The Parable of the Talents… feel guilty?

We are all familiar with Jesus parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14-30. A man gives ten talents to one person, five to another and one to the third person. The persons with ten and five talents invest theirs and reap returns causing the master to say “well done thou good and faithful servant.” The last person buries theirs in the ground and gets a tongue lashing and then is cast into darkness.

At first glance this parable appears to be a teaching on what will happen to those who don’t invest the gifts God has given them, who waste resources, or who don’t work really hard for the kingdom.

But is that really what Jesus had in mind? Was He really teaching that if you don’t work really hard at it you will be tossed aside? Is He teaching that if you aren’t faithful to work furiously to invest what He has given you that He will reject you?

Many pastors and teachers have used this parable as a stick to beat people over the head about a wide range of topics from giving to obedience to working for the kingdom. And while it is not wrong to give, be obedient and to work for the kingdom of God, I don’t think that is the central teaching of this text.

Jesus is meek and lowly of heart. His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matt 11:30). He is gracious and His ministry was about anything but works.

In fact His harshest words were for those working at it really hard.

Those who not only worked at it really hard, but ridiculed those who didn’t work at it as hard. Those who not only worked at it really hard, ridiculed those who didn’t work at it as hard, but didn’t do so hot with it themselves at the same time as ridiculing others. The Pharisees worked harder at it than anyone else. They made the big “kingdom investments” of the day. And Jesus called them snakes and worse (Matt 23 – read it sometime).

So is it correct to say that Jesus will cast people aside who don’t work really hard at it, or could there be more to this parable than we’ve all been taught?

In order to understand what is going on here, you have to remember that Jesus is saying this to a generation of people who lived under the harsh demands of the law. Demands made even harsher by Pharisees and religious leaders who added to the law to where no one could keep it. There were thousands of little things added to the law of Moses – and the law of Moses itself couldn’t be perfectly kept. These people were oppressed. And Jesus of course, came to set the oppressed free (John 8:32). So, does it make sense that He would teach oppressed people that were working hard to keep the law that they should work harder at it?

I don’t think so.

You see this parable says more about the Pharisees than it does about the people they oppressed. This parable was incredibly offensive to the religious leaders. The servants with the ten and the five talents were the Pharisees and religious leaders. And what they were doing was represented by the master’s treatment of the person who buried the talent. The person who buried the talent did so because he was scared. The people in Jesus time were scared too. Scared of the Pharisees and scared of God because they thought God was like the Pharisees.

Jesus was teaching:

1.  It is impossible to serve a hard master and do anything but dig holes to protect your stuff (Matt 25:24-25)

The servant in this parable who buried the talent, “perceived” the master to be a hard master. The fact was the master was not a hard master. What is your perception of Jesus? Do you think Him to be a hard master?

2. It is impossible to dig holes and dance with Jesus at the same time (Matt 25:25)

You can’t dance the dance of grace with Jesus when you are spending all of your time looking at your feet. In order to dance the dance of grace with Jesus you must look at Him, not your dancing ability.

3. It is impossible to to live a full life loving Jesus above all else without risk (Matt 25:27)

When you know you are forgiven, and you know you are loved and will be loved even if you screw up, you will be free to risk. If you are scared to trust Jesus you will be sacred of everything else too.

So, though we should be obedient and make investments in the kingdom and we should work hard to spread the kingdom, we must look at our perception of Jesus and our motivation. Are we doing what we do out of fear? Are we doing what we do out of joy?

Where are you in this area today?

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