The Lesson of the One Talent Servant

April 11, 2014

When we use the word talent, we are usually talking about abilities and aptitudes which someone has. Interestingly enough, our English word comes from the Greek word used in the New Testament. Our English meaning may even come from the phrase “each according to his ability” in Matthew 25:15 in the Parable of the Talents. But the Greek word means a weight of about 75 pounds.

The servants in the Parable of the Talents receive 5 talents, 2 talents, and 1 talent respectively. That is, they receive about 375 pounds, 150 pounds, and 75 pounds of something. The talent was equivalent to about 6,000 drachmas or about 20 years’ wages for a laborer. If we were to say a laborer earns $15 per hour, at 2,000 hours per year, he would earn $30,000 per year. That would make one talent equal to about $600,000.

  • 5 talents = 100 years of wages or about $3,000,000
  • 2 talents = 40 years of wages or about $1,200,000
  • 1 talent = 20 years of wages or about $600,000

These are approximations, but they give us a comparison we can understand. This stops me from saying, “Oh, the poor one talent servant, he was given so little.” He was richly blessed, but other servants had greater blessings.

What is wrong with the one talent servant? It is not that he possesses only one talent. He is not blamed for his more limited resources. But two words describe him that we ought to ponder. He is “slothful” ESV, KJV or “lazy” NIV, NASB, NKJV. The definition of the word is possessing a state involving shrinking from something, holding back, hesitation, reluctance. And from that, the definitions of idle, lazy, and indolent.

The second word is “worthless” ESV, NIV, NASB and “unprofitable” KJV, NKJV. This word means being of no use or profit especially in an economic sense or being unworthy of any praise, although the former of these meanings would be more likely in our parable.

The thing I must ask myself has to do with the kingdom of God. Am I dragging my feet to be involved? Am I hesitating to serve God with the result that I’m actually idle or lazy? Am I useful to the kingdom? Does God derive a benefit to his kingdom because I claim to be a servant? Let us learn the lesson of the one talent servant.

The One Talent Servant

February 1, 2013

Hearing the parable of the talents is difficult (see Matthew 25:14-30). We are distanced from the cultural setting of the story. It was a world of masters and slaves. A wealthy master departing on a journey entrusts his possessions to his three slaves. He gives to each according to their ability. The relationship itself says that the possessions are not their own, and they will have to give an account.

The word, talent, is also easily misunderstood. Today, the word, talent, normally means a special ability, and I have heard quite a few sermons about using our talents (i.e., abilities). In the ancient world, the talent had originally been a measurement of weight varying between 57 to 80 pounds and then a unit of coinage. Verse 27 specifically mentions silver, although most English translations just say “money” in this verse, and the NCV inexplicably talks of gold. It’s difficult to translate into dollar amounts, but comparisons help. One talent is about twenty years of wages for a common laborer, so 5 talents, 3 talents, and 1 talent would be 100 years of wages, 60 years of wages, and 20 years of wages. The “poor” one talent man received nearly a million dollars in our currency.
Imagine burying 20 years worth of wages in silver in your field. What were the original hearers thinking as the story was told? Maybe some thought, “If I had that much money, I’d know what to do with it. I wouldn’t just bury it.”

The servants didn’t receive just a few dollars. Even the Message’s $5,000, $3,000, and $1,000 is paltry in comparison with the text. The servants received major investment capital, and economic terms describe their master’s return. He wants to “settle accounts.” The one talent man describes his master as being a “hard man.” The word refers to “being unyielding in behavior or attitude” and in this context, “demanding”. It makes hiding his talent even more difficult to understand, although I suspect we are tempted to do the same. The master calls the one talent man “wicked and slothful” or “worthless and lazy.”

What are we to learn? We have a master – God Himself, the creator of the universe. Everything we have is a matter of stewardship – our money, possessions, time, abilities, and opportunities. We take nothing out of this world except for what we “treasure in heaven.” There are no U-hauls attached to hearses. The greatest treasure we have been given is the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:7). Is not the gospel worth a million dollars to us? Will we bury it or use it to achieve gain for our master?

The question is never how much has been entrusted to us. That will in fact vary. The question is whether we are faithful. From our master’s point of view, are we “worthless and lazy” or are we “good and trustworthy”? The bottom line is stewardship.

The Bridesmaids

January 26, 2012

Jesus told a story of ten virgins, and immediately the modern listener may be distracted. When do we use the word virgin these days, except in the name of some company owned by Sir Richard Branson? Maybe we could hear the story better if we substitute another word. Jesus told a story about five wise and five foolish bridesmaids (see Matthew 25:1-13).

After thirty years of performing wedding ceremonies, I’ve witnessed many wedding parties. I’ve seen bridesmaids bring in so much stuff into the church building that one might suppose they planned to camp out for a week: food, water, soft drinks, clothes, make-up, hair dryers, irons, and ironing boards and who knows what else. They seem intent on being prepared for anything just like the scouts, because this is a special day. Only one time in three decades have I had a bridesmaid ask me for a safety pin, and then she was extremely apologetic because she had meant to bring some.

The first century, Jewish wedding ceremony was usually at the bride’s home. The general time of the wedding was known, but the exact time of the bridegroom’s arrival would be unknown. Following the ceremony, the wedding party would go in procession to the groom’s home for the wedding banquet. The bridesmaids would need their lamps (possibly wedding torches) for the nighttime processional to the wedding banquet.

I’ve told illustrations in sermons only to have someone come out, shake my hand, and tell me exactly the wrong point from the story. Jesus’ parable can suffer in the same way. I’ve been in many Bible classes where someone will ask, “Why couldn’t the virgins share?” The simple answer is that is not the point of this particular story. From a practical point of view, some have suggested that the wedding torch had a very short burn time before it needed more oil. In other words, there just wouldn’t have been enough oil to share. An attempt to share would have left the wedding party in the dark at some point along the trip to the wedding banquet and spoiled things for the bridge and groom. After all, we are always anxious for all the details to go just right at weddings, better five torches than no torches.

Five wise bridesmaids are prepared for the wedding. Five foolish bridesmaids are shockingly unprepared, and while they go to make themselves ready, they miss the wedding, are late for the reception, and find themselves permanently shut out. The story is about preparation for a special day The story is about the individual preparation that only each one of us can do for that special day of the Lord’s return. We do not know the day or the hour. Are you ready?