Matthew 25:14-30

This parable is always known as the Parable of the Talents; in our translation we have changed the talents into modern currency. The talent was not a coin, it was a weight; and therefore its value obviously depended on whether the coinage involved was copper, gold or sliver. The commonest metal involved was silver; and the value of a talent of silver was about 240 British pounds. It is on that basis that we have made the translations of the various sums.

There can be no doubt that originally in this parable the whole attention is riveted on the useless servant. There can be little doubt that he stands for the Scribes and the Pharisees, and for their attitude to the Law and the truth of God. The useless servant buried his talent in the ground, in order that he might hand it back to his master exactly as it was. The ‘Whole aim of the Scribes and Pharisees was to keep the Law exactly as it was. In their own phrase, they sought “to build a fence around the Law.” Any change, any development, any alteration, anything new was to them anathema. Their method involved the paralysis of religious truth.

Like the man with the talent, they desired to keep things exactly as they were–and it is for that that they are condemned. In this parable Jesus tells us that there can be no religion without adventure, and that God can find no use for the shut mind. But there is much more in this parable than that.

(i) It tells us that God gives men differing gifts. One man received five talents, another two, and another one. It is not a man’s talent, which matters; what matters is how he uses it. God never demands from a man abilities which he has not got; but he does demand that a man should use to the full the abilities which he does possess. Men are not equal in talent; but men can be equal in effort. The parable tells us that whatever talent we have, little or great, we must lay it at the service of God.

(ii) It tells us that the reward of work well done is still more work to do. The two servants who had done well are not told to lean back and rest on their oars because they have done well. They are given greater tasks and greater responsibilities in the work of the master.

(iii) It tells us that the man who is punished is the man who will not try. The man with the one talent did not lose his talent; he simply did nothing with it. Even if he had adventured with it and lost it, it would have been better than to do nothing at all. It is always a temptation for the one talent man to say, “I have so small a talent and I can do so little with it. It is not worth while to try, for all the contribution I can make.” The condemnation is for the man who, having even one talent, will not try to use it, and will not risk it for the common good.

(iv) It lays down a rule of life which is universally true. It tells us that to him who has more will be given, and he who has not will lose even what he has. The meaning is this. If a man has a talent and exercises it, he is progressively able to do more with it. But, if he has a talent and fails to exercise it, he will inevitably lose it. If we have some proficiency at a game or an art, if we have some gift for doing something, the more we exercise that proficiency and that gift, the harder the work and the bigger the task we will be able to tackle. Whereas, if we fail to use it, we lose it. That is equally true of playing golf or playing the piano, or singing songs or writing sermons, of carving wood or thinking out ideas. It is the lesson of life that the only way to keep a gift is to use it in the service of God and in the service of our fellow-men.

William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible