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Home » Daily Gospel, Daily Readings

The Parable of the Talents

Submitted by on Saturday, 27 August 2011No Comment

talents parable 2

Today’s Readings

  • Reading I:  1 Thessalonians 4:9-11
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 98
  • Gospel Reading: Matthew 25:14-30

The parable of the talents can be found in Matthew alone. It is so popular that even the word for "talent" derives from this parable. It is a symbolic story of what would happen in the last day to those who refuse to heed the Lord’s call to be prepared. The story can be easily divided into three parts: the introduction (vv. 14-15) which shows the Master of the house entrusting talents to his servants before he leaves, (vv. 16-18) which shows the attitudes of the the three servants towards the talents given to them. In this part, the third servant stands out because his actions are markedly different from the other two. Finally in the third part, (vv.19-30) the Master returns after a long delay and asks for an accounting of the talents he has given. The focus of the whole story is on the third part (the lengthiest part) and on the third slave (his actions and even his lot are markedly different from the other two; he is the only one who speaks in the story apart from the Master).

Talent – in English, it connotes a positive quality that a person has — whether intellectual or physical — that allows him or her to perform certain deeds. This English word is derived from the GK talanton which refers to a unit of coinage used at the time of Jesus whose value depended on its metal (gold, silver, copper, etc.) and its place of origin (whether from Syria, or elsewhere). The "talents" distributed by the master of the house to his slaves must have amounted much because he expected them to be invested.

burying-money

Servant – or a slave. It is a person who lives by the command of his Lord. We are not dealing here with ordinary household employees. A slave did what the owner of the house commanded. He (or she) literally lived from the words of his/her owner.

"…to each one according to his capacity.." The owner of the house was not arbitrary in assigning his property to his slaves. He entrusted to them varying amounts of talents based on what he knew about them. This already gives the reader some insight into how the owner of the house looked at his servants.

"… from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away…" It is well to mark this phrase because it occurs only in escahological contexts. It refers to the lot of those who will be excluded from the joy of those who will find a place in the "owner’s house." The privation of the "condemned" will be such that nothing will be left to them.

"… the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth…" In apocalyptic symbology, the phrase refers to the opposite of the owner’s joyful abode. The "outer darkness … where men will weep and gnash their teeth" symbolizes a state of sadness, where there is no light because deprived of the true Light. This phrase will be encountered again in the story of the goats and sheep.

It is notable that through repetitions and summaries, the reader is led to the confrontation between the owner and the negligent servant. The owner knew before hand that among the three servants, the last one had the least capacity, but he still entrusted him something. The servant, knowing (from his viewpoint as slave) that whatever profit his talent can gain will always rightfully belong to the owner, does not invest the talent, but hides it instead. Their confrontation towards the end of the story reveals to the reader that the servant was wrong in his assumption (the other two servants gained a right to their master’s property) and that he deserved the place "of wailing and gnashing of teeth."

There is another factor that prevented the slave from carrying out what was expected of him. This can be discerned from his defense:

"’Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground" "I knew you to be a hard man…" (Matthew 25:24-25)

So the slave’s negligence was based on a previous knowledge of the owner who as a business man grows rich from the work of others ("reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow"). It is a knowledge that implicitly corresponds to the knowledge that the master has of him, a knowledge implied in the amount of talent he received. The slave adds further " so I was afraid…" What was the slave afraid about? The hardness of the Master who expects much from his slaves? The reader already knows from the beginning of the story that Master expects from his slaves something that is proportionate to their capacities. So what did he fear? The punishment which can be inflicted on him if he does not do his job? But in hiding the talent given to him, he refused to do his job and therefore chose for himself the punishment that he expected. Many reasons (plausible but all hypothetical) can be adduced for the fear of the slave. We know, however, that there is no justification for his negligence; he is a slave after all, no matter what kind of Master he may have.

What does the parable mean to me, now? The slave was condemned (and rightly so) because he refused to do his Master’s bidding. He refused, because of a knowledge that he had of Him This knowledge put him in a state of fear which prevented him from investing the talent given to him. During the time of the accounting, it turns out that the knowledge that the third slave had of the Master was mistaken, and his fear unjustified. The parable is about the last day, the day of accounting when all those who pledge themselves as the Lord’s servants will give an accounting of all that they have received from him. And what do we have that is not from the Lord? Life itself, the qualities that we possess, the opportunities given to us for the exercise of our gifts (school, home, a friend in need…etc.) are all gifts from the Lord. And we will be answering for all of these.

In the Bible, there are two kinds of fear. One fear is pleasing to the Lord because it is a fear that comes from the awareness of one’s dependence before God. This is "fear of God" which is synonymous to piety, and is externalized in "worship" and in a life that is in accord with the Word of God. The Scriptures sing of this fear as "the beginning of Wisdom." But there is another "fear" which the Lord reproves in his disciples. It is that fear which makes one shrink from totally depending on the Lord. The slave’s fear in the story prevented him from doing what was expected of him because he would not put his life in the hands of his master. It is a fear that comes from lack of faith, that faith which the author to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11) so aptly describes.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-11
View in: NAB NIV KJV Vulg Greek
9But as touching the charity of brotherhood, we have no need to write to you: for yourselves have learned of God to love one another.
10For indeed you do it towards all the brethren in all Macedonia. But we entreat you, brethren, that you abound more:
11And that you use your endeavour to be quiet, and that you do your own business, and work with your own hands, as we commanded you: and that you walk honestly towards them that are without; and that you want nothing of any man's.
Matthew 25:14-30
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
14For even as a man going into a far country, called his servants, and delivered to them his goods;
15And to one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one, to every one according to his proper ability: and immediately he took his journey.
16And he that had received the five talents, went his way, and traded with the same, and gained other five.
17And in like manner he that had received the two, gained other two.
18But he that had received the one, going his way digged into the earth, and hid his lord's money.
19But after a long time the lord of those servants came, and reckoned with them.
20And he that had received the five talents coming, brought other five talents, saying: Lord, thou didst deliver to me five talents, behold I have gained other five over and above.
21His lord said to him: Well done, good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
22And he also that had received the two talents came and said: Lord, thou deliveredst two talents to me: behold I have gained other two.
23His lord said to him: Well done, good and faithful servant: because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
24But he that had received the one talent, came and said: Lord, I know that thou art a hard man; thou reapest where thou hast not sown, and gatherest where thou hast not strewed.
25And being afraid I went and hid thy talent in the earth: behold here thou hast that which is thine.
26And his lord answering, said to him: Wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sow not, and gather where I have not strewed:
27Thou oughtest therefore to have committed my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received my own with usury.
28Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents.
29For to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall abound: but from him that hath not, that also which he seemeth to have shall be taken away.
30And the unprofitable servant cast ye out into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 25:24-25
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
24But he that had received the one talent, came and said: Lord, I know that thou art a hard man; thou reapest where thou hast not sown, and gatherest where thou hast not strewed.
25And being afraid I went and hid thy talent in the earth: behold here thou hast that which is thine.

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