“The Parable of the Talents”
Willem de Poorter
The scene is set in a castle. Against a background of cascading drapery a group of men are seated and standing around a teak table. The master of the house is seated on an arm chair while his trunk and baggage are scattered around him. This suggests that he has just arrived home from a long journey.
As one can readily observe, light is instrumental in dividing the foreground and the background of the painting. Watching among the grayish blue shadows, and leaning against an exquisite metal railing is the wife of the merchant/master. She curiously leans over in an attempt to catch sight of her spouse. Right behind her, gazing through the window is the father of the merchant/master, awaiting the return of his son.
The presence of the waiting wife and the father illuminates the personality of the master. It reveals at once that he is a man primarily concerned with his business.
On his return, he first wants to catch up with his servants in order to settle the accounts before meeting with his family. Thus the impression given is that the merchant/master is hardworking, diligent and wants accountability.
Matthew 25: 14-30
“Jesus spoke this parable to his disciples: 14 ‘For the kingdom of heaven is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return, I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless servant, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”.
Matthew borrows this Parable from the same pre-existing document used also by Luke, and that explains why it is not present in the Gospel of Mark.
This text is part of the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus which concerns the end of time. We notice this through the use of words that suggest an apocalyptic final intervention of God in history: the reaping and gathering of seed, the “fear” of the third servant, the conclusion about the reward of two servants who obey their master, the judgement of the third as a “worthless” servant, the darkness and the gnashing of teeth.
What we already said about the Apocalyptic Literature in the New Testament when we discussed the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids applies also to this text.
Jesus uses this terminology to awaken the awareness and the responsibility of his disciples, not to cast a shadow of fear upon them, but to prompt them into action.
We are led to this conclusion by looking at the message of Jesus in its entirety: Jesus was a lover of sinners and longed to have them included into his Kingdom. He is the Good Shepherd who tends and cares for his flock, more than an exacting judge who makes his authority felt through fear and the prospect of punishment.
The huge amount of money
We have seen that in the Parables of Jesus the main protagonist is a king, a rich father, a landowner, or an employer. In this way, Jesus uses images readily recognizable to his listeners to describe the dignity, abundance and generosity God the Father. In short, God is all a person could desire to find true and lasting happiness.
A talent is not a coin but a measure weighing twenty kilos (forty-four pounds), but we are not told if it is a talent of copper, silver (4,000 US Dollars) or gold (229,000 US Dollars).
Anyone given such an amount of money would rightly feel scared at the thought of losing it. By the same token, the one who received more, should be more afraid than the one who received less.
It is interesting to note that the third servant excuses his lack of interest in the responsibility entrusted to him by quoting the Word of God. There, an arduous merchant is cursed like a sinner or someone who is unwise, those who find no rest because they spend sleepless nights worrying about their riches.
The imitation of the master
When the third servant wants to say something sensible, his words result in a strong rebuke from his master. Had the servant truly appreciated his master’s thrift, he should have imitated him and strove to ‘reap where he did not sow, and gather where he did not scatter seed’.
Instead of following his master’s example, the servant fears him and prefers not to take a risk.
The triple reaction
As a consequence of the servant’s lack of acumen, the master reacts with anger:
1. He insults him by calling him ‘wicked and lazy’;
2. He takes the talent from him (but this really means nothing to the servant who
had already decided to return it to the master);
3. He throws him into the “outer darkness”.
This harsh judgement should make us think of the urgency of taking discipleship to heart and live according to the values of Jesus, a true treasure that will gain for us the rewards of the eternal life.
Psalm 139: 1-6
"O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it."
God, let me use my gifts
for your glory,
so that by doing what I am created to do,
I may become
what You have created me to be.
Matthew does not explain what the “talents” are. He just explains that some get a larger or a smaller portion, but we do not know what the “talents” refer to.
Are they gifts of character, personality, skills or intellect; or are they spiritual gifts, love for prayer, generosity and altruism?
Each one of us needs to find the answer in the silence of our hearts.
God is not going to ask of us anything that He has not already given us, but He will surely demand the fruits of what He has given us.
Being fruitful for the Kingdom leads to ever greater responsibility being placed on one’s shoulders, and is not just an end in itself, and so an excuse to rest from one’s labours.
There is no excuse in saying that the talent I have received is so insignificant as to be irrelevant, or that there is no point in trying to make it bear fruit.
The best way of using a gift is to put it at the service of God and of our fellow-wo/men.
When we think that God may be far, unseen and detached from our lives, as the master on his long journey, we should remember that He cares for us and has gifts in store for us far beyond our imagination.
 Eccl. 2: 22-23: “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.” Sirach 26:29: “A merchant can hardly keep from wrongdoing, nor is a tradesman innocent of sin.”  Matthew 13: 12: “For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”