Summary: A “talent” is a measurement of weight.
Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.” (Matthew 25: 14–15)
Remember the parable of the Talents? You can read about it in Matthew 25: 14 – 30. Jesus told this and a few other parables to explain what the “kingdom of heaven” would be like “at the end of the age.” Interesting.
Here’s the story in a nut shell:
A man calls his three servants together before he leaves on a journey. To the first servant he gives “five talents of money.”
A “talent” is a measurement of weight. In the old days money, being made out of precious metals like silver or gold, was weighed out to confirm its value. Whoever made the coins could just stamp the value on the coin along with a likeness of his boss’s head, but who’s going to take his word for it? It was safer just to weigh out the coins.
The weight of a “talent” varied over time, but when Jesus told this parable a talent of silver was about seventy-five pounds; worth a little over $20,000 in today’s money.
So, before going on his journey, this man entrusts five talents ($100,000) to one servant, two talents ($40,000) to another and one talent ($20,000) to a third servant. The expectation being that these three servants were to manage their master’s money while he was gone and give an accounting when he returned.
Well, that’s just what happened. The first servant doubled the money his master had given him. The second servant did likewise. The third servant broke even. He didn’t turn a profit, but he didn’t lose any of his master’s original capital either.
Investing money inherently involves some risk. There’s a chance you won’t make a profit and there’s a chance you could lose your entire investment. The first two servants took some risk. They could have lost their master’s money. Then there would have been hell to pay.
At least that’s what the third servant thought. He knew his master wasn’t an easy man. He expected his people to perform and he expected to profit from their work. The third servant just couldn’t bear the consequences of losing his master’s money. It was a risk he wasn’t willing to take. He dug a hole and buried the money.
By burying the money in the ground, he knew it wouldn’t earn any interest, but at least he wouldn’t risk losing his master’s original capital. His plan was safe; just bury the money and dig it up when his master returned. Nobody wins and nobody loses; can’t get any safer than that.
But that wasn’t the point. The master entrusted his money to his servants for a reason; to make a profit. By playing it safe, the third servant not only failed at his task, he disobeyed his master’s instructions. And he suffered the consequences. According to the story he was thrown “outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Bummer.
The first two servants put their master’s capital at risk, they had to; it’s part of the nature of investing. But the possibility of turning a profit is also in the nature of investing. These two succeeded at their task and enjoyed the reward. “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 in your master’s happiness.”
So what’s the point Jesus was trying to get across? That we’re supposed to turn a profit? Well … yeah. I think that’s exactly what he meant.
Now you can allegorize or spiritualize this whole thing by saying investing “talents” in the parable means investing the talents God has given each of us. You know, talents, like singing, or speaking, or teaching, or managing a business, or raising kids. Whatever your talents are, use them for God’s glory. That’s nice.
But for today’s discussion, let’s just keep it simple. Jesus said “talents of money” in the parable. Let’s leave the allegory for another day and just talk about money. The parable fits; everybody gets a different amount of money, “each according to his ability.”
Some people get a lot of money. Some get less. Some get even less. Each according to his own ability. That’s not a very popular concept.
Doesn’t everybody deserve to get the same amount? That would be fair. Of course it’s only fair if we all get a lot. The fairness idea loses its attractiveness if everybody getting the same amount means we get less than we think we deserve.