Before we explore this parable in depth, it is important to know two things: First, who Jesus is speaking to and second what exactly he is speaking about. Misunderstanding one or both of these items will lead us down the wrong path and into error for certain. So let me answer both of the questions for you: First, this parable of our Lord like the one previous to it (the parable of the wise and foolish virgins) that I preached upon last week, is spoken to us that is to Christians. We are, or at we least claim to be, the Lord’s servants while most of the rest of the world makes no such claim. And even if unbelievers did try to please God they would fall woefully short as it says in Hebrew 11:6:
And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
The second important thing to know when we examine this parable is that Jesus is not speaking directly here about salvation or justification by grace through faith in him. No, he is instead addressing the need for sanctification or how we as his servants ought to live. You and I already know that we are purchased people, as Martin Luther pointed out in his explanation of the second article of the Apostle’s Creed where he stated:
He [Christ] has redeemed me a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sin and the power of the devil not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.
Yes, it is quite clear to us that Jesus, the Son of God, paid a heavy price for us, and He is entitled to what He bought. And that is what this Parable of the Talents is all about. It begs the question, “What has God gotten for His investment in us?” Indeed, each and every day is a good time for us as Christians to take inventory of Jesus investment in us, for He has poured out His toil and love, His patience and pain, yes even his very life. What sort of bargain did He get? What are his returns on two thousand years of investment? These are questions we forced to ask as He holds before us the Parable of the Talents, so that we might give Him our answer and have a renewed sense of His wondrous grace and joyfully spend ourselves in His service.
It is solely by His incredible grace that God has asked you and me, without any merit or worthiness on our part, to join in the greatest enterprise in the history of the world. Yes, I know the church is not a business, but suppose for a moment it was. It would be a corporation whose assets are the largest in history, whose powers are the greatest, whose area for business is unlimited, and whose holdings are beyond all precedent. It is into such an organization that we have been called, or in the words of our text: For the kingdom of heaven will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property
The Scriptures tell us that “the cattle on a thousand hills” are God's, as are all forests and fields, rivers and seas, silver and gold. Our mission statement is straightforward: "Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations.” As God’s agents—his servants, if you please, we are sent to represent His interests according to the abilities given us. Jesus Christ is the royal Heir and Owner of this business and, wonder of wonders, He has chosen us, yes miserable sinners like us to become co-heirs with Him of His vast wealth and riches. Into our hands He has put the possessions of the universe, dividing to each one of us that portion which we are capable of handling.
Now, stop and think about that for a moment. What a risk God is taking in placing the Kingdom into such hands as ours. Yet he does as Jesus points out in this parable—giving to one five talents, another two, and to another one talent. In His wise providence, God has made us all talented, but we are not all equal in talents. Think of it like building a church, a magnificent cathedral. One draws up the plans, another compose music for its organ, another carves its stone, still others lay brick, carry hod or mortar, and some build the road leading to its door. All have some talent. Without the services of each there would either be no building or else it would be incomplete.
The architect with his brilliant plans and the simple hod carrier with his common service are bondservants whose services have been purchased by the Owner who desires a temple where He can dwell. We may be architects or hod carriers; we may have five or two or only one talent. But He uses our talents to build His kingdom and to save people who will in turn serve Him in endless joy. If all were architects, no building would ever get built; if all were hod carriers, there would be only a shapeless mound of cement hardened into uselessness. Likewise we all must use the talent or talents God has entrusted to us or nothing will be accomplished.
Returning to our parable, the talents Jesus speaks of are not actual the talents that we think of, but sums of money and in each case, it is a considerable sum. Originally, a talent was a unit of weight, but later became a monetary unit much like the British pound, which was once equivalent to the value of a pound of silver. In Jesus day, a silver talent was worth about 7,300 denarii and a denarius was a day’s wage. So a silver talent it was about 20 years wages or what a typical person living back then would have earned after working for their entire lifetime. A talent of gold was worth thirty times that. In either case Jesus was not talking about chump change, but large sums of money.
Likewise, God has gifted us more than we will ever know. In fact, I would challenge you today to look for an area of service here at church that you might never have thought of doing before. Take for example the choir. I remember joining the choir many years ago when I was a new Christian and I had hardly any experience singing at all. Yet, with practice and with time on task I became proficient (I can’t say I was ever really good), but it was something that I came to enjoy very much, and it was appreciated by other members. May God never hear any of us saying: "There is nothing I can do." Just look around there is something we all can do whether it is serving on the Altar guild, being an usher, teaching a Sunday School or Bible class, leading a youth group, or something as simple as coming and helping out on a church clean-up day. God has given us talents that can be used to advance His kingdom.
That is why it is not unfair to ask what return is God getting from His investment in you? Someone once said that there are three kinds of workers in the church today—the tired, the retired, and the tireless. While there are many who are glad to ride on Jesus train of salvation, glad for the ticket away from sin and hell, a ticket printed with the ink of His blood and punched with the nails and thorns and spear of His cross, glad that He so graciously forgives and accepts them for so marvelous a destination as the mansions of heaven, and yet far too many people are riding in the sleeper car.
Such was the one-talented servant whom our Lord judged as "wicked." Yet, you will notice that he doesn’t do anything overtly evil. He didn't squander his talent in riotous living like the Prodigal Son. He didn't embezzle the master's funds as did the Unmerciful Servant. He didn't even handle his lord's affairs so poorly as to force him almost into bankruptcy, as did the Unjust Steward. No, he just buried what God gave him and let it go unused. In so doing he showed that he was thinking only of himself and separated his personal interests from those of his Lord. He only wanted to be left alone—and so he was in the end, in outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Oh he had his excuses. "He was afraid." He lacked the faith to venture for his Lord, to hazard the untried road, for he didn't believe anything good could be accomplished. He didn't believe that there is a kind and gracious God who knows how to bless and prosper those who love Him. Rather, he thought of God, his master, as he knew himself to be: hard-hearted and grasping, unjustly looking for returns where he hadn't labored. And the just result verdict is given in our text:
So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast that worthless servant into the outer darkness.
Beloved, God is serious. The lives that He gives to us in this world are not toys to be played with for our amusement. His investment in us was not lightly made. This parable speaks mainly about the one-talented man, for there are many more one- and two-talented people in the world than five-talented. The St. Paul’s, the St. Augustine’s, and the Martin Luther’s, —these men who made history and contributed so much to life, these brilliant stars in God's planet of humanity — make us look like dim and far-off pinpoints. And so the temptation comes to us one-talented people: "What can I do? With my poor equipment, God surely won't expect anything much of me." Sometimes we may go so far as to even blame God that we are short-changed over against the more brilliant five talented stars. Beloved don’t fall for it, for that the devil's whisper, who seeks to have us bury our talent in the graveyard of our own sinful selfishness. When that spirit wins out, then the work of the Kingdom lags, few souls are won, and even the faithful become discouraged, and there is always the danger that if do not use what we have, we shall lose even that.
My friends God created us and endowed us with our inborn talents. He believed that we were worth redeeming from our evil and a wretched eternity even though it cost Him His Son on Calvary. He even now sends us His Holy Spirit to work within us through His Word and Sacraments, to give us the gifts of faith, pardon, peace, true wisdom and spiritual understanding, as well as the hope of heaven. How can we forget that He purchased and won us from sin, from death, and the devil, that we might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him both here in this life and forever in the life to come?
I remember reading a story once about an Arab sultan who kindly fed a beggar who sat at the gate of his palace each and every day. One day the Sultan was in extreme difficulty and needed someone to run an errand for him immediately. So he summoned the beggar and asked him to do this service, but the beggar drew himself up to his full height and said: "Sultan, I beg alms; I do not run errands." How true that is of so many people! They are so quick to ask alms of Christ, ask for His mercy, His power, His presence, and a million other gifts, but will they run His errands? Never.
Beloved, we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but we are saved for a purpose.
We were saved unto good works; for salvation has as its end the service of God and His kingdom. For you see many times God’s investment pays off. Look at how the two faithful servants warmed their master’s heart! It mattered not that one had five talents or two talents, for while they were unequal in wealth, they were equal in spirit. No sooner had they received their goods, when they immediately went to work. They had faith, faith that their labor for him in his household would not be in vain, faith in his promises, knowing him as the good and trustworthy lord and master that he was. They loved him and so they put on the work clothes of service with the result that they returned to him one hundred percent on his investment. Their faithful service so delighted their master, that although they were unequal in wealth, they shared equally in his joy as their Master said: "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, hearing those words should be our most earnest desire. And God holds out the same promises to you and me: "Give, and it shall be given unto you, a good measure, pressed down, and running over. . . . He that soweth bountifully shall also reap bountifully. . . The plowman shall overtake the reaper. . . . He that loses his life for My sake shall find it."
It’s like a pastor of mine once told me, “With God the dice are always loaded.” Whatever you do for Him never fails, for your faith and devotion and service are guarded by the faithfulness of His love. His purpose will always come out on top in the end, His will, will be done, His kingdom will come. But He is serious in having our service, for His claim check on our lives is the cross and the empty tomb. May God grant that we never forget it, in Jesus Name. Amen.