The Parable of the Talents
by Tom McLemore
In Matthew 25:14-30 (please read), Jesus spoke what is known as “The Parable of the Talents.” In the midst of two other passages stressing the need to be prepared for his coming, Jesus declared this parable.
What is the best approach to take to this parable? The great parable section in Matthew 13 not only provides us with a number of Jesus’ parables, but also a methodology, suggested by Jesus himself, for interpreting all of his parables. For two of Jesus’ initial parables, viz., the parables of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9) and the weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30), he provides explanations (Matthew 13:18-23, 36-43). These explanations call us to see points of comparison between the details of a parable and the realities of the kingdom of heaven. In Mark 4:13, Jesus said to his disciples, “Do you not understand this parable [of the sower]? How then will you understand all the parables?”
We are given a specific clue to the meaning of the parable in the pronouncement Jesus makes (in the words of the master) toward the end of it. “For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has shall be taken away” (Matthew 25:29). The reader of the Gospel will recall that Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 13:12 (||Mark 4:25; Luke 8:18) in his teaching about the purpose of the parables. In the previous verse, Matthew 13:11, he said, “To you it has been given to understand the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:10, emphasis supplied). This is the key to opening the meaning of the parable of the talents. It suggests to us the primary comparison upon which the parable is built. The property of the man going on a journey entrusted to the servants (in the form of talents) represents the secrets of the kingdom of heaven (the word of God). Jesus began his explanation of the parable of the sower, “when any one hears the word of the kingdom...” (Matthew 13:18). In Mark 4:14, Jesus said, “The sower sows the word.” In Luke 8:11, Jesus said, “The seed is the word of God.” Were Jesus giving an explanation of the parable of the talents, on the basis of the explanations in Matthew 13, I am persuaded that he would begin by saying, “The talents are the secrets of the kingdom of heaven (the word of God).”
The central theme of the parable is not the use of abilities, but the use of what is entrusted according to ability. The parable is appropriately called “the parable of the talents” rather than “the parable of the abilities.” The central concern of the parable is the talents. The talent was a Greek coin with the value of five to six thousand denarii. The denarius was a Roman coin equivalent to the day’s wage of a common laborer. The talent was a large sum of money, representing twenty years’ labor of an individual. Even the servant in the parable who was entrusted with one talent was entrusted with great treasure! How apt to compare the secrets of the kingdom of heaven (the word of God) to great riches. (See 2 Corinthians 4:7; Ephesians 3:8; Colossians 1:27; 2:2, 3).
Having established this primary comparison (the talents represent the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, the word of God), the stage is set for determining the meaning of the other details of the parable and understanding its basic message. The man going on a journey represents the ascending and returning Lord Jesus. The servants (literally, slaves) represent the disciples of Jesus. The ability of each slave corresponds to the extent of a disciple’s understanding of the secrets of the kingdom (the word of God), along with abilities and opportunities to proclaim them. Gaining talents represents the growth and increase of the word of God through proclamation and response. (See Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 4:1). The secrets of the kingdom are pictured as a process of growth resulting in teaching and proclaiming the truth of the gospel and leading to the increase of disciples.
The fear of the one talent slave corresponds to an immobilizing fear of the rejection of the word of God by the hearers. The one talent slave’s reprehensible attitude toward the man going on a journey represents the erroneous view, viz., that the Lord Jesus rewards only those whose proclamation produces conversions but he does not reward faithful proclamation even if most of those who hear do not convert. (In the background of this feature of the parable lies a failure to proceed with an understanding of the parable of the sower).
Burying the talent represents having been entrusted with the secrets of the kingdom (the word of God) but failing to proclaim them. There may be a hint of emphasis upon orthodoxy without evangelism. (See 2 Timothy 1:14; 1 Timothy 6:20, 21; 2 Timothy 1:12). Yet, the Lord’s desire is for the secrets of the kingdom both to be guarded and to be communicated, thereby gaining disciples.
The bankers represent those who are devoted to the increase and growth of the word of God and who can be aided in their task by other disciples. Investing with the bankers represents lending aid and support to them. (See 2 John 5-8). The Lord desires that his disciples be proclaimers of the secrets of the kingdom, yet, if we are unwilling or unable to proclaim them ourselves, the very least we ought to do is to support those who are willing and able!
Being found faithful over a little and being set over much corresponds to increased understanding and opportunity to proclaim the word of God. The parable presents three possibilities open to the one who knows the secrets of the kingdom. First, one may immediately begin to proclaim what one knows, and as the result, the word of God grows and increases. This pleases the Master most of all. The Master considers one to be faithful who proclaims the secrets of the kingdom according to one’s ability. Second, one may aid others who proclaim the secrets of the kingdom and thereby indirectly give to the Lord “his own with interest.” Third, one may neither proclaim nor support those who proclaim, thus being worthless to the Lord’s cause.
In light of the coming of the Lord, how important is the proclamation of the secrets of the kingdom (the word of God)! There is nothing more urgent to the Lord than this. This is how the Lord spent the years of his ministry. Here we see how to be a good and faithful disciple of our Lord who has gone into heaven, has entrusted us with his treasure, and is coming again to take account of our stewardship thereof according to our ability!
Designed and maintained by Houston Park Church of Christ Copyright © 2000 by Houston Park Church of Christ 2 Crescent Hill Drive Selma, Alabama 36701 334-874-7941. All rights reserved. Revised: 24 Sep 2008.