HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several abilities; and straightway took his journey. —Matthew 25:14-15
Slaves Were Trusted Servants
To understand this parable we must remember that the servants spoken of were really slaves. It might seem a strange act on the part of this proprietor to entrust his goods to servants, in our modern sense; but in the old world the slaves had far more power, and were entrusted with far greater responsibilities than commonly fall to a lot of servants in our homes. In the Latin plays of Plautus and of Terence the slave is a constantly recurring character; and even in the Bible, we find the slave occupying very confidential posts. Abraham’s slave is the steward of his household (Genesis 15:2). We read in Proverbs of slaves acting as teachers (Proverbs 17:2). And Ziba, the slave of Saul, who himself had fifteen sons and twenty servants, was put in charge of the goods of Mephibosheth, very much as the servants are, in this parable (2 Samuel 9:2-10). We must try then to realise these old-world ways if we wish this parable to be a living story.
Connect This Parable with the Preceding One of the Ten Virgins
It makes an interesting study for us, too, to compare this passage with that which precedes it. The story of the Ten Virgins and the tale of the Talents were either spoken by Jesus at the same time or else were designedly placed side by side by Matthew, who felt that each threw light upon the other. For the former is a parable of watching, and the latter is a parable of working–and every Christian watcher is meant to work, and every Christian worker is bound to watch. And the former centres in the heart, while the latter moves in the sphere of outward service as if to indicate that, in the Christian life, the heart must always come before the hand. Why did the five foolish virgins fail? Because they were over-sanguine and easy. Why did the man of the one talent fail? Because he was over-careful and afraid. Thus Jesus, in His infinite compassion, moves around the whole circle of the heart in warning. I need nothing more than a study of the parables to assure me that He knew what was in man.
Our Gifts Are Proportioned to Our Power of Using Them
Note, first, how our gifts are proportioned to our power of using them. In the parable of the Pounds in Luke, you remember that each man got one pound. That is to say, there are certain things (what were they?) that the wisest and the weakest share alike. But here, one man gets five talents, the second gets two, the third gets only one; but they get according to their several abilities (Matthew 25:15). Now I think that Jesus meant us to learn that all we have is wisely and justly given. He wanted to teach us that all our several differences, which sort us out into such strange variety, are not the work of an accident, but of the discriminating hand of God. Are any two persons in the Sunday school the same? Is not one brighter, stronger, quicker, than the other? It was that which flashed before the mind of Jesus when He made this householder give different sums. We are not to be jealous of another’s gifts. We are not to think how happy we would be, if only we were like so-and-so. We are to remember that all we have is God’s, and God has given us all that we could use. The question is, How are you using it? Are you trying to be faithful in the least? Then, because “thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”
Non-Use Is Misuse
In the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-31), the steward is accused of wasting his master’s goods. In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:1-32), the son recklessly squanders the portion he had got. But here, there is no wasting and no squandering; the slave returns every penny he received; yet his lord calls him a wicked and slothful servant (Matthew 25:26). Learn, then, that it is not enough to have a gift; the gifts of God are given to be used. God is grieved, not only when a talented man does wrong: He is grieved when a talented man does nothing. The sure way to have a gift withdrawn is to be lazy or too timid to employ it–not to use it, at last spells not to have it. The scientist tells us about the fish in the great caves off the Tobago Cays, and how their eyes were perfectly formed, and yet the fish were blind. They had never used their eyes in the dark caves; the gift of sight that God had given them had been unexercised for generations, until at last due to non-use, the power of seeing passed away.
Heaven doth with us as we with torches do;
Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, ’twere all alike
As if we had them not.
We Don’t Know God Unless We Try to Serve Him
I do not know what the slave who got five talents thought of his master in his secret heart. But I know that when he did his best with the trust his master had committed to him, he found his master far more generous and far kindlier than he had ever dreamed. But the slave of the one talent said: “I know my lord” (Matthew 25:24); “I know his temper and his character exactly.” And it was he (who was sure he knew his lord so well) who missed all that was most generous of him! That means, that if we never try to do God’s will, we shall never know Him in His love and tenderness. The worst of burying our talent is, that it always keeps us from knowing God aright. Do we wish to find what a loving God He is? Do we wish to feel what joy He can bestow? Then we must be in earnest with every gift we have; we must trade with it, and take the risks. Slothfulness always misinterprets God–“I knew thee that thou art an hard man.” I wonder if the other two would have subscribed to that when they were summoned to their Master’s joy?
How Jesus Adds Grace to a Word
If we had asked the boys and girls of Nazareth what the meaning of that word “talent” was, they would have told you it meant a great sum of money–about eleven hundred and fifty-two dollars East Caribbean currency or two hundred and forty British pounds. But now we speak of a very “talented” boy, or we say of a man that he has splendid “talents,” and it was Jesus who, in this little parable, lifted the word into these nobler meanings. When He found the word, it signified gold and silver; but when He left it, all gifts and graces were in it. That upward sweep is very Christlike. It is just what Jesus has always loved to do with words, and lives, and all the world. What He did for the word “talent” by one parable, He is waiting to do for you this very day.