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Jun 21, 2015

“The Parable of the Talent-ed Servants” 6-21-15

Matthew 24:1-14 & 25:14-30
June 21, 2015

We are looking at another parable of Jesus this morning, another one that was examined during our Vacation Bible School last week.  This one, the parable of the talents, can legitimately be referred to as a cultural phenomenon.  It changed the vocabulary of the English language.  You probably did not notice this change because it occurred before our time.  It was because of the King James Bible of 1611 and all subsequent editions. 
In those English Translations, the translators chose to use the term TALENTs to directly correspond to the Greek word.  Now, the Greek word and the English word talent that was used to translate it referred to a weight.  In other words, the original parable read that the master entrusted silver to the servants by the weight, or as we would say, by the pound. 
I did some calculations and there were a lot of variables, but the amounts seem to be about $1540.00 value for the 5 talents, $770.00 value for the two talents, and $385.00 value for the one talent.  Now, when we take those amounts back almost 2000 years that was a lot of money entrusted to the servants.
And that is something else we need to look at.  They were servants, or slaves.  These amounts were entrusted to them above what they needed to survive.  All their basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing were already provided by the master.  These talents of silver were for them to keep for and hopefully invest for the Master.  There was no agreement that they would get to keep a certain percentage of the profits for themselves.  All of the silver and all of the proceeds from the silver belonged to the master.
Now about the cultural phenomenon: As the English speaking Christians and their pastors began to read and understand this parable, it became plain that it illustrated that all that God has entrusted to us is to be used to increase His Kingdom, and so over the years, the word talent came to mean much more than a weight for valuable metals, it came to mean the abilities and strengths and wisdom that God has given to us.  I did some looking in some old dictionaries and noticed that the meaning of talent as an ability or skill used to be a secondary meaning, but now has become the primary definition.
So, this is the parable that changed the English language, which is a reminder of how important the Christian religion was at one time in England and the United States.
But now, I want to take a look at the parable and why Jesus told it.
Our first lesson gives the context for this parable.  Jesus was walking out of the temple, which means that he was walking through the outer courtyard of the temple, proceeding down some steps and through the East Gate.  Immediately outside the gate, they went down a steep mountainside into the Kidron valley.  He would proceed down the valley and up the other side to the Mount of Olives. 
But while he was leaving the courtyard, the disciples who were with Him commented on the buildings that comprised the Temple complex, some of which were still under construction or reconstruction.  This rebuilding of the temple had been a project of Herod the Great who died when Jesus was a child.  But Herod had left instructions and funds to complete it, and it was still being finished in Jesus’ adulthood.  It would be completed about 25 to 30 years after Jesus’ death, and would then be destroyed by the Romans about 7 years after its completion.
It was an impressive complex of buildings and the disciples of Jesus were correct in admiring them.  But in Matthew 24:2 Jesus is recorded as responding to them by saying “You see all these, do you not?  Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”  That seems to have ended that conversation for a while.
Jesus and those following him then walked through the Kidron valley and up again to the Mount of Olives.  Once they were there, some of Jesus’ followers asked him what he meant in his comments about the destruction of the temple and his comments about his return and the end of the world.  To them the destruction of the Temple would mean the end of the world.
Jesus’ reply spans the next 97 verses in Matthew’s gospel, which includes the parable of the talents.  In those verses, Jesus warned them that in the times between his life on earth and his return, there would be false messiahs who would attempt to lead them astray.  He warned them that many of his followers would be tortured and killed, and that when he returned he would gather up his followers from among others in their communities and families who did not believe in Him.
He also warned them that although there would be warnings and portents of the end, it would still come as a surprise. 
Then he gave them some parables or parable-like-sayings to instruct them as to how the followers of Jesus were to live and behave in the time between His death and His return in the end times. 
One of those parables was the parable of the talents.  So this parable was to instruct his followers as to what was to be their behavior and demeanor until he returned, even during the times of distress and persecution.
He told them that they were to be like servants or slaves whose master was preparing for a long journey.  Now this was fairly typical during those days of the Roman Empire.  That Empire was run from Rome, so the wealthy and influential people sometimes had to go there to procure a political appointment or to settle a contested inheritance.  And sometimes, if they had fallen out of favor with the senate or the Emperor, they never returned.
This particular wealthy man entrusted some of his wealth, converted into silver, with some of his slaves.  They were instructed to take care of it until he returned.
We are only told of the silver entrusted to 3 servants, but there would probably have been more.  These 3, and probably the rest, were given trusts commensurate with the owner’s estimate of their abilities, so, of the three we read about, one was given 5 talents of silver, and one received 2 and another only 1.
Two of the three were motivated to please the master or to improve their status in his household and immediately started to do things that would increase the quantity of silver.  They succeeded and each doubled their trust.
The third did not like or trust the master.  In fact, it seems that he feared and resented the master, so not wanting to risk losing any of his trust, he buried it. 
It could also be said that the first two saw their trusts as opportunities, while the third saw it as a burden. 
Eventually the master returned and called the servants before him to give an account of his investments in them.
The first two were rewarded with being put in charge of many more unspecified things.  The third had his one talent of silver taken from him and given to the first servant, who now had 10. 
But in announcing his disapproval of the 3rd servant’s behavior, the master stated that the least the servant could have done was to invest it in a bank, and receive a few percentage points of interest.  Instead, the servant did nothing.  Note that the servant did not steal the talent or loose part of it.  He gave it back.  He returned every ounce of the silver, but that was not what the master wanted.  And the servant was not restored to his former servitude.  He is thrown out of the estate, into the darkness, where there is great suffering and where people weep and grind their teeth in their suffering and anger.  You will find forgiveness and grace and mercy in this gospel, but you will not find it in this parable.
Now, remember, this parable was given to instruct the disciples of Jesus about how the followers of Jesus were to live until the end of times when Jesus would return.  He is our Master; We are his servants and slaves.  All that we have is his and is to be used to increase his estate or his kingdom until he returns.  That includes our possessions, our wisdom, our talents and abilities, our relationships, and the great trust of the good news about Jesus and his salvation.
We are to use all that we have to build up God’s kingdom. 
Today is Father’s Day.  Fathers have been trusted to raise sons and daughters.  It is an awesome responsibility.  You will answer not only to their mothers, but to their heavenly Father.  Ask God for guidance and help.
Today is the longest day of this year.  All of your days, long and short have been given to you by God to do his work of building up His kingdom.  Do it well.
There is one more point to be made.  There is a sentence in this parable that we saw last week in the explanation of the parable of the sower.  We see that sentence in verse 29.  “For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” In the parable of the sower those who had their “nothing” taken away were the Pharisees who had great knowledge of God but did not show love and grace to others.  In the parable of the talents those who have nothing are those who have done nothing to increase the kingdom of their master. 
Failure is not an attractive option.  God wants us to increase His kingdom, His estate.  Let’s get busy, we do not know how much more time He will entrust to us.

 

Pastor David L. Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906