The Parable of the Talents

By Ray Hollenbach   •   March 16, 2009

Matthew’s gospel devotes two full chapters to the subject of the second coming of Christ. How does Jesus prepare his followers for the day of his return? He tells them stories.

We can read Jesus’ words regarding his return in Matthew, chapters 24 and 25. In this discourse he gives solemn warnings about the last days. They will be perilous times. The days before his return will be without precedent, filled with danger and woe.

But as he continues teaching about the second coming Jesus changes his tone and begins to relate one parable after another. These are the parables of the last days.

These stories are well known: the parable of the wise and foolish virgins; the parable of the sheep and the goats; and the parable of the talents. However, in our familiarity with these stories we might miss the importance of their setting. Each story is told in the context of his second coming. Jesus is teaching us how to prepare for his return.

Listen to the familiar parable of the talents: a man going on a journey gives portions of his estate to three servants, who each make choices regarding what to do with the Master’s money. They do so with the knowledge that they will someday give an account of their management. After a long time the Master returns and the accounts are settled. What does this parable teach us about living our lives today as we await his coming?

First, the story begins with these simple words, “It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them.” (Matthew 25: 14) Even as he sets the stage, Jesus is telling us something important: we have an entrustment. Everything we have is given to us by God. Do we see ourselves as stewards or owners? The answer makes all the difference.

A steward lives for the day he will return the Master’s goods to Him. An owner believes his possessions are his to spend in any way he sees fit. All we have–our material goods, our abilities, and even our very lives–belong to someone else. We are merely holding them for the day of reckoning.

We learn next that each servant has a different amount of money entrusted to him, “Each according to his ability.” (Matthew 25: 15) Everyone receives something, but not everyone receives the same amount.

In our day and age it is tempting to complain that we have not received as much as someone else, but we can be sure that God Himself has given us the ability to care for what we have. In other words, we are responsible, and we are able!

“After a long time the master of those servants returned,” Jesus continued. He is telling us that his return is sure, even though it may not always feel so. Upon his return we are called into account regarding our faithfulness with his gifts. All of us give an account. The second coming is not only about Jesus, and not merely about others, it is also about us. In the last day we, too, have a role to play.

Sharing in the Master’s Happiness

Each servant in the story presents the master with the results of their stewardship. They tell their own story first as the Master listens, but the Master has the final word. When the first servant demonstrates that he has managed his affairs well, the Master speaks. This is perhaps the most surprising aspect of Jesus’ story: the Master invites the faithful servant to share in the master’s happiness (Matthew 25: 21).

Sometimes our view of the Second Coming is so centered on the Judgment of God that we have overlooked the joyful nature of his return for those who are prepared. Perhaps this is why the Old Testament prophets referred to Christ’s return as the “great and glorious day of the Lord.” (Joel 2:31)

On his return, Jesus will look for those whom he can invite into his joy. True, there will be judgment, but the Master’s motivation is to share his happiness with all those who have longed for his coming.

Of course, Jesus also tells us about a third servant who presented the Master only the single coin he received at the beginning. Even here we can learn something about how to prepare for Christ’s return. The last servant viewed the Master as a harsh and unrelenting taskmaster, and the servant’s fear caused him to make unwise choices as he prepared for the day of return.

What’s the Lesson?

Is there a lesson for us from the third servant? Perhaps we should see that our view of God will determine the choices we make. Do we see Christ as “a hard man” with unfair and unrealistic expectations of us? (Matthew 25: 24) If we do, it will cause us to live our current days in fear, with unprofitable results.

Only those who eagerly look forward to the return of Christ can find the freedom to live with confidence now. The Apostle Paul understood the freedom we can experience through the grace of God when he recounted the words, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (II Corinthians 12: 9)

In these parables of the second coming each story contains a depth of teaching regarding how we can prepare for his return in the everyday choices we make now. When he returns he will look for those to whom he can extend the invitation, “Come, share in My happiness!”

Ray Hollenbach, a native of Chicago, is a pastor and author.