Summary: Are we making the most of our opportunities?

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A guy was talking to his pastor about talents, abilities and natural gifts one morning. He said, “Pastor, I think I have only one talent.”

The pastor asked, “What’s your talent?

The man said, "I believe I have the gift of criticism."

The pastor replied, "Then maybe you should go out and bury it.”

Just so you know there are shovels at the main entrance in case any of you want to go out and bury your talent right now. And please don’t mark the holes, we don’t want you digging them up again.

The parable of the Talents is an exciting and challenging little story. I love parables – they are filled with mystery and hidden treasures that beg to be found. They are a detective story and you have to search and use your mind to catch the insights into life that God has left for us. Parables are his way of making us take another look at life.

This particular parable has a present-future aspect to it. Jesus was warning and teaching his disciples about the coming of the Kingdom of God. In each parable Jesus tells there is a common element: a master goes away and promises to return one day to take account of what his servants did while he was gone.

For many of us who have read this story before we have always come to the conclusion that this is a parable about how you use your natural gifts, abilities, or, as the parable terms it “talents.” More specifically, how well are we using them for God’s kingdom? This is a common mistake and totally misinterprets the meaning of the parable. It is truly a puzzling parable unless we start with a proper understanding of what a talent is. This is the central question:

1. What do the talents represent?

When we think of a talent we think of someone’s ability to play the piano. Dedicating this talent to God they wonder, “How can I use my talent for Christ?”

But when the disciples think of a talent, as in this parable, they think of a measure of money. A talent was a weight used for measuring silver or gold. In this case, a talent’s worth of silver was more than a year’s wages. It was a lot of money. Though it was a specific amount of money, Jesus has it represent something else other than money in our lives.

There are four clues that can help us understand what a talent represents and what it does not mean:

Clue #1: We find this clue in the opening verse – “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them.” Notice those two words “his property” – another term for talents. They are the Lord’s property and are not something which man can give or control. It is something that God is in control of and possesses. They are not like natural gifts given to everyone but only to those who have some sort of relationship to God.

Clue #2: In the next verse we read this clue – “To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents and to another one talent, each according to his ability.” Here we learn that the talents are not natural abilities but are actually distributed on the basis of natural ability. One man received five talents because he was a man of great ability. The last man had the least ability and received only talent. It is clear we are not talking about natural ability but that talents are given according to ability.

Clue #3: This clue is implied – it is the unspoken implication of Jesus that these talents as they are given are meant to produce some sort of gain. It is something to be invested, something to be risked, and hopefully produce.

Clue #4: This clue is also implied – the investment and the resulting gain are not for the benefit of the servant but for the absent Lord. It is not for our own use; it is still his property. The gain is completely his.

2. How should we understand “talents”?

Now these four clues are helpful to eliminate any previous misconceptions about the talents as Jesus told the parable. But what do the talents represent for us in our modern context?

Ray Stedman asked a question that sums up the clues very nicely: “What do we professed Christians have which is God’s peculiar property, which comes to us on the basis of natural ability, which requires a risk on our part, and that risk appears to benefit only the Lord and not ourselves?” How would you answer that? It’s quite a riddle.

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