This morning I want us to look at the parable of the talents which we have just heard. But before we dig into it we need to set the scene a little. This parable is set at the end of a lengthy discourse beginning at the start of chapter 24 where Jesus is describing the second coming and the judgement at the end. Jesus has used multiple parables to describe this for us - he began by providing signs that the end is near, but then followed by warning that no-one knows the hour, and not to be fooled by those who claim they know. He then proceeded to tell the parable of the 10 bridesmaids, which pointed us to being prepared for the return of the Lord, lest we be found ill prepared and get left in the darkness. Jesus follows on from that parable with this one about the talents - and continues the theme of being prepared for the return of the master.
The master in the parable represents Jesus, the Son of Man. The slaves entrusted with the talents symbolize members of the church. The departure of the master points to Jesus’ ascension to the Father, while his return is the Parousia - the second coming. The rewards and punishment indicate the final judgement. So lets look at the parable in detail.
This parable has three main parts. In the first part (vv. 14–15), the master, who is about to embark on a journey, calls three slaves and entrusts them with talents. The word “talent” (talanton) here does not refer to individual gifts of capabilities as we often understand it in contemporary English. Talent refers here to an extremely large sum of money - it would have been the equivalent of about 15 years average wages. Now the master gives different amounts (five, two, and one talent), depending on the ability of the slaves - but as we can see even the one who is given one talent has been entrusted with an incredible treasure. But The discretion and care of the master are worth recognising here. He carefully considers his servants’ capabilities; so he does not impose an unreasonable burden on them. Nor does the master give specific directions; instead,he allows his servants the freedom to take initiative (cf. Luke19:13).
God provides us with much in this world. We have been given the most valuable of things imaginable - firstly our very lives and secondly the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is the news of salvation, a salvation that is available to any who would take up this offer. We have been entrusted with the keys to heaven - with the map that shows the way to eternal life. So … Just like the servants in our parable we have been entrusted with the master’s greatest treasure…
In the second part of the story (vv. 16–18), Jesus continues the parable by explaining what the servants do after being entrusted with this treasure… The first two are extraordinarily productive. Their trading results in a 100 percent profit. These servants have discerned well, taken appropriate risks, and acted responsibly with their master’s resources they have multiplied the treasure. The third slave, the one entrusted with a single talent, does things a little differently. He plays things safe and buries the money in the ground (an action that in the first century was regarded as a good security measure - as long as you remembered where you put it!).
What are we doing with the great treasure that we have been entrusted with brothers and sisters? Are we like the first two slaves in this parable? Do we go forth with the treasure and invest it in order to see an increase in God’s kingdom? Are we willing to take risks - as the slaves in the parable must have - all investment carries risk - Are we willing to take risks to increase the kingdom? Are we invested in living our faith, in proclaiming it to the world - are we passionate about the things which Jesus calls us as his disciples to be passionate about? Do our lives as Christians and as a church draw others to us, and to Christ, and thus see an increase in the Kingdom?
Or are we perhaps a little like the third slave in the parable? Are we content that we have the treasure.. have we insulated ourselves from the world, where there is no risk, where we can just tuck our faith away into a little corner - where it is ‘safe’.
The third part of the story (vv. 19–30), concerns the settling of accounts upon the master’s return. The opening words of verse 19—“After a long time”—refer to the delay of the return of the Christ in glory. The industrious slaves are positive examples of how Christians are to conduct themselves in the present. When the master calls them to give an account of their activity, they do so with confidence (vv. 20, 22): they have acted faithfully, and produced works of love compassion and mercy (what the talents symbolize). The master responds enthusiastically to the first two slaves: “Well done, good and trustworthy slave.”In addition to being put in charge of many things, they are invited to, “Enter into the joy of your master” (vv. 21, 23).Entering into joy alludes to the messianic banquet, which was portrayed in the preceding parable (of the ten bridesmaides) as a wedding feast(25:10). What is important for us in this is that the first and second slaves receive the exact same reward, despite the difference in amounts they have presented to their master. this shows us that it is not our accomplishments in a quantitative sense but our faithfulness and commitment.
But what of the third slave? The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is not to risk anything,not to care deeply and profoundly enough about anything to invest deeply, to give your heart away and in the process risk everything. The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is to play it safe, to live cautiously and prudently - to tuck our faith away in the corner - or bury it out of sight - and live as though it wasn't there. That is what the third slave did. He knew he had the treasure - he knew he could do much with it and could even multiply it… but that was uncomfortable… that was risky, it meant stepping out of the comfort of the everyday and he just didn't think it was worth it.
Conventional theology often identifies sin as pride and egotism. However, there is an entire other lens through which to view the human condition. It is called sloth - or apathy, one of the ancient church’s seven deadly sins. It means not caring, not loving, not rejoicing,not living up to the full potential of our humanity, playing it safe, investing nothing, being cautious and prudent, digging a hole and burying the money - or our faith - in the ground.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the sin of respectable people is running from responsibility. We have been entrusted with a great treasure brothers and sisters, and the responsibility that comes with it.
How important is this personally, in terms of how we live our lives? Jesus’ warning is that the outcome of playing it safe—not caring, not loving passionately, not investing yourself,not risking anything—is something akin to death, like being banished to the outer darkness.
Now for most of us, religion, our personal faith, has not seemed like a high-risk venture. In fact, it has seemed to be something like the opposite. Faith has seemed to be a personal comfort zone. Faith, many of us think, is about personal security, - afterlife insurance. Faith, we think, is no more risky than believing ideas in our heads about God and Jesus, a list of beliefs to which we more or less subscribe - intellectually at least. Faith, we sometimes think, is getting our personal theology right and then living a good life by avoiding bad things. Religion, we think, is a pretty timid, non risky venture.
But what Jesus invites us to be is not timid, apathetic religious people - he calls us to be his disciples - that means we are called to be his followers - to live our lives as fully as possible by investing them, by risking, by expanding the horizons of our responsibilities. Jesus in this parable tells us that being a disciple of his, is not so much about intellectually assenting to ideas about him - it is about truly seeking to follow him. It is to experience renewed responsibility for the use and investment of these precious lives of ours. It is to be bold and brave, to live out our faith as beacons that draw others into the kingdom, it is to reach high and care deeply.
The Lord be with you.