Matthew 25:14-30 Parable of the Talents: Use Them Well

In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus concludes the five-chapter Sermon in the Temple. This Sermon is his valedictory address, which begins with a debate with the religious leaders and ends with final words of advice for his disciples.  Jesus offers the disciples two final parables and a commentary on the Last Judgment in chapter 25.  We also discover in Matthew 25 that Jesus’ thoughts in the Sermon on the Temple are heavy on discipleship and works of charity. Chapter 25 does not tell us that faith alone is sufficient for salvation.  Jesus tells us that faith must be translated into works of charity in order to join the Kingdom of God.

"The Parables of Jesus." James Christensen.

The Parable of the Talents is presented in the next paragraph, followed by the commentary.  This Sunday reading for November 13, 2011, can be found in the Catholic lectionary here, and the RCL lectionary here.

The Parable of the Talents

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“A man going on a journey
called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.
To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–
to each according to his ability.
Then he went away.
Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them,
and made another five.
Likewise, the one who received two made another two.
But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground
and buried his master’s money.After a long time
the master of those servants came back
and settled accounts with them.
The one who had received five talents came forward
bringing the additional five.
He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents.
See, I have made five more.’
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.’
Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said,
‘Master, you gave me two talents.
See, I have made two more.’
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.’
Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said,
‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person,
harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
Here it is back.’
His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!
So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant
and gather where I did not scatter?
Should you not then have put my money in the bank
so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten.
For to everyone who has,
more will be given and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'”

The “Talent” in Greek

In the parable told in Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus emphasizes that each of us are called to use the abilities God gave us for the glory of the Kingdom of God.   For that reason, the parable is known as “the parable of talents.”  In the parable of talents, the hypothetical master (God) gives his servants a pile of silver or gold to invest.  In Greek, that pile of precious metal is referred to as a “talanta.”  A “talanta” – τάλαντα is a 75-pound weight of silver or gold!

The “parable of the talents” is not a justification for a work ethic that brings material prosperity.  That would be a very New Age, or Puritan, interpretation. On the contrary, the wealth that Jesus speaks of is a metaphor for charisms, abilities, skills, or “talents.”   For proof, consider Matthew 6: 19:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.

Jesus tells us to use the “talanta,” which should be understood as “charism” or gifts of God, for the greater glory of God.   How do we know that the “talanta” are gifts?  That is obvious: it is the Master who gave the talent to the servants.  In other words, the talents are, like faith, freely given by God, not earned by us.

Each According to His Ability

In this parable in Matthew’s Gospel, we encounter the often mis-understood phrase, “each according to his ability.”  This term has been borrowed by philosophers and political scientists in the nineteenth century to speak of the re-distribution of wealth.  But Jesus is not speaking of material wealth (let alone its redistribution) in this parable.

When Jesus tells us, in this parable, that each is given according to his ability, Jesus tells us that charisms and gifts are distributed in a variety of ways to different people.  And to us, that distribution of charisms might seem uneven, even unfair.  But Jesus tells us in this parable that the Master is as equally pleased with the person who made good use of the modest talents (the one given two) as he is the person who made good use of greater talent (the one given five).

Finally, at the end of the parable, Jesus tells us that the Master punishes the person who was given one talent and who failed to re-invest it. Jesus then says in Matthew 25: 12: For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

Jesus uses the Parable of the Talents to tell us that we should make good use of the gifts that God gave us. Those gifts may be very modest. Those gifts may be great.  We should not denigrate our own gifts if we think those gifts that we possess are modest in comparison to others.  Regardless of the magnitude of the gifts given to us by God, we are called to use them to build up God’s Kingdom.

Whether our talents are great or small, we are all given our very own, metaphoric, seventy-five pounds of silver by God.  If we choose not to use our talents for good, then we will be thrown into the outer darkness, where their will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

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