SCRIPTURE: Matthew 25:14-30
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CHAPTERS 21-25: THE CONTEXT
Chapters 23-25 are Jesus' final discourse (lengthy speech) in this Gospel. The setting is the temple, and the time is early Holy Week –– between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday.
Jesus' discourse includes several parables that emphasize preparation for the master's (Jesus') return (24:45-51; 25:1-13; 25:14-30, 31-46), where readiness consists of faithful stewardship over that which the master has provided. Judgment is central to all of these. The unexpected nature of the master's coming is important to the three parables. However, it is important to see beyond the "weeping and gnashing of teeth" aspect of judgment to the great joy that believers will experience at Jesus' coming. That will be the day that we receive our inheritance.
VERSES 14-30: THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS
Given the time of year –– the time of annual pledge campaigns –– the preacher will want to turn this parable into a stewardship sermon to emphasize generosity in the pledge campaign. While this parable deals with stewardship, we must be careful not to lose sight of the fact that it is set in the context of an eschatological discourse where Jesus encourages us to be ready for his Second Coming (chapters 23-25).
This parable has certain allegorical elements (where certain persons or events have a deeper symbolic meaning). In this parable:
• The man going on a journey represents Jesus.
• His going on a journey represents Jesus' ascension.
• The slaves represent Christians who are awaiting the Second Coming.
• The talents represent the blessings with which God has bestowed us.
• The man's return represents Jesus' Second Coming.
• The master's assessment of the faithfulness of the slaves represents Jesus' judgment of us on Judgment Day.
VERSES 14-15: TO EACH ACCORDING TO HIS OWN ABILITY
14"For it is like a man, going into another country, who called his own servants (Greek: doulos –– slaves or servants), and entrusted his goods to them. 15To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to each according to his own ability (Greek: dunamis –– power, strength, ability). Then he went on his journey."
"For it is like a man, going into another country" (v. 14a). Keep in mind that:
• Jesus is now preparing to die.
• This parable is embedded in Jesus' Eschatological Discourse.
• Matthew is writing this Gospel late in the first century when the church is struggling with the issue of Jesus' delayed Parousia (Second Coming).
"who called his own servants" (doulos) (v. 14b). The Greek word, doulos can be translated slave or servant, and can reflect either involuntary service (as a slave) or voluntary service (as a servant). New Testament writers use doulos to refer to their own service to Christ (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; 2 Timothy 2:24; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1). This is clearly voluntary service, not slavery.
"and entrusted his goods to them" (v. 14c). This is very much like Jesus entrusting his work to the church and to individual members thereof.
"To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to each according to his own ability" (Greek: dunamis –– power, strength, ability) (v. 15a). The master gives each servant his trust and treats each servant as an individual. This is a very personal act.
A talent is a weight used to weigh gold or silver. One talent represents the earnings for an ordinary worker for about twenty years. It is a ton of money, so to speak.
"Then he went on his journey" (v. 15b). As every supervisor or parent knows, walking away is the hardest step –– and the one that demonstrates the greatest trust.
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VERSES 16-18: BUT HE WHO RECEIVED THE ONE TALENT...
16"Immediately he who received the five talents went (Greek: eutheos –– immediately) and traded (Greek: ergasato –– worked) with them, and made (Greek: ekerdesen –– gained, won) another five talents. 17In the same way, he also who got the two gained another two. 18But he who received the one went away and dug in the earth, and hid his lord's money."
"Immediately he who received the five talents went" (v. 16a). There is a sense of enthusiasm here. Nobody has to light a fire under this servant. He is excited to be trusted with such a great treasure –– to do something positive –– to prove himself. He puts his five talents to work, and gains five more talents.
"and traded (ergasato) with them, and made (ekerdesen) another five talents" (v. 16b). The Greek word, ekerdesen –– from kerdaino (gain, win) –– is used earlier in this Gospel to speak of regaining or winning back a sinful Christian (18:15). It is appropriate to think of this parable as emphasizing the proclamation of the Gospel to win people to Christ or to win back an errant disciple. Jesus tells us that to fail to do so –– to hide one's light under a bushel –– makes absolutely no sense (5:15). This parable tells us that it is dangerous.
"In the same way, he also who got the two gained another two " (v. 17). The two-talent servant does the same as the five-talent servant –– responds with enthusiasm –– uses initiative –– goes off at once –– works –– makes two more talents. Like the first servant, his gain is 100 percent.
"But he who received the one went away and dug in the earth, and hid his lord's money" (v. 18). The one-talent servant, however, digs a hole and buries the master's money –– an accepted way of safeguarding money. According to rabbinical law, the person who buries money in a hidden location cannot be held accountable for its loss. It is a conservative form of safekeeping –– but it accomplishes nothing.
VERSES 19-23: AFTER A LONG TIME
19"Now after a long time the lord (Greek: kyrios –– master, Lord) of those servants came, and reconciled accounts with them. 20He who received the five talents came and brought another five talents, saying, 'Lord, you delivered to me five talents. Behold, I have gained another five talents besides them.'
21"His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'
22"He also who got the two talents came and said, 'Lord, you delivered to me two talents. Behold, I have gained another two talents besides them.'
23"His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'"
"Now after a long time" (v. 19a). Matthew is conscious of the delay of the Second Coming, and that would be in his mind as he pens these words of Jesus. He and the rest of the church have waited a long time for Jesus' return.
"the lord (kyrios) of those servants came, and reconciled accounts with them" (v. 19). Kyrios can be translated Lord –– "a title that in the Gospel context takes on Christological significance when applied to Jesus" (Senior, 278).
"He who received the five talents came and brought another five talents, saying, 'Lord, you delivered to me five talents. Behold, I have gained another five talents besides them'" (v. 20). When the master returns, there is a time for accountability.
"Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord" (v. 21, 23). The master-Lord rewards the five and two-talent servants with equal praise, even though one made more money than the other. He pronounces each "good and faithful." He rewards each with increased responsibility. And he says to each, "Enter into the joy of your lord."
VERSES 24-28: YOU WICKED AND SLOTHFUL SERVANT!
24"He also who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you that you are a hard (Greek: skleros –– hard, harsh, severe) man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter. 25I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the earth. Behold, you have what is yours.'
26"But his lord answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I didn't sow, and gather where I didn't scatter. 27You ought therefore to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back my own with interest. 28Take away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents."
While we enjoy hearing of the master's generosity to the five- and two-talent servants, this parable really turns on the actions of the one-talent servant and the master's response to those actions.
"Lord, I knew you that you are a hard (skleros –– hard, harsh, severe) man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter" (v. 24). Everything that we have seen of the master so far has been generous. We wonder why the one-talent servant feels that the master is harsh. The answer, of course, is that this characterization is unfair.
"I was afraid" (v. 25a). Fear tends to be a disabler rather than an enabler. Jesus said, "Therefore don't be afraid of them" (10:26) –– and "Therefore don't be afraid" (10:31; 28:5) –– and "Don't be afraid. Only believe" (Luke 8:50).
"and went away and hid your talent in the earth. Behold, you have what is yours" (v. 25b). This servant made no effort to use the treasure with which he had been entrusted. He did not extend himself at all except to bury the treasure for safeguarding.
"You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I didn't sow, and gather where I didn't scatter?" (v. 26). The master uses the servant's own words ("You knew, that I reap where I didn't sow, and gather where I didn't scatter") to convict him.
"You ought therefore to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back my own with interest" (v. 27). The one-talent servant acted in fear. He has no affection for the master, is concerned only for his own security.
VERSES 29-30: FOR TO EVERYONE WHO HAS, MORE WILL BE GIVEN
29"For to everyone who has will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who doesn't have, even that which he has will be taken away. 30Throw out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"
"For to everyone who has will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who doesn't have, even that which he has will be taken away" (v. 29). We should be careful not to read this as "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer" –– good news only for the wealthy. Throughout the Gospels Jesus shows concern for the poor, a concern most dramatically illustrated by his conclusion to this lengthy discourse (25:31-46).
"Throw out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness" (v. 30a). The irony is that the one-talent servant, concerned only for his personal security, loses that security because of his unwillingness to take even a small risk or to make even a small effort.
"where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (v. 30b). This is a standard formula in this Gospel, often used by Jesus to describe the fate of those who receive harsh judgment (8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 24:51).
The one-talent person is always tempted to believe that he/she cannot accomplish anything significant. "If he lives in Hitler's Germany, he is silent when he should speak. By his default, not by his outright crime, he is an encouragement to bold wickedness.... He fails to see how much he is needed.... The one-talent man is one note on the piano; but his failure can play havoc" (Buttrick, 560).
This scripture "explains that there will come a time when people are held accountable for their actions. The precise time may not be known, but the accounting will be certain" (Little and Aeseng, 75).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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