This parable continues the warnings Jesus gave to those who are his so that they would act as they should. The parable of the talents has two significant sections. First it discusses the giving of the talents and how they are to be employed, and second what will occur on the return of the Lord.
The parable of the talents is about a man going on a journey and entrusting his property and business to his servants. We see him give different amounts to each of three servants. In this case a talent was a significant sum of money. They were to trade with these talents for the benefit of their master. Their work was to be in the employment of their master by using the talents he had given them so they would increase the wealth and size of the masters business.
We could look at these talents also as abilities and skills that the Lord gives to each of us. His teachers, preachers and ministers have certain talents, skills and abilities which they are to employ in the service of the Lord for the purpose of expanding his kingdom here on earth. These talents, skills and abilities are used for the teaching, upbuilding and encoragement of the church. Perhaps more to the point, the Lord also gave gifts to men for the purpose of working in his kingdom. Some are called to be teachers, some prophets, pastors, evangelists for the purpose of bringing the people of God to full maturity in the gospel of Christ. (Ephesians 4:8-14)
We can also look at these talents as the skills and abilities given to all of mankind. Every person is given a life and certain abilities. Whether they choose to use their life to seek and follow the Lord or to turn from him will determine their outcome in relation to the inheritance of the kingdom of God.
Coming back to the parable we see that the three servants were given different amounts of money to trade with. One received five talents, one received two talents and the third received only one talent. Now it is evident that the master gave his property to the servants on the basis of who would do the best job with it. The servant who received the five talents was well trusted by the master and he expected he would do the best job with what was given him. This level of trust would have been based on prior history and how this servant had behaved and performed on previous occasions. The master knew the servant would do a good job because he had been tested over time and had performed well. Thus the master had a high level of trust and so gave him the lions share of his property to work with.
It is appropriate that the servants of the Lord are likewise found to be trustworthy. They are to serve the Lord such that they can build trust by doing a good job with the gifts given to them. Whether it is to teach, preach, pastor, aid, administer or whatever, they are to faithfully employ the gifts they are given for the benefit of the Lord and the church and not their own benefit.
The second servant was still in the process of being tried and proven. He was not yet ready and perhaps had not yet fully gained the confidence of the master. Thus he was given only two talents to see what he would do. The master had a level of trust but was not yet sure of his capabilities. However this servant did not let his master down but took the talents given to him and worked hard to produce one hundred percent growth. This built the masters trust and faith in this servant such that he received the same reward as the first servant. Both of them received the same blessing of their master on a job well done and were to receive the same promise of a reward for their work in his service.
Every person who comes to God and follows the teachings of Jesus Christ is offered the same reward. We all have the offer of eternal life with Christ in his kingdom upon his return. If we follow him and learn his ways we will receive this reward. But we may also be given work to do in the service of the Lord and we are to do that work as trustworthy servants. The reward is the same but the blessing is greater for it is more blessed to give than to receive. If we receive a gift from God, the blessing comes from using that gift in the service of the Lord for the advancement of his people and the purpose of the Lord.
Finally we see the last servant to whom only one talent was given. The master clearly did not yet have much trust in this servant and so he only gave him a small amount to see how he would perform. This servant had the opportunity to use the gift given to him but chose not to. He hid this talent away and did not employ it in the service of the master. There was no growth and there was no benefit to the master on his return from this final servant. All he got back was what was his own.
We then see the reason for why the servant had done nothing explained. The servant chose to blame the master for his own lack of performance. He did not accept any responsibility himself but was in effect saying to the master that he was an evil master. He said, “It’s your fault that I did not do anything because you are a hard man to work for so I did nothing rather than fail.” It is clear this servant was wrong, for whether the master was a hard man or not, he had been entrusted to do a job and failed to do it. The master then said, “Well if you knew I was a hard and an evil man, you should have done something similarly evil to give me a return for what I had given you.” The master said the man should have put his money out to the money lenders to receive usury or interest if he thought the master was evil so that the evil master would have received an evil gain from the servant.
Jesus was not condoning the practice of taking usury or lending money at interest in this section. Usury was forbidden under the law and with good reason for it is destructive. But what Jesus was showing was that if the servant thought the master was evil, he could have used evil methods to do as the master wanted. In essence he was condemning the servant for saying the master was a hard man from the servants own mouth. The servant chose not to do what he was supposed to do and so was condemned. There was no one else to blame for his inaction and he could not shift the blame. The responsibility for doing nothing fell squarely on the servants shoulders and he was punished accordingly.
Many people who are given the gift of life choose to waste that gift and do nothing with it. They choose to do the opposite of what the Lord would hope for giving them this gift and they destroy rather than build up. This is a waste. Some even say it is too hard to follow Jesus and so take the easy road to do nothing. They are wrong and are trying to shift blame for their inaction to the Lord, as this third servant tried to blame the master. Their end is condemnation for their failure to use the life they were given to come to the Lord and learn his ways and then bear the fruit of a life lived in accordance with the truth. They fail because they choose a life of error rather than the way of truth in Jesus Christ. The gift given to them of life was a waste and so it will be taken away.
The master had only entrusted a small amount to the third servant because he had not yet earned the trust of the master. The master was testing the servant to see whether he was trustworthy enough to be given greater responsibility. The same tests were applied to the first two servants and they passed the tests, but the third servant failed miserably. Not only did he fail the test, he would not take responsibility for his own action and so was condemned as well. Had he only failed to trade and make a gain it would not have been as bad, but in his attempt to blame his master for his own inaction he proved himself to be untrustworthy. As such he was cast out of the masters employment.
The Lord expects those who are given gifts to employ them in his service to work with his people so there will be spiritual benefit. His servants have been given gifts so they can use them to build up the church. If we use those gifts we will receive more and greater opportunities to do the Lord’s work. Then we too will receive the ultimate blessing which is to have the Lord say, “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.” But those who abuse the gifts given to them and fail to employ them will be cast out.
Those who do nothing like the third servant, on the basis that they believe the Lord to be hard and harsh, will suffer loss. When the Lord says, “…to those who have not, even what they have will be taken away…” I believe he is talking about their life. Every person has life and the chance to do something with it. They receive gifts and abilities in this life (ie. like the talents given to the servants) and the opportunity to employ them for the good of the kingdom of God by serving their fellow man and bretheren in the church. If they choose not to do that and turn away from the Lord, they will suffer loss. They effectively have nothing if they do not seek the Lord and even what they have, their life, will be taken away.