I recently had a discussion with friends about the meaning of the Biblical parable of the talents (see Matthew 25:14-30.). While “talents” at the time of the writing of this parable referred to a denomination of money, by coincidence of language, it could also apply to the current meaning of “talent” , that is, the innate or “God-given” ability to accomplish great things with what you are given.
My initial impression of the parable was that it was mean-spirited against those who lack God-given abilities. It gives preference to and rewards the wealthy or “gifted” among us. It condemns those without much ability to “outer darkness”, which in Bible-speak, means outside of God’s light, presence or grace – in another word, they are condemned to hell. Isn’t that a bit over the top?
Here is the quote of the entire parable:
13 “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour. 14 For it is like a man going on a journey, who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability [underlining added for emphasis]. Then he went on his journey. 16 The one who had received five talents went off right away and put his money to work270 and gained five more. 17 In the same way, the one who had two gained two more. 18 But the one who had received one talent went out and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money in it. 19 After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled his accounts with them. 20 The one who had received the five talents came and brought five more, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 The one with the two talents also came and said, ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more.’ 23 His master answered, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful with 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 came and said, ‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting 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. See, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered, ‘Evil and lazy slave! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? 27 Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest! 28 Therefore take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten. 29 For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” [underlining added for emphasis.](Matthew 25:13-30)."
Initial impressions do not necessarily result in correct interpretations. My initial impression tended toward the passive-aggressive, siding with the third slave. "If the Master (or God) is going to do that, he really is mean!" Our worldly biases and experiences often cloud our understanding, unless additional time and reflection is invested in understanding. This is true of my understanding of this parable.
Several points of understanding were gleaned from spending some time trying to understand this parable.
1) Knowing God. The third servant misunderstood the nature of God, as revealed when he told his master “You are a hard man…so I was afraid…” He was unnecessarily fearful because he didn’t know the nature of God. Fear is the bane of our existence. Fear makes life miserable – especially fear of God, our “Master.” Yes, Scripture encourages us to “fear God”. But I’m afraid that is where context and translation of ancient languages fails us. There are two different original meanings associated with our present day usage of “fear.” “Fear God” is used in the sense of exercising awe and reverence. Being “afraid”, a form of fear, is a waste of energy and emotion if you truly know God.
2) Using what you are given. The first two servants effectively used what they were given. The value doubled – compare that to today’s “value added” provider. The third did not use what he was given at all. He just buried it. There was no value added. When someone is given money, raw materials, talent (todays definition) and does nothing with it, what does that say about the person? What words come to mind? The words Jesus used were, you “evil and lazy slave.”
3) Be creative and show initiative. Apparently God likes us to think, to be creative and to show initiative. He doesn’t like excuses. He doesn’t like us to find fault with our master (‘Sir, I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting 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) and then use that as the basis for doing nothing. This principle applies to our secular responsibilities as much as it does to our relationship with our God. Actually, a current day term for the behavior of the third worker might be “passive aggressive.” I guess the Master was lucky the slave found what he buried!
So, how might this apply to Democrats and Republicans; liberals and conservatives, the “entitleds” and the producers? Here it is: The Democrats, liberals and entitleds are going to hell. The Republicans, conservatives, and producers better not become passive-aggressive just because they are pissed at the Democrats, Liberals, and entitleds for being lazy SOBs.