The Parable of the Talents
(Matthew 25 v 14-30)
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be always acceptable and pleasing in your sight, O Lord my rock and my redeemer. Amen
A story entitled “The Seed” tells how a successful business man was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor. Instead of choosing one of his directors or his children, he decided to do something different. He called all the young executives in his company together. He said, “It is time for me to step down and choose the next CEO. I have decided to choose one of you. I am going to give each one of you a seed today – one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from the seed I have given you. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the person whose plant I choose will be the next CEO.”
One man Jim was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his wife the story. She helped him get a pot, soil and compost and he planted the seed. Faithfully, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other executives began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Jim kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. He began to feel like a failure. Six months later, still nothing in Jim’s pot. However, he just kept watering and fertilizing the soil.
When the year was up and plants brought to the CEO for inspection, Jim told his wife that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But she asked him to be honest about what happened. When Jim arrived at the office, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other executives. They were beautiful. But Jim put his empty pot on the floor as many of his colleagues laughed!
When the boss arrived, he surveyed the room and said “Today one of you will be appointed the next CEO!”. He spotted Jim at the back of the room with his empty pot and had Jim come up to the front. The CEO asked Jim what had happened to his seed and Jim told him. Then the CEO looked at Jim, and announced, “Behold your next Chief Executive Officer!”
Then he went on, “One year ago, I gave you all a seed. But I gave you boiled seeds; they were dead – it was not possible for them to grow. All of you, except Jim, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that my seed would not grow, you substituted another seed. Jim is the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new Chief Executive Officer!”
In Jesus’ parable of the talents that we heard this morning, something similar also happens. The servants are given talents by the master and when he returns they are expected to show what they’ve done with them. In Jim’s case, the CEO gave out dead seeds and was testing his staff for integrity. In a similar way this parable reminds us that God is testing our desire to use what He has given us. And that is a question of Christian integrity. So, what do we mean by integrity?
Integrity is that moral uprightness and honesty, wholeness or soundness. In other words, your actions and your words, all that makes you you. It is the state of being whole and faithful.
So, the parable of the talents is a parable about our integrity as Christians. It’s about stewardship. It’s about growing, developing, and using all that we have and are for God’s glory and to further his kingdom. Whatever we’ve been given by God now, when Jesus returns we will be asked to show what we have been doing with the gifts we were entrusted with.
It is worth noting that the parable we heard read this morning is the last parable in Matthew’s Gospel. What follows next is the account of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Contained within this parable then is the last bit of spiritual wisdom that Jesus chooses to give his disciples before he leaves them.
Throughout Matthew chapter 24 and 25 Jesus is telling us that He is going to return. And the last verse of the parable before the one we read today says “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (25 v 13) The Lord is coming back at a time known only to the Father. But while He’s away, He’s given us things to do, things to care for, things to develop and grow as part of the way that we enjoy the wonderful Christian life that He has won for us.
When we read the parable, we see that the three slaves each receive talents from the master. “To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability” (v15). Nobody is excluded they all receive something. A talent in those days was not a coin, but a weight and its value depended on the metal used. The most common metal was silver, and one talent of silver was worth about fifteen years wages for the average man. So even the servant who received one talent was receiving abundantly.
The word talent used in our reading today does refer to money or wealth in the strictest sense of the word. If there is one thing that is central to our Christian integrity it is how we use the money and wealth we have. There is no doubt in this parable that the talents the master gives out, are a trust. When you put money into a trust account at the bank, they keep it for you, but you expect to see some interest returned to you on that money. Jesus is saying here that God gives us talents in various forms so that we can be fruitful and multiply them for the benefit of growing his kingdom.
We are reminded in this parable, that all we receive is from God. He does not exclude anyone and in fact the gifts we receive are extremely lavish. These gifts show us that the greatness of God’s grace and mercy to each one of us, are beyond anything we could realistically ever expect or desire. And if we use them properly they will be a blessing to us and to others as well as to God.
It is our response to what we are given that is crucial. In the parable the first two slaves respond to the master in the same way. They accept what he gives each of them without comparing. There’s no hint of jealousy or greed. There’s simply a happy acknowledgement of the master’s talents followed by putting those talents to work to grow them. “The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents (v15). In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents (v17)”. Can you recognise the eagerness of these servants? They “went off at once” and put the money to work. There’s excitement in their action. These two servants are so thrilled to have been entrusted with their master’s gifts that they waste no time. They immediately throw themselves into using what they have been given.
However, the third slave “the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money “(v18). In Jesus’ day digging a hole and burying money in this way was common practice, but it did mean that there was no way the value of it would increase. The problem here is that the third slave would not respond to the master in faith, regardless of what he received. He did not truly understand or appreciate what the master had given him and that’s why he didn’t use the talent he was given. Instead, when the master returns, the man begins to paint a picture of the master which is not true. Instead of accepting his guilt, he says to the master, “It’s your fault that I didn’t use the talent!” “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” (v24-25)
Jesus points out the real problem by calling the man a wicked and lazy slave. He explains, “So if you figured I was such a harsh master, then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers and let it gain interest.” Jesus is not acknowledging that God is a hard master. He’s simply saying, “Well, if that’s what you thought God is, then you certainly would have done something with your talent. The fact is you are just lazy and have no desire to use your life to love and serve God or your neighbour. So, you will receive what you deserve. You will reap what you sowed.
In the opening story, Jim spent a whole year nurturing a seed. He didn’t know it was dead, but he knew he was called to care for it. He was faithful in caring for what was entrusted to him. And that’s what God calls us to do too. Whatever talents God has given us, including the opportunities He gives us, He’s looking for us to respond with joy and eagerness. The amount we bring back is not the issue. Once we learn the joy of using what God gives us, we’ll get more excited about doing it again and again. We’ll see how wonderful it is to be involved in sowing seeds for the kingdom of God and watching as God gives them growth.