One of the reasons this parable is popular is also the reason for the prevailing lack of understanding of what Jesus is saying in it. What we make talent to mean keeps us from seeing what the parable is actually showing us.
To us, a talent is something someone is especially good at doing. It’s a sort of natural or psychological endowment that sets one apart from others.
However, these meanings are wrong both in the historical sense of the word and the context of what Jesus is telling us in this parable. As a matter of course, it means that we get the parable wrong every time we use any of these meanings in trying to make sense of Jesus’ message.
A talent, in the historical sense, is a unit of weight – think in terms of modern day gram, kilogram, pound etc. Therefore, as Jesus used talent in the parable, what does it mean?
An opportunity given by and filled with grace for righteous exploit.
That’s not an attempt at simplifying it. It’s stating just what it is.
What Jesus taught in this parable, He later did in reality. And, since the best explanation we can find on the Word of God is still the same Word of God, then let’s use another portion of the Scripture (the part that’s reality) to understand this parable, step by step.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them,” (Matthew 25:14, NKJV).
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…” (Matthew 28:18, NIV). The true Master is He who has received ‘…all authority in heaven and on earth…’ and He gives His own the grace to serve Him. And what is Jesus’ goods that He delivered to us? It is the message of salvation, through His atonement – that which we call the good news.
“And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey,” (Matthew 25:15, NKJV).
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…,” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV). In the parable, the man gave his servants something physically tangible – the talents. In reality, Jesus has given us something much more – the very word with which all things were made.
“Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them,” (Matthew 25:16-19, NKJV). We can safely take the stand that the numbers in the parable shouldn’t be taken literally – remember, it’s a parable. Yet, we shouldn’t shy away from asking –
Who received five? Three of the apostles come to mind – Peter, James and John. Jesus gave the trio closer accesses to watch Him than He did for the others. They were with Him when He raised Jairus’ daughter; they were there on the mountain with Him when He transfigured, and in the Gethsemane with Him when He was praying. Also, remember Jesus’ prayer and instructions particularly for Peter (Luke 22:31-32 & John 21:15-19)? Now, was this favouritism on Jesus’ part? No, the Master was only giving “…each according to his own ability…”
Who received two? The other disciples did – I should say that we do too. Anyone who has had the gospel shared with them and had become a child of God through Jesus Christ has received two talents – though, it’s waiting for them to multiply it. Otherwise, they have received one and they are at the risk of hiding it; that’s if they haven’t hidden it already.
And who received one? Really, the only concern we should have about this one is to be careful not to be this person. Still, Judas comes to mind. Of course, he wasn’t around to receive the final commission the others got after Jesus’ resurrection; however, he was part of the disciples that Jesus sent out earlier (Mark 6:7-13). He got it, he had a taste of the power of the gospel, yet he turned to believe that the master is deserving of death.
You still think there’s some bit of excuse we can float on like the third servant did?
Yes, none of us got the access the apostles had to Jesus – literally moving around with Him. Still, we know that we can do just what they did because we got the same Word and Spirit that they received – both by grace.
Hopefully, I’ve explained how the talent is an opportunity given by and filled with grace for righteous exploit.
Grace. That which points away from us, to God, for everything we have and do.
Apostle Paul wasn’t part of the twelve apostles. He came on board later – just like we did, but he was big on grace in his letters.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me,” (1 Corinthians 15:10, NIV). In essence, Paul was letting us know that he wasn’t like the servant that received one talent. What he got, he worked with …harder, he said. Since he did that, what should be our own excuse?
“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work,” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NKJV). What should be our stand in the light of this, since it’s not some special ability that we need to serve the Master? It’s just the grace which He makes abundantly available to us – even at all times. And how abundant is this opportunity for us to turn two to four, and five to ten?
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field,” (Matthew 9:37-38, NIV). It’s so much that we’re not even enough.
We really need to start seeing the talents in the parable as grace and opportunity available to us in reaching others with the master’s goods – His good news. And that brings us to the question raised previously – who are the bankers?
They are professionals, right? For the commission we have received, they are ministers of the good news. This is how Apostle Paul explains it:
“Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it,” (1 Corinthians 3:5-10, NKJV).
In other words, you really think you can’t reach that person with the good news or you don’t know what to tell them – bring them to those who live doing that. Or at least bring those ones to them. That is, give a tract or a book, share a message, invite someone to church. Whenever or wherever they are dealing with you, let them have a bit of the good news somehow. Don’t drop names – pastor or bishop ABC said – just quote the juice and give it to them, and don’t show off either. Remember, grace points away from us, to God, for everything we have and do. The master said to the third servant that profits made even through the bankers are acceptable to him.