Gospel Analysis: Talents: Five, Two and One
Pentecost 26A Matthew 25:14-30.
Pastor Edward F. Markquart
Grace Lutheran Church
Des Moines, Washington 98198
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.
Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 267-269.
THE LARGER CONTEXT OF MATTHEW 25:14-30
Matthew 24-25 is sometimes called the Eschatological Discourse.
As we recall from earlier lessons, Matthew gathered not only taxes but the teachings and events of Jesus’ life. We remember that Matthew was the organizer, the systematizer, the arranger of the stories about the life of Jesus. We see how Matthew clearly organized his material into sections such as the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7, the miracles in chapters 8-9, teachings on discipleship in chapter 10, parables in chapter 13. Similarly in chapters 24 and 25, Matthew gathers material about the End of the World into this section.
According to Aland in his SYNOPSIS OF THE GOSPELS, there are several teaching and events in this segment. Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the eight stories listed below.
Chapter 24: The Eschatological Discourse
- The prediction of the destruction of the temple.
- Signs before the End.
- Persecutions foretold.
- The Desolating Sacrilege.
- False Christs and False Prophets.
- The Coming of the Son of Man
- The time of the Coming: the Parable of the Fig Tree
- Conclusion: Take Heed, Watch
Chapter 25: Parables about the Coming which supplement the Eschatological Discourse.
- The Parable of the Flood and Exhortations to Watchfulness. (Q. Matthew and Luke.)
- The Parable of the Good Servant and Wicked Servant (Q, Matthew, Luke)
- The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew)
- The Parable of the Talents (Q, Matthew, Luke)
- The Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew)
There were two factors that enormously influenced the lives of early Christians:
- The destruction and leveling of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 CE and the pervasive thought that this event felt like the End of the World.
- The delay of the Second Coming. The Second Coming did not occur in the earliest disciples’ lifetime as they had erroneously thought it would. These earliest Christians had to deal with their misinterpretation of the timing of The End. Several of the teachings in Matthew 23 and the parables in Matthew 24 deal with these concerns
The early Christians struggled significantly with both of these issues. The End of the World did not come when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Second Coming of Christ did not come as early as they thought. Their personal timetable was wrong for both: for the End and for the Second Coming.
#299. THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27
“To whom much is given, much shall be required.” At the conclusion of the parable about a thief breaking into a house at night (Luke 12:41-48) Jesus adds one more teaching. This teaching of Jesus is enormously true and has been etched into our hearts and minds.
There is no other place in the Scriptures that you hear this teaching of Jesus. It is only here, in the Gospel of Luke, that we hear this profound teaching of Jesus: “To whom much is given, much is required. To whom much is entrusted by others, much is demanded.”
There is no other place in the Sunday morning lectionary where this teaching is included.
This teaching needs to be incorporated into the text for today about the five talents, two talents and one talent.
-As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. (The opening sentence of this parable is only found in Luke’s gospel. Perhaps this sentence should also be incorporated into the gospel reading for this Sunday.)
Luke and Matthew are telling this parable. The progression of the story is the same but the details are different. When we see both Matthew and Luke telling the same story but not copying from Mark, we assume that they are using a common resource that we call Q.
Luke, as a gospel author, persistently mentions the name of Jerusalem.
Underline the phrase, “they supposed the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” Throughout the history of the church, this has been a persistent problem: there were Christians who thought they knew God’s timetable better than Jesus and they knew that the End of the World was coming very soon, if not almost immediately.
Luke has different details in the story but the same story-line. That is, Matthew has three servants who have been given five talents, two talents and one talent. Luke has ten servants who have been given ten pounds. We then hear about five pounds and one pound. The details of the stories in Matthew and Luke are different but the ideas and sequence flow in parallel sequence.
-‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; We have seen the shape of this parable before, in a previous parable. This is another one of Jesus’ classic parables. This is another example of Jesus choosing the common and ordinary things of life as a teaching vehicle of his Godly truth. Once again, Jesus took his parable from everyday, common life. We have heard a parable about a wedding banquet, masters and slaves, and now we will hear a parable about sheep and goats. These were all common experiences for the average Jewish person from their everyday life.
“In the Roman Empire slaves could earn wages and bonuses and acquire property (as in Apul. Metam. 10.13; Cohen 1966:179-278), hence they would have more incentive to look out for the master's property than slaves in many cultures do. Householders going on long journeys might entrust their estate to slaves to oversee (compare 24:45-51), since household slaves often held managerial roles (for example, Treggiari 1975:49). Thus the servants understood very well what was required of them.” … “Jesus promises eternal reward for those who prove worthy of his trust. The servants' rewards were commensurate with their faithfulness in pursuing the master's interest.” Bible Gateway.
-To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Talents were weights of copper, gold or silver. The most common metal weight was silver. (See the footnote at the bottom of the page of your basic text by Aland.) You will discover that a value of a five talent weight was fifteen years of labor. Take your own average annual income and multiply it times fifteen years. This was a lot of money.
Underline the phrase, “according to his ability.” Each slave was entrusted with capital according to their ability. Jesus, the storyteller, was aware of differing people having differing abilities.
We recall Jesus’ other teaching from the Gospel of Luke, “To whom much is given, much shall be required.”
Today, we often interpret this parable as an invitation to use the gifts that God has given to us in such a way that is pleasing to God. We all know that God has given each one of us differing gifts, as represented by the varying talents that God has given to each person.
In our society, the talent is not a measure of the amount of silver but a measure of the amount of gifts/resources/abilities that God has given to each one of us. While God is away on a journey (although God is never really away from us), we are to use the varying gifts/resources/abilities that God has given to each of us.
Notice Luke’s parallel. In Luke’s parallel, there are not three servants but ten servants. In Luke’s story, each servant is given one pound.
-Then he went away. These parables at the end of Jesus’ teachings and just before the Passion story, reveal that the early church was wrestling with its concern that Jesus had not come back for the Second Coming as anticipated. There was a delay to the coming of the End of the World as early disciples anticipated it.
-The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. This slave was industrious with the capital that his master had entrusted him and he doubled the money.
-In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. This slave doubled the money.
Notice that the “five talent” person and the “two talent” person did not get into psychological games about who had the most talent. They didn’t get into games about “I am superior because God gave me five talents” or “I am half as good because God gave me only two talents.” There were no “comparison games” being played here. Both people realized that their master and owner had lent them resources and they were both to use these resources to benefit their master. That was simple and clear.
Similarly, Christ is our master and owner and has lent us our resources/gifts/abilities and we are to use these God-given resources to benefit our master. I am not to play the “comparison games” and compare the resources that God has entrusted to me with the resources that God has entrusted to someone else.
-But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. Here is the problem. One slave buried the gift that the master had given him. It seems that this slave was embarrassed that God gave him only one talent and so he went and buried the talent that God had given him. Remember this talent was not meager in and of itself: it was worth three years of wage. Three years of wages is a considerable sum of money. But compared to the servants who had been given fifteen years of wages or six years of wages, the gift of three years of wages seemed meager to the person who was given one talent.
Similarly, God has been generous to all of us, including those who feel that God has not given them sufficient gifts. Even so, we as human beings can bury treasures/resources that God has given each one of us. We can minimize God’s gifts to us and complain, “I have been given onlyone talent.” The point is: One talent is worth three years wages. The point is: The owner didn’t need to lend even one talent, but he generously did. God’s gifts are always generous. Even the one talent gift was a generous gift.
-After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Circle the word, “long.” This is the first reference in the parables of Jesus that the “delay” would be a long period of time. As has been previously stated, a fundamental issue for the early Christian church was the delay of the Second Coming and what to do about it. In this story, Jesus was teaching his disciples that they were to be industrious in using their gifts in his physical absence. Jesus warns us that the delay may be long.
-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.” A person can sense the joy and pleasure in this servant’s heart as he brings the five other talents forward to show the master. Circle the word, “see.” We are often like children, bringing the resources of our labors to God and saying, “See, this is what I have done with the gifts that you have entrusted to me.”
We hear Jesus’ words, “To whom must is entrusted, from that person much more will be demanded.” All leaders of the world need to grasp what Jesus was teaching through these words. In politics, business, medicine, education, sports, church and in every area of life, there are exceptionally gifted people who have been entrusted with inordinate gifts. Jesus taught that much more will be demanded/expected/insisted of these people.
-His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” We like to hear the phrase, “Well done good and faithful servant.” We hear this phrase on the judgment day in the Book of Revelation and also in the words of the Apostle Paul. We want those words said about us on our judgment day.
This is not a “works righteous” kind of attitude. Rather, we know that salvation is a pure gift and that we cannot earn our way into heaven. A sign of our salvation that is freely given is that we do the works that God wants us to do. Salvation is always a free gift, undeserved and unearned. Knowing that we are saved by God’s grace, we then “do” the works that God wants us to do, not to merit salvation but because God has filled our hearts with love and our actions with compassion.
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.” This slave doubled the gifts that God gave him also.
-His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” This servant hears those ringing, glorious words of affirmation, “Well done good and faithful servant. Receive the crown of glory.” Those are the words that all of us want to hear from the Lord on Judgment Day.
-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; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” Here is the problem. The one talent person now claims that God/the Master is a harsh man, judgmental and to be feared. He is using God’s harshness as an excuse for not being faithful and using his one talent for God. The “one talent” man/woman needs to find an excuse for not being faithful in the use of his/her talents and the clever excuse for disobedience is to blame God.
We human beings are often the same today. If we don’t use the gifts/resources/talents that God has given to us, rather than blame ourselves, we blame God or evil or evil circumstances for the fact that we did not use our God given gifts.
-But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 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. Circle the words, “wicked and lazy” and underscore the word, “lazy.” The master calls “a spade a spade.” He calls the servant “lazy.” Simply lazy and therefore wicked/sinful/slothful. Why didn’t the “one talent” person invest his God-given resources? Because he was lazy. The lazy servant tried to blame God for his laziness but it didn’t work. God saw through his “blame-game.”
-So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. The Lord God does exercise judgment and punishment. The owner takes the talent away and gives it to the one who had ten talents. Why to the one who had ten talents? I am not sure, except for the next teaching of Jesus.
-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. To whom much is given much will be required. We know that this principle is true even if a person is not religious. That is, a common adage for the whole world is the intuitive awareness that the more gifts/resources/abilities that God has given to you, the more that life requires of you.
-As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is Matthew’s consistent phrasing that describes hell and eternal wrath/punishment. We recall that Matthew uses the phrase, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” twelve times and Luke uses it twice. These are the only uses in the New Testament. We recall from earlier lessons that this was Matthew’s Aramaic expression for the pain and torment of hell.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: WHAT ARE THE GIFTS/RESOURCES/ABILITIES THAT GOD HAS GIVEN TO YOU AND HOW ARE YOU USING THEM IN SUCH A WAY THAT PLEASES GOD?
Perhaps a pastor could use the above painting as an insert or for a bulletin cover.
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