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Season of Dedication Third Sunday

Season of the Dedication of the Church

MATTHEW 25:14-30
ENTRUSTED TALENTS

INTRODUCTION

This gospel passage focuses on the responsible utilization of our resources within the time and opportunities available to us. Through the parable of ten virgins who waited to receive the bridegroom with lamps, Jesus focused on the oil of Christian virtues necessary to face him when he would return as our judge. After that, Jesus presented the parable of talents. Here, a master who went on a foreign trip entrusted his three servants with talents for trade. On his return, those who had five and two talents presented double the amount of what they had received. Whereas the servant who had one talent submitted the same coin, he kept safe underground, earning nothing. The displeased owner took that talent and gave to the person who doubled five talents. Jesus then introduced the eternal punishment, waiting for irresponsible disciples. Along with avoiding evil, we have to make use of our God-given blessings, time, and opportunities to build up the kingdom of God. Then God will reward us with the sharing in his heavenly banquet.

BIBLE TEXT (MATTHEW 25:14-30)

(Mt 25:14) Imagine someone who, before going abroad, summoned his servants to entrust his property to them. (15) He gave five talents of gold to one, two to another, and one to a third, each one according to his ability; and he went away.

(16) The one who received five talents went at once to do business with the money and gained another five. (17) The one who received two did the same and gained another two. (18) But the one with one talent dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

(19) After a long time, the master of those servants returned and asked them for their accounts. (20) The one who received five talents came with another five talents, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents, but see I have gained five more with them.’ (21) The master answered: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, since you have been faithful in little things, I will entrust much more to you. Come and share the joy of your master.’ (22) Then the one who had two talents came and said: ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me; I have two more which I gained with them.’ (23) The master said: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, since you have been faithful in little things, I will entrust you with much more. Come and share the joy of your master.’  

(24) Finally, the one who had received one talent came and said: ‘Sir, I know that you are an exacting man. You reap what you have not sown and gather where you have not scattered seed. (25) I was afraid, so I hid your money in the ground. Here, take what is yours.’ (26) But his master replied: ‘Wicked and lazy servant, so you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed. (27) Then you should have deposited my money in the bank, and you would have given it back to me with interest on my return. (28) Now, take the talent from him, and give it to the one who has ten. (29) For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away from him. (30) As for that useless servant, throw him out into the dark where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

IINTERPRETATION

Background

Since the Scribes and Pharisees rejected the message of Jesus Christ, he predicted the destruction of Jerusalem (Mt 24:1-2) and the calamities that would happen prior to it (Mt 24:3-14). Along with this, Jesus described the great tribulation that would occur before his second coming (Mt 24:15-35). Since he will come at an unknown time, the disciples should always remain spiritually upright (Mt 24:36-44). He will punish others who would be irresponsible and unfaithful (Mt 24:45-51). Through the parable of the ten virgins who waited for the bridegroom, Jesus presented how his disciples should prepare for his second coming. Like the wise virgins, they should have Christian acts of charity along with their faith, like oil for the lamp. Then Jesus presented the parable of the talents that we reflect here.

The Parable of the Talents

In the parable of the ten virgins that preceded this one, five of them were not prepared to receive the bridegroom. The parable of the talents also deals with the preparedness for the return of Christ. However, in this one, Jesus emphasizes the willingness of the servants to work. The disciples have to be dynamic in their assigned responsibility. They will receive reward or punishment based on their enthusiasm or laziness to work for the church.

(Mt 25:14) Imagine someone who, before going abroad, summoned his servants to entrust his property to them.

Imagine

The “imagine” signifies what follows is a story and not an occurrence. It has similarity to the events of the time. Such parables have spiritual lessons for the followers of Jesus. The synoptic gospels give thirty-five parables. They are excellent teaching aids, especially for illiterate people of those days. They are relevant even now because of their ever-applicable messages.

someone who, before going abroad

The person who went abroad in this parable represents Jesus and the foreign country is heaven from where he came to the world and to where he returned. His departure happened at the time of his ascension.

The other parables of Jesus also have wealthy persons traveling to faraway places. They also entrust their asset to the custodians and ask for their produce.

1. In the Parable of the Tenants, a landowner leased his vineyard to tenants and went on a journey. Later he sent his servants one after another and finally his son to get his produce (Mt 21:33-41). Here God is the landowner, tenants are the religious leaders, servants are the prophets, and the son is Jesus.

2. The Parable of the Ten Gold Coins is another one, where a noble person went off to get kingship. He entrusted ten gold coins to his ten servants to engage in trade until his return (Lk 19:12-27). In this parable, Jesus is the one who went to his Father in heaven to get his kingship and return to judge and rule the world. The servants are the Christians who have to continue his mission until his reappearance.

3. While teaching on the need for watchfulness for his second coming, Jesus presented another comparison of a man traveling abroad. He assigned his servants in charge of the house and a security guard to safeguard the gate (Mk 13:34-37). Here also, Jesus is the traveler who went to heaven after entrusting his church to his disciples for managing it until his return.

In all the above parables, except the parable of the Tenants where God is the vineyard owner, the traveler would return at an unexpected time, and he will ask for the accomplishments of the people with whom he entrusted his assets. Those who are responsible and who produce excellent result will get the reward and the others severe punishment.

summoned his servants

The servants in this parable represent the disciples of Jesus throughout the centuries until his return from heaven. They can be ministers of the church and the Christians who have responsibility in the family, church, and community. All must give witness to the gospel of Jesus in their given situation. They have to labor and produce an outcome with the grace of the Holy Spirit. On the return of Jesus, they will be answerable to him.

to entrust his property to them.

During the ancient times, the rich people used to entrust their assets for farming or business to their trusted servants. However, the asset and its profit would belong to the owner. He could be from a foreign land or a distant place. The faithful servants would get a share in the profit they earn when the master returns. That was an incentive for the servant to work earnestly for the master. The property that Jesus entrusted to his disciples is the church that he established. That is the valuable asset he gained with his sacrificial life on earth.

(15) He gave five talents of gold to one, two to another, and one to a third, each one according to his ability; and he went away.

During the ministry of Jesus, the money used for business transaction was coins made of precious metals like gold, silver, or copper. When Jesus mentioned the gold coins, they represented the authority, position, responsibility, and grace that each of his disciple received from him in the church to continue his mission in the world. Since he is physically absent in the world, the Christians are his agents to work for him until his return from heaven.

Though the distribution of talents was uneven, there was no injustice in it because he entrusted them according to each one’s ability. Since he knew they were differently abled, if he had given all persons an equivalent amount, the overall outcome would be less. The society has people of various skills that help the common good.

Like the servants received coins of different values, Jesus’ followers also have distinct roles in their ministry. He entrusted special powers to Simon Peter. Along with him, James and John were in his inner circle. He selected twelve apostles and made them pillars of the church. He had seventy-two disciples and other followers, including Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea. Besides the male disciples, Jesus had women followers who accompanied him in Galilee along with the twelve apostles (Lk 8:1-3). The early Christians had different ministers, like bishops, presbyters (elders), deacons, and others who led the Christian communities. Paul wrote on such roles in the church: “He gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12).

At present, Christians have different responsibilities in the church, community, and family as representatives of Jesus. The talents also include our time, opportunities, abilities, health, and wealth. We must use them to serve God and humanity and thus accumulating heavenly treasure. No one can be lazy in their role. All will be answerable to Jesus when he returns to judge us with reward or punishment.

The master in the parable manifested good qualities, like Jesus, in his relationship with his servants:

1. He trusted his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. Jesus also trusted his apostles and other disciples in dealing with his church.

2. The master was kind to recognize all servants in the distribution of wealth. Jesus saves all who believes in him and blesses them with his grace and positions in the family, church, and community as his representatives.

3. The master did not overload responsibility with those who could not handle it and acknowledged those who could handle more. Jesus similarly requests more sacrifice from those who can manage it and requires less from others.

(16) The one who received five talents went at once to do business with the money and gained another five.

The one who received five talents went at once

The most recognized person knew he had to use the time responsibly to deal with the money. He knew though it was a privilege that the owner entrusted him with more money than the others, he should work hard and earn a maximum profit out of it. So, instead of boasting about what he received, he started his task at once. Immediately after receiving the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the apostles started working hard to build up the church. They risked their lives and endured sufferings for the success of their ministry. We have limited time in this life, and we do not know how long it will last. Since we are answerable to Jesus, we should make use of every hour available for us to do our duty.

to do business with the money

The owner gave the capital for investing in business. It was a favorable time to do profitable enterprise. The apostles had received the power to perform miracles in the name of Jesus so they could prove that they were representing the Messiah. Even during his public ministry, Jesus “gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness” (Mt 10:1). Jesus gives each of us the grace to continue his mission through our lives. When we work with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we also will produce excellent result. Like the one who received five talents took risk to do business responsibly, the Christian should risk his life for Christ and his church.

and gained another five.

The person who did business with five talents multiplied the capital he invested. Even during persecution, the early church grew fast through the challenging work of the apostles and other Christian leaders. The church continued to grow throughout the centuries with the arduous service of such industrious Christians.

(17) The one who received two did the same and gained another two.

The one who received two talents did the same as the other who received five talents. He did not envy at the servant who received five, nor expressed any hurt feeling against the master for giving him a less amount. He also did not waste time to start the business because he was also alert on the time limitation. He did his job responsibly and thus met the expectation of his employer. Unlike the one who received only one talent, this person took a cheerful outlook to trade with the less amount he got.

The hierarchical position or the abilities are insignificant at the judgement seat of Jesus. He complimented the poor widow who deposited only two small coins in the Temple treasury while he ignored the rich people who put in enormous amount (Mk 12:41-44). Similarly, God expects from us whatever we can make out of what God has given us.Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Lk 12:48).

(18) But the one with one talent dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

During Jesus’ time, when there was no safekeeping system like we have today, people used to bury their valuables, especially precious coins and jewelry, underground. They practiced this especially during war. Archeologists have discovered ceramic pots and jars containing valuable items that the ancient people buried under their house floors or fields. The ceramic pots were rigid and watertight once sealed and that protected the contents from vermin. Only the person who buried the jar would know the hidden spot and he will unearth that when needed. Based on such practice, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Mt 13:44).

The servant who received only one talent assured its safety until the master’s return by burying the talent underground. He was lazy to do any business with it and prevented the risk involved in trading with it. This person represents those who do nothing for the kingdom of God. They might consider what they have as minimum and themselves as insignificant compared to others. Paul shares his experience:For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God [that is] with me” (1 Cor 15:9-10). Paul said, God expects from us “according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (2 Cor 8:12). Hence, Paul appealed to the Corinthians “not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor 6:1). God does not judge us based on our capabilities, but according to our effort to work for him. Often, people with fewer potentials do more for God than those who are wealthy.

(19) After a long time, the master of those servants returned and asked them for their accounts.

After a long time

Though the owner delayed in his return, he could come at an unexpected time, like the bridegroom’s return in the parable of the ten virgins. The delay helped the first two servants to multiply their talents. For the third, the prolongation of time was a waste because of his inactivity.

The long time in Jesus’ case denotes the duration between the ascension and his second coming. The early Christian community expected an immediate return of Jesus for judgement. While waiting for this to happen, they felt the long delay. However, that must not discourage them from continuing their mission. Individual’s death will be the end of opportunity to work for the Lord on earth. Then the person will face his particular judgement. So, there is no time to waste in this life. The prolonged time should not make us lazy but must enable us for more production. The life of a person can be short or long. However, we have to make use of every moment and opportunity to become productive for the Lord.

the master of those servants returned

Like the owner who returned to claim his talents and their earnings, Jesus also will return to claim his kingdom that he entrusted to the Christians. He will also assess the outcome of their ministry.

and asked them for their accounts.

Since the owner entrusted his money to the servants for business, on his return, he asked about their financial gain. Though the servants earned the profit, the owner had a claim over it because of his ownership of the capital. He then rewarded them for their labor. At the return of Jesus, “each of us shall give an account of himself [to God]” (Rom 14:12).For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10).

(20) The one who received five talents came with another five talents, saying, ‘Sir, you entrusted me with five talents, but see I have gained five more with them.’

The servants who had received five and two talents knew the expectation of their master from them. They faithfully made use of the talents and time to do business and doubled the amount they received. Towards the end of Paul’s life, he was confident in the successful completion of his ministry. “For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:6-7). We should be able to reflect like Paul did if we make use of our God-given opportunities and grace of God for the kingdom of God.

When we labor for the Lord, the result may not be imminent, or it might seem a failure according to the worldly standards. Still, God counts our willingness and action. Isaiah wrote, “Though I thought I had toiled in vain, for nothing and for naught spent my strength, Yet my right is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God” (Isa 49:4). Paul instructs, “My beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).

(21) The master answered: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, since you have been faithful in little things, I will entrust much more to you. Come and share the joy of your master.’

The master answered: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant

“Well done,” “good,” and “faithful” are compliments from the owner to the servant for his high performance during his absence. A Christian’s goal should also be to hear such an honor from Jesus after death. The book of Hebrews assures such compensation for the virtuous deeds we do in life. “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones” (Heb 6:10).

since you have been faithful in little things,

The phase of the master’s absence after entrusting the talents for productivity was a test period for the servants. In the Bible, we see God testing people with good or troubled times, as with the Adam, Noah, Abraham, Job, and others. Faithfulness to God is a key factor in the religion. Mattathias, as part of his farewell advice before death, told his sons, “Was not Abraham found faithful in trial, and it was credited to him as righteousness? Joseph, when in distress, kept the commandment, and he became master of Egypt” (1 Macc 2:52-53). The conclusion of Mattathias' speech was “none who hope in Heaven shall fail in strength” (1 Macc 2:61).

The faithful servants kept their fidelity to their employer during his long absence. More than the profit, the steadfastness and efficiency they showed pleased the owner. The Christians also should do likewise in their loyalty to Jesus and in fulfilling the responsibility he has entrusted to them.

since you have been faithful in little things,

The master assessed the three servants at the initial stage with small responsibility. That is a preparatory test to decide on entrusting them with more assignments. The divine tasks we get in this world, and our faithful implementation of them, are insignificant compared to the joy and honor we receive in heaven for our success.

I will entrust much more to you.

Based on the parable of the dishonest steward, Jesus said, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones” (Lk 16:10). Similarly, the employer entrusted higher responsibilities to those who doubled their talents. This shows the heavenly life is not a passive but an active life with honorary assignments. Before the fall of Adam, God entrusted him with the responsibility in the Garden of Eden, “to cultivate and care for it” (Gen 2:15). It was a joyful task for him. It became burdensome only after his sin (Gen 3:17-19).

Jesus promised his disciples, “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct” (Mt 16:21). With this faith, Paul wrote at the end of his life, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance” (2 Tim 4:7-8). When we fulfill our duties in life responsibly, the Lord will tell us at the last judgement, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34).

Come and share the joy of your master.

The success of the servants in their service made the employer joyful. They produced optimum result according to his expectation. He invited them to share in his joy. Unlike happiness that is temporary, external, and mundane, the joy is permanent, internal, selfless, sacrificial, and heavenly. According to the tradition of the Church, joy is one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit (CCC-1832).

Even amid suffering, Jesus and his disciples experienced joy. While advising his disciples on keeping his commandments and remaining in his love, Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). During severe persecution, Paul rejoiced in the Lord preaching the gospel (Phil 1:18). Besides offering joy in the sufferings of this world, Jesus offers perfect joy in the afterlife. He compared the joy in heaven to a banquet. Jesus foretold, “I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8:11).

(22) Then the one who had two talents came and said: ‘Sir, you entrusted two talents to me; I have two more which I gained with them.’ (23) The master said: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant, since you have been faithful in little things, I will entrust you with much more. Come and share the joy of your master.’

The second servant reminded the master he received two talents and reported he raised an equivalent amount. He did not complain that he got only less. Instead, he did the maximum he could, establishing his fidelity to the master. The owner did not demand more from him. He expressed the same joy and statement that he had conveyed to the first servant.

God’s expectation from us is not an equivalent service from all but a proportionate effort based on the God-given abilities and opportunities. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the poor man could only rely on God keeping up his faith. God sent the angels to take him to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man did not make use of his wealth to support the poor. So, he lost the salvation in the afterlife.

According to Paul, God gives varying gifts to the faithful to build up the one body of Christ. “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching” (Rom 12:4-7).

For God, variation in the abilities or disabilities does not matter. He entrusts higher positions, responsibilities, abilities, and opportunities to those from whom He expects more than the others. Heavenly honor is not based on the earthly superiority but centered on one’s faithfulness to God. All people are valuable to God. Like a good shepherd, Jesus came in search of the lost and rejoices in their recovery. His concern is how we cooperate with his mission. So, let us find satisfaction with whatever God gives us and be productive with that resource for the Lord and his people.

(24) Finally, the one who had received one talent came and said: ‘Sir, I know that you are an exacting man. You reap what you have not sown and gather where you have not scattered seed.

Finally, the one who had received one talent came and said:

The third servant also approached the master with the hope of a similar compliment because he preserved the talent he got.

‘Sir, I know that you are an exacting man. You reap what you have not sown and gather where you have not scattered seed.

The servant who got only one talent, while justifying himself, criticized the master with negative attributes. He told at the face of the employer the stiffness of his character and his demanding nature. That would mean his master would take advantage of the weak and oppress them.

By stating “You reap what you have not sown and gather where you have not scattered seed,” he made a false accusation against his master as an unjust and cruel person. He expressed his hatred towards the employer by comparing him to a bandit who reap without farming and collect seeds without winnowing. Since the owner was rich, we cannot take the usage in a literal sense. It could be a hyperbolic expression of the time to criticize the unjust. Thus, instead of being loyal to his master, he alleged the master as a hard to deal person who oppressed his servants. That serious accusation was to justify his laziness for not trading with the talent he got. In a similar parable of the ten gold coins, the reply of the lazy person to the nobleman was, “Sir, here is your gold coin; I kept it stored away in a handkerchief, for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding person; you take up what you did not lay down and you harvest what you did not plant” (Lk 19:20-21). Thus, he justified himself and blamed the noble person for his laziness.

People might question God or express hatred to God for their misfortunes like ill health, loss of a family member, or an economic crisis. Others oppose the church leaders blaming them for anything they regard as inappropriate. Considering God as a hard tyrant or having a pessimistic approach to the church would lead to self-destruction. Those people are blaming God or the church for their spiritual negligence rather than attempting to improve themselves.

(25) ‘I was afraid, so I hid your money in the ground. Here, take what is yours.’

I was afraid

Fear can be reverential, like the fear of God. It is the respect for God, worshipping Him with awe, submitting to his discipline, and obeying his commandments (Deut 6:2). The first two servants expressed such a respectful fear in their action, and they could produce excellent result. They also won the love and reward from the master. The third servant expressed a negative fear with his hatred towards the master, expecting punishment from him for any failure. He expressed it in managing the talent and in his reply to the master. God expects a reverential fear from us. The fear of hell shall not be the motive for avoiding evil. We have to express our love and gratitude towards God by obeying his commandments and the teachings of Jesus and his representatives.

I was afraid, so I hid your money in the ground.

Since the third servant was afraid of the master and had a negative impression about him, he hid the coin so no thief would steal it. He did not misuse the money or steal it. His intention was to avoid the risk of losing the money and return the talent to the owner without caring for profit. That was contrary to the intention of the master. Christian life also involves the risk of losing health, wealth, opportunities, or even life in this world. That is clear in the lives of the apostles and other missionaries. God assesses us not based on our worldly achievements, but on divine standards.

Here, take what is yours.

This statement also was a disrespectful approach, seeing the employer as an alien. The servant returned the original talent he received from the master. He did not expect the owner to demand more. The third servant’s attitude is like those who disrespect God and religion. They are not satisfied with what they receive in life. Out of their selfishness, they ignore the commandment of God and remain spiritually futile. To such people the Lord will say at the last judgement, “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me” (Mt 25:42-43).

(26) But his master replied: ‘Wicked and lazy servant, so you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed.

‘Wicked and lazy servant’

This is in contrast to the compliment the first two servants received when they presented the profit they made. Besides laziness, the master alleged the third servant was wicked. His malice was evident from his justification for hiding the talent and blaming the employer as an immoral person. The master judged him based on all these.

Though the Jews of Jesus’ time were religious according to their standards, they were spiritually fruitless. Hence, Jesus told his disciples and the public, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen” (Mt 23:2-5). The Christians in modern times also would have the temptation of becoming ritualistic while remain unproductive. While speaking of the similes of the salt and light, Jesus said, “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16).

so you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed.

The master trapped the third servant, making use of his words of justification and untrue accusation against the master. He blamed the servant’s imprudence and inactivity. If the servant’s accusation was true, he should have invested the money prudently, like the other two servants. Unproductivity in spiritual life and blaming religion for it is a common phenomenon in the modern world as well. There will be a time when God will question such false concepts and punish for spiritual inactivity.

(27) Then you should have deposited my money in the bank, and you would have given it back to me with interest on my return.

you should have deposited my money in the bank

Unlike the modern banks, during Jesus’ time, there was a money-lending system throughout the Roman empire that the Phœnicians introduced. The money lenders gave low interest to the depositors and rolled the money by lending to others for a high interest or invested the money for trade. If the third servant was afraid of the risky trade, he could at least lend the money to earn interest. Though such transaction was not as profit making as trading, he could earn the minimum with less risk and effort.

you would have given it back to me with interest on my return.

The Jewish law prohibited receiving interest from their own people. However, they could charge it from non-Jews. “You shall not demand interest from your kindred on a loan of money or of food or of anything else which is loaned. From a foreigner you may demand interest” (Deut 23:20-21). So, the owner might have intended to deposit the money with the pagan moneylenders.

Regardless of how little God has blessed us with, we should produce result making use of what we have. Paul advises, “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord” (Eph 5:15-17).

Negligence on duty is a sin. The magnitude of productivity is not an issue, but the enthusiasm for labor is important. God will require only what one can produce out of the person’s ability. Paul said, “if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (2 Cor 8:12).

(28) Now, take the talent from him, and give it to the one who has ten.

The employer in the parable now turns out as a judge. Though the third servant did not misuse the money and returned it intact, the master did not give him any compensation for its safekeeping. The unused capital, time, and opportunity resulted in a loss of the potential profit. He found the servant useless for money management and took away the talent from him. Though God blesses us with wealth, abilities, and opportunities of this world, if we do not make use of them for the kingdom of God according to Jesus’ teachings, we will lose everything with our death or with the last judgement.

The owner did not touch the unused talent. Instead, he ordered his other staff to take the one talent from the inefficient servant and hand over to the first servant who was the most efficient. Thus, the master penalized the third servant and recognized the first one.

(29) For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away from him.

This could be a proverbial expression of the time based on practical experience. People who are industrious will keep generating income while the lazy will keep on losing what he has. The hardworking people might benefit from the negligence of the idle people. The person seeking knowledge will continue gaining more understanding, while the illiterate lag. Jesus applied this in the spiritual sense.

After acting on the unfaithful servant, the master said a general principle that Jesus applied to the kingdom of God. Though Jesus revealed his identity through his actions and teachings, the noble Jews rejected him. So, he taught in parables that became difficult for the public to understand. However, Jesus clarified their application to his disciples in private. Thus, the disciples came to know more of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God than the scribes and Pharisees.

The apostles asked Jesus the reason for his teaching in parables. Jesus replied, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand’” (Mt 13:11-13). Jesus used the same statement on other occasions also (Mk 4:25; Lk 8:18; 19:26).

(30) As for that useless servant, throw him out into the dark where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Jesus goes a step further from the worldly reality to a spiritual realm to communicate his message. He warns a severe punishment waiting for the unfaithful at his second coming or at the end of their lives in this world.

useless servant

The third servant did not commit any serious sin, like breaking the commandments of God. However, he was negligent in his given responsibility and thus proved himself to be useless by his action. Like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time, he was not spiritually productive. Jesus will judge and punish us not just for evil doing but also for our failure to do our Christian responsibility.

The unfaithful servant had no more chance to prove otherwise. Since our worldly life ends with our death, that is the finishing point of our lives when we no longer can do any good or evil. After that we face the judgement based on our actions during our lifetime. The present time is the best opportunity for us to prove our usefulness to the Lord.

throw him out into the dark

Jesus compared heaven to the joy of a banquet that happens mostly at night with torches lit in the banquet hall. Outside of it will be dark. So, throwing out into the darkness is expulsion from the heavenly banquet. Darkness is symbolic of a lack of divine light because Jesus is the light of the world. That is a stage of emptiness, absence of joy, and end of hope. Throwing into the dark expresses the eternal punishment in hell (Mt 8:11-12).

where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The Bible uses the phrase “wailing and grinding of teeth” as a sign of eternal damnation (Mt 8:12). Wicked persons gnash their teeth against the righteous to express their hatred or anger as they did at the trial of Stephen (Acts 7:54). Psalm 37:12 states: “The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them.” Jesus uses this as a part of the last judgement. “That is how it will be at the end of time; the angels will go out to separate the wicked from the just and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 13:49-50). Matthew uses this also in 8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 24:51; and 25:30. Luke uses it at 13:28. The grinding of teeth, along with wailing, expresses great and lasting anguish at the loss of everlasting life in heaven. It also would be their expression of disagreement in seeing others, like the Gentiles and former sinners, enjoying eternal reward with the forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

MESSAGE

1. Ownership of the talents: In this parable, the servants do not own the talents. The owner entrusted them to make use of it on his behalf for profit. What we have in our lives is God given and so belongs to God, whether it is our family, wealth, or talents. We did not bring them by birth and do not take with us at death. However, we are answerable to God in our productivity.

2. Uneven distribution of talents: The master respected the abilities of his servants and divided his wealth unequally. We should not be proud or disappointed in how much we get. God will expect more from those who got high and less from those who received less.

3. Reward for our labor: The master honored and rewarded the servants who multiplied their talents. Jesus, our master, promised prominent positions for those who labor for his kingdom.

4. Unproductivity is punishable: The servant who hid the talent underground for safekeeping did not commit any other evil. His lack of enthusiasm for productivity was his mistake. He wasted the time, talents, and opportunity for business or depositing in the bank. So, he got severe punishment from the master. Are we also spiritually unproductive?

5. Negativity of the idle servant: The unproductive servant justified himself by rebuking his master. That added to the wrath of the employer who sentenced him to eternal punishment. Are we arrogant, like this servant, finding fault with God, his church, or the surrounding people?

6. Limitation of our lifespan: We might have wasted time doing no good for God and his people. We do not know how much time left for us in this world. Let us compensate for the time wasted with the unknown time left ahead of us.