
“14For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his slaves and entrusted to them his property. 15To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.”
(I have changed ESV’s “servants” to “slaves” throughout. For a very similar parable see Luke 19:11-27)
The phrase, “for it will be like” connects to 25:1 which has the full formula, “the kingdom of heaven will be like.” Just as with the previous parable, the ten maidens with lamps, this one is about Jesus, his second coming and the coming of the kingdom of heaven to earth.
The word “talent” here does not mean a gift or ability that we have. (It came to mean this later in English, because of a particular interpretation of this parable – but it actually confuses things. Abilities are mentioned in v. 15 as a separate factor.) It was a measurement of the weight of metal, usually silver. In this case we are talking about a bar of silver between 50-75 pounds. It was considered to be equal to 6,000 days of a worker’s wages.
Now, this can be done in different ways, but if we calculate it based on our minimum wage (7.25) and an eight-hour work day, 1 talent = $348,000; 2 talents = $696,000; and 5 talents = $1,740,000. Needless to say these are astronomical amounts of money, especially for that day.
Although it’s not stated here, as we’ll see, the point of giving them this money was for them to take it and increase it. The master is giving over his business to his slaves and they are to be proactive and make a profit while he’s gone. And notice that he gives out this money according to their abilities; he knew some would be able to handle more than the others. So the master gives out responsibilities to increase his business, based on what each one can handle.
“16He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.”
Notice the eagerness of the one with the five bars of silver – “he went at once.” He engaged in business and garnered a 100% profit, as did the one with two bars of silver. But the slave with the 1 bar of silver decided that he had better not lose his master’s money and so he buried it in the ground. This was a common practice in the ancient world and was considered a good way to keep a treasure safe.
“19Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20And 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.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”
“22And 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 slave. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”
So both the one with five bars of silver and the one with two bars of silver are highly commended. They were faithful in his absence to do what he said. And because they were, they are promoted and given more responsibilities. They are blessed.
And then we come to the crux of the story –
“24He 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, 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’”
The master is presented as a ruthless businessman. To reap where you do not sow and gather where you do not scatter most likely refers to seizing crops from tenant farmers who couldn’t pay their rent to him (Craig A. Evans). He wants a profit wherever he can get it.
And because of this, this slave didn’t want to take any risks to lose what he had been given. And he feels like he has been successful, because he gave back just what had been given him.
“26But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful slave! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.”
The master condemns him with his own words. “If you knew I was like this, then you would know that I would want a return on my money.” The slave could have at least invested the money with a bank to earn some interest.
The master reveals the real problem – he is “slothful” or lazy. He had been given the responsibility to increase the master’s business while he was gone. But he chose not to do so, and is called “wicked.”
“28So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29For 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.”
This is the first part of the master’s judgment of the third slave. Because he failed in his responsibility to increase his master’s business, his silver is taken away from him.
The proverbial saying here means this:
- The one who has is the one who fulfilled his responsibility to increase his master’s business. So more is given to him. In fact, even though we are not told this above, here we see that he keeps not only the five original bars of silver, but also the five that he made, and now the one bar from the third slave. So he does have an abundance.
- The one who has not is the one who did not fulfill his responsibility to increase his master’s business. So even what he was given, the one bar of silver, is taken away.
Simply put, faithfulness with what is given you is rewarded with much more, but unfaithfulness will lose you even what you started with. (For the same use of this proverb see Luke 19:26. For its use in the context of seeking to understand Jesus and his teaching see Mark 4:25; Matthew 13:12; Luke 8:18).
And then comes the second part of his judgment –
“30And cast the worthless slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
He is thrown into hell or Gehenna, the place where the unrighteous will go on the final day of judgment. The phrase, “cast into the outer darkness” refers to hell (Matthew 8:12; 22:13); as does the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; Luke 13:28) which speaks to the suffering of hell.
The meaning of the parable
Like the previous parables, this is an allegory:
The master who goes away = Jesus while he is away. And we learn here once again that Jesus could be gone for a long time, since v. 19 says, “after a long time.”
The three slaves = disciples of Jesus.
The talents (bars of silver) = responsibilities that Jesus gives us to increase his kingdom while he is gone, each according to our ability.
The master’s return = Jesus’ second coming.
Settling accounts = the day of judgment.
Those who fulfill their responsibilities are rewarded with much. They are faithful and will be given more responsibilities; they will “enter into the joy of their master”; they will share in the eternal kingdom. Those who don’t fulfill their responsibilities will be judged. They will lose everything. Jesus will cast them into hell.
The master’s harshness is meant to warn us that Jesus has very high standards for us to do the work of the kingdom while he is gone, and we will have to give a very exacting account for what we do, or don’t do.
This brings us to the challenge of the parable –
Will you be ready?
We learned from the parable of the ten maidens that to be ready we need to be following Jesus’ teaching and example; his moral code and spirituality. Today we learn that to be ready we need to be serving Jesus and doing the work of the kingdom.
Are you busy doing what Jesus has told you to do to increase his kingdom?
We have all been warned this morning of the consequences of not being ready. So, if you haven’t already, find out what your responsibilities are and get busy, so that you will be blessed on that final day.