Summary: What does this parable mean? Who is the man with the servants who goes on a journey? What are the talents he gives his servants? And how does the parable apply to us?
What does this parable mean? Who is the man with the servants who goes on a journey? What are the talents he gives his servants? And how does the parable apply to us?
What does the parable mean?
An important rule when we’re looking at Scripture is to look at the context. Of course, that rule doesn’t just apply to Scripture! Politicians regularly complain that someone has taken their words out of context.
Can you turn in your Bibles to the start of this parable? It starts with Jesus saying: ‘For it will be like…’ What’s the ‘it’?! Jesus is clearly referring to something he’s been talking about. We need to understand the context.
So, let’s take a look. Jesus has been talking about one subject from the end of chapter 23, through the whole of chapter 24, and into the beginning of chapter 25.
Let’s start with chapter 23. Can you please turn to verse 37? Jesus says, “For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’”. The people can see Jesus now. He’s standing in front of them speaking. But he says, ‘You will not see me again, until…’ In other words, Jesus will be leaving and coming back.
Let’s now go onto the start of chapter 24 and look at the opening three verses. The disciples ask Jesus, ‘When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ The disciples understand that Jesus will come again. Look at verse 27: ‘For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man’. Now look at verse 30: ‘Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’. Now verse 44: ‘Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect’. It’s the same theme: Jesus will come again.
Now let’s move on to chapter 25, which is where the parable of the talents comes. First, Jesus tells a parable about ten virgins. The virgins are expecting the bridegroom to come, but they don’t expect him to take so long. The bridegroom is clearly Jesus. The parable is telling us, ‘Jesus is coming’. And the message of the parable of the ten virgins is ‘Be ready’.
So, for more than a chapter Jesus has been saying, ‘I will come again’.
I said that the message of the parable of the ten virgins is ‘Be ready’. So, it would be natural for Jesus to move on to answer the question, ‘What does it mean to be ready?’ That is what the parable of the talents answers.
So now we have reached the parable of the talents. When Jesus says, ‘For IT will be like…’ we understand what the ‘it’ is. It’s the fact that he will come again. That is the context of this parable.
Who is the man with the servants who goes on a journey?
Now that we have seen the context, we see who the man is, who goes on a journey. Jesus has been talking about going away and coming back. So that man is clearly Jesus. In that case, the servants are us.
What are the talents he gives his servants?
In everyday life a talent refers to skills and aptitudes. But the word ‘talent’ here is a transliteration of the Greek word ‘talanton’. It was initially the word for a unit of weight – about 30 kilograms. But later, the word came to mean that weight of gold or silver, in other words, a sum of money. We don’t know whether the master gave talents of gold or talents of silver. If he gave talents of silver they would be worth a lot. If he gave talents of gold – each talent being 30 kilograms of gold – then they would be worth a huge amount!
That’s the meaning of ‘talent’ in the parable. But what does ‘talent’ refer to in real life?
There are two main possibilities. The most obvious meaning is that ‘talent’ means money in the parable and it means money, or material wealth, in real life. Another possible meaning is that ‘talent’ refers to spiritual wealth.
In reality, Jesus expects us to look after both. Let’s have a few cross-references to make that point.
Luke 16:11. ‘If you have not been faithful with worldly wealth, who trust you with true riches?’ Here Jesus is talking about material wealth and he expects us to look after it. So, the talents could certainly refer to material wealth.