JESUS GIVES THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE TALENTS
While still with his four apostles on the Mount of Olives, Jesus tells them another illustration. A few days earlier, while he was at Jericho, he gave the illustration of the minas to show that the Kingdom was yet far off in the future. The illustration he now relates has a number of similar features. It is part of his answer to the question about his presence and the conclusion of the system of things. It highlights that his disciples must be diligent with what he entrusts to them.
Jesus begins: “It is just like a man about to travel abroad who summoned his slaves and entrusted his belongings to them.” (Matthew 25:14) Given that Jesus had already likened himself to a man who traveled abroad “to secure kingly power for himself,” the apostles could easily see that Jesus is the “man” being spoken of now.
Before the man in the illustration travels abroad, he commits to his slaves valuable belongings. During the three and a half years of his ministry, Jesus focused on preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom, and he trained his disciples to do this work. Now he is going away, confident that they will carry on doing what he trained them to do.
In the illustration, how does the man distribute his belongings? Jesus relates: “He gave five talents to one, two to another, and one to still another, to each according to his own ability, and he went abroad.” (Matthew 25:15) What will these slaves do with what is entrusted to them? Will they be diligent in using them in their master’s interests? Jesus tells the apostles:
“Immediately the one who received the five talents went and did business with them and gained five more. Likewise, the one who received the two gained two more. But the slave who received just one went off and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.” (Matthew 25:16-18) What will happen when the master returns?
“After a long time,” Jesus continues, “the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.” (Matthew 25:19) The first two did all they could, “each according to his own ability.” Each slave was diligent, hardworking, and productive with what had been entrusted to him. The one who received five talents doubled that, as did the one who received two talents. (Back then, a worker would have to labor about 19 years to earn the equivalent of one talent.) The master has the same commendation for each of them: “Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things. I will appoint you over many things. Enter into the joy of your master.”
It is different, though, with the slave who received one talent. He says: “Master, I knew you to be a demanding man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not winnow. So I grew afraid and went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.” (Matthew 25:24, 25) He has not even deposited the money with bankers so as to accumulate at least some profit for his master. He has, in effect, worked against his master’s interests.
Fittingly, the master designates him a “wicked and sluggish slave.” What he had is taken away and given to the slave who is willing to apply himself diligently. The master sets out his standard: “To everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”
Jesus’ disciples have much to think about, even in connection with this one illustration. They can see that what Jesus is entrusting to them
How pleased the apostles must be, though, with the assurance: “To everyone who has, more will be given”!