Another perspective on the parable of the talents.
The Parable of the Talents” (1906), artist unknown.
In the parable of the talents told by Jesus, related to us by Matthew (Matthew 25: 14 – 29 NIV), the master entrusted some of his wealth into his servants’ stewardship whilst he went away and he did so ”each according to his ability” (Matthew 25: 15 NIV). I assume he considered them all to be honest.
On this basis, he gave each of three servants a different sum of gold (Talents). The amounts are relatively unimportant the point being in the difference of amount he gave to each, the third servant receiving the lowest sum, only 1 Talent.
It is worth noting that a Talent would equate to about 20 years worth of a day labourers wage at that time, so even a single talent entrusted to the steward of the gold, like the third servant, comprised considerable wealth.
I assume, although we are not told, that the servants in the parable were the only three in the master’s service, so there were no others whom he might have judged unfit to receive any Talents, because he doubted their honesty or ability.
When the master returned from his travels, two of his servants each presented him with a healthy profit on the money he had left with them, having doubled their amount. It is perhaps worth note that the two who increased the sum given to them, both doubled or added 100% to what they were entrusted with. On this basis it is reasonable to assume they were both equally astute in their investments and I suggest that if their proportion of the master’s wealth been split equally between them, they would have returned equal amounts to their master on his return.
The third servant returned only what had been left in his care to begin with, for which the master called him “wicked” and “lazy”. Was this really fair to that servant? There is no suggestion that this servant was in anyway disloyal.
If we consider for a moment how this might be today, by drawing an analogy with The Apprentice television program as was suggested during a sermon I heard recently, then the third ‘candidate’ would indeed have been dismissed. I do not though consider this to be a good comparison. In the case of The Apprentice, the selection criteria were based on what was perceived to be required of a new employee, whereas in the parable they were all existing employees for which the master should already have had a good assessment of their abilities.
We have already noted that the master had given to each servant a sum of gold “according to his ability” and the master himself had been the judge of that ability. Since there is no suggestion of dishonesty by any servant, whilst the master might have been disappointed in the third servant’s stewardship, was he right to treat him so poorly on his return? Could the master’s reaction have been using that servant as a scapegoat, to hide his own poor judgement? Each according to his abilities, remember and it was the master who assessed those abilities.
And what of the master’s own honesty, since we are told that he harvests where he has not sown and gathers where he has not scattered seed. Might this not be thought by some to imply that he was not adverse to stealing bits of a neighbours’ crops to boost his own?
The third servant may not have been wise, might well have been lazy but there is nothing but his master’s word to suggest he was wicked and he was evidently not dishonest. There are plenty of people around today whose idea of stewardship of wealth, is to hide it under the mattress.
I have also heard it suggested that in the parable, the man who went away was meant to be Jesus himself, who was telling the parable. His return therefore might have been a prophecy of his second coming. I also do not agree with that suggestion because if it had been Jesus, wouldn’t he have forgiven the third servant?
However since it is a parable and can’t be taken literally there is yet another way we might think of it. Jesus could be telling us that we should invest in the future. Unfortunately, too many of us behave like the servant entrusted with only one Talent; we’re too worried about protecting what is, keeping the status quo, than investing for the future and I’m not just referring to money.