Judgment of the worthless servant who hid what had been given to him instead of investing and growing it.
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.
- Wealthy people in the ancient world often went on long journeys, leaving their property and business interests in the hands of trusted bond-servants or stewards who were free men. Travelling was unpredictable and the servants would not have known when the master might return.
15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
- The individual bag of gold weighed a talent, like a really heavy ‘extra-charges’ suitcase – as much as anyone would want to carry. So this is considerable investment and responsibility that is being assigned.
16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.
17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.
- To us, this seems an exaggeration – such a high rate of return. And Jewish people were forbidden to participate in usury, lending at high rates of interest. However, there was no prohibition on lending to Gentiles, and rich people tended to be more influenced by Greek practices. Added to this, few people of this time had spare capital, so someone needing to borrow for land or a grand building or to pay a militia would have to pay the asking rate, which without competition could be high. A doubling of the sum in, say, a year was not an unrealistic expectation on the part of the master.
18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
- Hiding money in the ground was not uncommon; it was considered a safe place. Archaeologists and others have often discovered forgotten hordes of earlier times.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.
20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
4 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.
- We should not assume that the servant’s allegation was true – there is no hint that the master was harsh, apart from this.
- The servant is hardly loving to his master in his remarks. Perhaps he was resentful that he was not trusted with a greater amount.
25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?
27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
- Rather than the greater risk and greater return of arranging a direct loan or investment, the lazy and disobedient servant could have put the money on deposit with a banker or money-changer, and still earned useful interest.
28 “ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.
29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.
- Being ready for Christ’s coming – the unknown time of return, and the main point of the parable – requires active service rather than passivity. Taking the risk (faith) of being found doing what is right, not just avoiding what is wrong, is the expectation.
- Jesus states this principle in the context of telling the parable of the soils, Matt. 13:12. He is quoting Isaiah 6:9-10. From a worldly perspective, “whoever has will be given more” seems to be a hard saying. From a heavenly or faith perspective, it is not difficult. The ways of God do not follow man’s logic or expectation. A person whose response lacks the dimension of faith will “lose” what is imparted, because understanding is not just intellectual but revealed through faith. A person who “has” even a little faith will understand through faith, and “will be given more”. Jesus asks elsewhere, following the parable of the widow and the unjust judge Luke 18:1-8 “When the Son of Man returns will He find faith on the earth?”
30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Choose to honour God in all He gives us, investing to grow His kingdom rather than playing for safety.
The word ‘talents’ used by some translators can take us away from the central meaning of this parable, which is about faith and readiness.
Everyone who has accepted the lordship of Jesus has a measure of faith (Romans 12:3,6), and this grows (2 Cor. 10:15) with maturity. The Lord expects us to put to work the faith that we have; the effect of this is to gain more.
Like the subject of the story who went away, and might return unannounced at any time, we are charged with being ready for Christ’s return at any time and being found faithful and active and working with what He has given us – investing ourselves and our gifts, by faith, in making a better world.