The Parable of the Talents
A comedian once said, “I started off with nothing and I’ve still got most of it.” The same could be said of the servant with one talent.
Jesus’ parable of the talents is another of those that most of us find very familiar. The landowner goes away on a trip and leaves the three servants in charge of his money, each getting a different amount – in accordance with his abilities – and when the landowner comes home there is the predictable day of reckoning.
Preachers often use this text to teach us to make sure we use our God-given talents. But I think that undersells this parable by a long shot. This is a message about stewardship – making proper use of the things God has given us – there is no doubt about that. But it is, at its essence, a parable about faith and trust in God. It helps, to have a basic understanding of Jesus’ world when he told this parable.
In ancient Palestine, a talent was not a gift like the ability to sing or being able to paint; a talent was equal to 3,000 shekels, which made it approximately equal to £70 today. Talents were also used to measure gold and silver and therefore became monetary units – just like our pound is a unit of weight measurement. I hunted everywhere, trying to find what a talent of gold would be worth today. I found varying estimates from £600,000 to £1,000, 000. A lot in anyone’s terms!
Most sources agree that what the landowner entrusted the servants with was a very large sum of money – more than most would earn in a lifetime. So whatever it was that Jesus was using as an illustration must have been something of great worth. And of course it was. It was our selves – as the old BCP liturgy says, “our selves, our souls and bodies,” our very lives. The landowner (God) has entrusted us with the most precious gift God can give, the gift of life, and all that accompanies it. Now God has left us to use the lives that we have been given as we see fit, and Jesus warns us that at some point we are going to have to account for our choices of use.
What was it that the five-talent servant and the two-talent servant did that was so much better than their fellow servant did? Quite simply, they cared enough about the Master’s wishes for them, and trusted enough in the Master’s love for them to take risks with what they had been given, throwing caution to the wind in hopes that they would reap a great reward on behalf of their Master. Meanwhile, the one-talent servant sat on the sidelines, and through his own faithlessness, did nothing to prepare for the return of his Master. Through his inactivity he wasted an opportunity to use what his Master had entrusted him with, both the opportunity, care for his Master and to realize his own potential.
In the Old Testament, we hear the priest, Zephaniah railing against the people of his day who didn’t particularly care about God’s wishes. He tells them, “(When the Lord comes,) I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are settled on their dregs, who say in their heart, 'Yahweh will not do good, nor will he do harm.'" It seems to me that what Zephaniah was talking about is a much bigger problem than just being paralyzed because they were afraid of God, like the one-talent servant. In the time of the Old Testament prophets, the children of Israel knew God as a god of wrath and the people were rightly told to fear God. But what Zephaniah’s words really say to us is, “If you really want to make God angry, try being complacent, sitting back and doing nothing while God is on His way to meet us.”
St. John, in the book of Revelation said the same thing when he said to the church in Laodicea that lukewarm faith is what God despises. "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth." Now while I don’t believe that he meant God was really going to spit us out, it is clear that God does not want complacency. God wants faith. You have heard many a time that faith is spelt RISK. Having faith always means taking chances. Jesus told this parable in the last few days of his life. He knew he would not be with them much longer, and when he was gone, he wanted his followers to use their talents to increase the breadth of God’s kingdom.
Jesus is saying that when it comes to following him, do not play it safe. There’s no telling what might happen if you take the risk of investing your life in Jesus.
He wants us to love unselfishly and to give generously. He wants us to be courageous in promoting justice and magnanimous in forgiving. Jesus wants us to follow him wherever he leads and to use our talents to expand God’s kingdom on earth.
It all comes down to one simple question Are you willing to take the risk?