Summary: The parable of the talents reminds Christians that their stewardship of God’s provisions will be judged when Jesus returns to the earth.
The Parable of the Talents
Today is the next to the last Sunday in the liturgical calendar for the season we call Trinity. This season begins on Whitsunday or Trinity Sunday, and runs through Advent, which is two Sunday away now. This long season in our liturgical year is emblematic of the long season between the time Jesus departed the earth after his first advent and the time when he shall return to the earth in the second advent. And I find it fascinating that toward the end of the Trinity season, the lectionaries focus on a single theme: The return of the Lord Jesus in judgment.
Next Sunday, the last Sunday in the Trinity season, the lections again will be on judgment. And, judgment is a theme in all the readings appointed for today. The plaintive Song of Moses, Psalm 90 which we sang a while ago, ends with this prayer: Establish the work of our hands, yes, establish the work of our hands. The passage from Zephaniah, is a fearful one, which warns those who seem to think the Lord isn’t interested in Judgment.
12 “ And it shall come to pass at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, And punish the men who are settled in complacency, Who say in their heart, ‘ The LORD will not do good, Nor will He do evil.’ 13 Therefore their goods shall become booty, and their houses a desolation; They shall build houses, but not inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards, but not drink their wine.
In this case, God goes out of His was NOT to establisht he work of their hands. In fact, he ensures that the work of their hands is futile, because they supposed God didn’t’ care about things like wisdom, or righteousness, or judgment.
And, in the gospel appointed for today, what do we find? The return of the Lord in judgment. This parable of the talents appears in a section of Matthew’s gospel where Jesus has been answering his disciples’ question about His Second Coming. In the previous chapter, in Matthew 24:3, the disciples ask Jesus “…When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Jesus warns them to be on guard so that no one will deceive them and he insists that once He leaves, He will return again. In Matthew 24:44 he urges them to be prepared for Jesus’ return to the earth, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when He is least expected.
Then, in chapter 25, Jesus compares His return to the eastern custom of a bridegroom arriving in the middle of the night. He warns his disciples in 25:13: “Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” And, then comes the parable of the talents.
The first words of this parable are these ““Again, it will be like a man going on a journey…” The word “again” shows us that Jesus is once more providing a parable to explain future events. The man going on a “journey” is Jesus.
Jesus tells this parable to his disciples before he goes on his long journey. I do not think it is a stretch to understand this long journey to have begun with Jesus ascension into heaven, to take his seat at the right hand of His Father in heaven. And, it is not rocket science to understand that Jesus return is that great event spoken of all over the New Testament: the Second Advent, when Jesus returns. It is mentioned in the Apostles Creed: he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. So also the Nicene Creed which we will recite in a short while: he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
And here we sit today, between the Advents, and this parable is for you and for me, for it tells us what we are to be about until the return of our Lord. We are his slaves, his servants, his stewards, and the parable tells us what we are supposed to be doing, how we’re supposed to do it, and what we may expect when Jesus returns.
First of all, we learn that Jesus’ servants have been provisioned with resources. He has put into their hands things which are not theirs. The parable mentions talents, which is a sum of money. It has influenced the English language and has come to mean a capability, not necessarily monetary. And, perhaps that is not unreasonable, though the parable is told in purely monetary terms.