Parable of the Talents

The Parable of the Talents (also the Parable of the Minas) is one of the parables of Jesus. It appears in two of the synoptic, canonical gospels of the New Testament:

The parable of the talents, depicted in a 1712 woodcut. The lazy servant searches for his buried talent, while the two other servants present their earnings to their master.

Although the basic theme of each of these parables is essentially the same, the differences between the parables in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Gospel of Luke are sufficient to indicate that the parables are not derived from the same source.[1] In Matthew, the opening words link the parable to the preceding Parable of the Ten Virgins, which refers to the Kingdom of Heaven.[1] The version in Luke is also called the Parable of the Pounds.

In both Matthew and Luke, a master puts his servants in charge of his goods while he is away on a trip. Upon his return, the master assesses the stewardship of his servants. He evaluates them according to how faithful each was in making wise investments of his goods to obtain a profit. It is clear that the master sought some profit from the servants' oversight. A gain indicated faithfulness on the part of the servants. The master rewards his servants according to how each has handled his stewardship. He judges two servants as having been "faithful" and gives them a positive reward. To the single "unfaithful" servant, who avoided even the safe profit of bank interest, a negative compensation is given.

A thematically variant parable appears in the non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews, wherein the servant who hid his money from his cruel master is rebuked, but presented as more righteous than the wealthiest servant, who squandered his money and was cast into darkness.[2]

Settings edit

While the basic story in each of these parables is essentially the same, the settings are quite different.

  • The setting of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 is the Mt. Olivet discourse. In Matthew 2425, the overall theme is end-time events, warning, and parables. "The direct cautions and warnings (Matthew 24:42, Matthew 24:44; Matthew 25:13) must be for the disciples (his audience)—warnings to be watchful and to be ready for Christ's coming".
  • The setting of the parable of the minas in Luke 19 was out in the open among the crowd. Zacchaeus had just believed and the Lord acknowledged his salvation. But, the crowd was now looking for Jesus to set up his kingdom.[3][unreliable source?]

The values of a talent edit

A talent (Ancient Greek τάλαντον, talanton 'scale' and 'balance') was a unit of weight of approximately 80 pounds (36 kg), and when used as a unit of money, was valued for that weight of silver.[4] As a unit of currency, a talent was worth about 6,000 denarii.[1] A denarius was the usual payment for a day's labour.[1] At one denarius per day, a single talent was therefore worth 20 years of labor (assuming a 6-day work week, because nobody would work on the weekly Sabbath).

Narratives edit

Parable of the Talents edit

The "Parable of the Talents", in Matthew 25:14–30 tells of a master who was leaving his house to travel, and, before leaving, entrusted his property to his servants. According to the abilities of each man, one servant received five talents, the second had received two, and the third received only one. The property entrusted to the three servants was worth eight talents, where a talent was a significant amount of money. Upon returning home, after a long absence, the master asks his three servants for an account of the talents he entrusted to them. The first and the second servants explain that they each put their talents to work, and have doubled the value of the property with which they were entrusted; each servant was rewarded:

His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

— Matthew 25:23

The third servant, however, had merely hidden his talent, burying it in the ground, and was punished by his master:

Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him, that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

— Matthew 25:24–30

Parable of the Minas edit

In Luke's Gospel (Luke 19:12–27), Jesus told this parable because he was near Jerusalem and because his disciples thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. The parable follows on from Zacchaeus' meeting with Jesus and the disciples "hearing" his declaration of restitution to those whom Zacchaeus had defrauded.[5] The objective of investing or trading during the absence of the master was intended to counter expectations of the immediate appearance of God's kingdom. The parable of the minas is generally similar to the parable of the talents, but differences include the inclusion of the motif of a king obtaining a kingdom[6] and the entrusting of ten servants with one mina each, rather than a number of talents (1 talent = 60 minas). Only the business outcomes and consequential rewards of three of the servants' trading were related. Additionally, Luke included at the beginning an account of citizens sending a message after the nobleman to say that they did not want him as their ruler; and, at the end, Luke added that the nobleman instructed that his opponents should be brought to him and slain, as well as the unprofitable servant deprived of his mina.

The parallels between the Lukan material (the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts) and Josephus' writings have long been noted.[7][8][9][10] The core idea, of a man traveling to a far country being related to a kingdom, has vague similarities to Herod Archelaus traveling to Rome in order to be given his kingdom; although this similarity is not in itself significant, Josephus' account also contains details which are echoed by features of the Lukan parable.[11] Josephus describes Jews sending an embassy to Augustus, while Archelaus is travelling to Rome, to complain that they do not want Archelaus as their ruler;[12][13] when Archelaus returns, he arranges for 3000 of his enemies to be brought to him at the Temple in Jerusalem, where he has them slaughtered.[12]

Version in the Gospel of the Hebrews edit

Eusebius of Caesarea includes a paraphrased summary of a parable of talents taken from a "Gospel written in Hebrew script" (generally considered in modern times to be the Gospel of the Nazarenes); this gospel is presumed to have been destroyed in the destruction of the Theological Library of Caesarea Maritima in the 7th century (in historically controversial circumstances) and has yet to be found. In that gospel, Eusebius writes that while the man who had hidden the talent was rebuked for its burial, only the man who had received two talents had invested and gained a return on his investment. The recipient of the five talents instead "wasted his master's possessions with harlots and flute-girls"; it was he, in the Hebrew gospel, that was sent into the darkness (Eusebius expressly identifies the darkness as being imprisonment).[2][14]

Depositing funds with the bankers edit

The third servant in Matthew's version was condemned as wicked and lazy, because he could have deposited his talent with the bankers (Greek: τραπεζιταις, trapezitais, literally, table or counter-keepers, just as bankers were originally those who sat at their bancum, or bench).[15] The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges notes that this was "the very least the slave could have done, [as] to make money in this way required no personal exertion or intelligence",[16] and Johann Bengel commented that the labour of digging a hole and burying the talent was greater than the labour involved in going to the bankers.[17]

Interpretations edit

In Matthew, the opening words appear to link the parable to the parable of the Ten Virgins, which immediately precedes it.[1] That parable deals with wisdom in an eschatological context.[1] This parable, however, has been interpreted in several ways.

As a teaching for Christian Believers edit

As personal abilities edit

Traditionally, the parable of the talents has been seen as an exhortation to Jesus' disciples to use their God-given gifts in the service of God, and to take risks for the sake of the Kingdom of God. These gifts have been seen to include personal abilities ("talents" in the everyday sense), as well as personal wealth. Failure to use one's gifts, the parable suggests, will result in negative judgment.[1] From a psychological point of view, the failure is the immediate result of the failure of feeling God's love. The first two servants are able to see God in a positive perception, as understanding, generous, and kind, while the third servant sees God as harsh, demanding, and critical.[18]

Finley suggests these interpretations among the teachings for Christians:

  • The nobleman (Lk 19:12), or the man (Matthew 25:14) is Christ.
  • The journey of the master to another place and his return (Matt 25:14–15, Matthew 24:19; Luke 19:12, Luke 19:15) speaks of Christ's going away to Heaven at his ascension and his return as the time when he comes again.
  • His entrustment to his servants of his possessions while he is away on his journey should be Christ's gifts and various possessions ("capital") given to the believers in his church in anticipation of them producing a spiritual "profit" for Him in the kingdom of God. While he is away, he expects his believers to "'Do business with this until I come back.'" (Luke 19:13).
  • His evaluation of the business they have conducted during his absence takes place upon his return and is an account of their activity (Matt 25:19; Luke 19:15). This must be the Judgment Seat of Christ, which is only for believers. This pictures an evaluation of stewardship.
  • The positive rewards for two of the servants are based upon their faithfulness to properly use what Christ entrusted to them. This probably speaks of positive reward for believers who are faithful to serve Christ.
  • The negative reward (recompense) for the unfaithful servant likely speaks of some negative dealing by Christ with an unfaithful believer.[3]

The poet John Milton was fascinated by the parable (interpreted in this traditional sense),[19] referring to it repeatedly, notably in the sonnet "When I Consider How My Light is Spent":[19]

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent, which is death to hide,
Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent'
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Some critics interpret the poem's exhortation to be ready to receive God's will as a critique of a misunderstanding of the parable as literal or economic, and that waiting, rather than amassing wealth to prove one's worth, is the proper way to serve God.[20] While the narrator worries over his limited accomplishments, Patience reminds him that God does not need "man's work". Milton may even be contrasting God (as King) with the lord of the parable.[21]

As love or mercy edit

Catholic bishop Robert Barron says that the talents in this parable are "a share in the mercy of God, a participation in the weightiness of the divine love," rather than personal abilities or wealth. He utilizes the interpretation of Old Testament professor Robert Schoenstene, who argues that a talent in ancient Jewish times was very weighty thus five talents was extremely heavy. Such heaviness would remind to the heaviest weight of all, the kabod (lit. heaviness) of God in the Temple of Jerusalem, accordingly the most heavy of all is the mercy of God.[22] Similarly, a reflection in the Carmelites' website defines the talents as "love, service, sharing", the "money of the master".[23] In other words, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis says, "Our greatest talent and treasure is our ability to love, and in this enterprise the champion is the greatest risk taker, which means the one most willing to invest himself where the odds appear most against him."[24]

As gifts from God edit

Cornelius a Lapide in his great commentary, writes, "By talents understand all the gifts of God, without which we can do nothing. These gifts are, I say—1st Of grace, both making grateful, such as faith, hope, charity, virginity, and all the other virtues, as well as those of grace given gratis—such as the power of working miracles, the Apostolate, the Priesthood, the gift of tongues, prophecy, etc. 2d Natural gifts, such as a keen intellect, a sound judgment, a sound constitution, prudence, industry, learning, eloquence. 3d External goods and gifts, as honours, riches, rank, etc. So St. Chrysostom. For all these things God distributes unequally, according to His good pleasure. And with this end in view, that each should use them for God’s glory, and the good of himself and others."[25]

As a critique of religious leaders edit

Joachim Jeremias believed that the original meaning of the parable was not an ethical one about every man. Instead, he saw it as aimed at the scribes who had withheld "from their fellow men a due share in God's gift."[26] In his view, Jesus is saying that these scribes will soon be brought to account for what they have done with the Word of God which was entrusted to them.[26]

Jeremias also believed that in the life of the early church the parable took on new meaning, with the merchant having become an allegory of Christ, so that "his journey has become the ascension, his subsequent return ... has become the Parousia, which ushers his own into the Messianic banquet."[26]

As social critique edit

In Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed (1994), William R. Herzog II presents a liberation theology interpretation of the "Parable of the Talents", wherein the absentee landlord reaps where he didn't sow, and the third servant is a whistle-blower who has "unmasked the 'joy of the master' for what it is — the profits of exploitation squandered in wasteful excess."[27] Hence, the third servant is punished for speaking the truth, and not for failing to make a profit. From the critical perspective of liberation theology, the message of the "Parable of the Talents" is that man must act in solidarity with other men when confronting social, political, and economic injustices.[27]

To describe how scientists are awarded authorial credit for their work, the sociologist Robert K. Merton applied the term The Matthew effect of accumulated advantage, in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. With the "Parable of the Talents", Merton metaphorically described the system of authorial rewards used, among the community of scientists, whereby famous scientists usually are awarded credit that is disproportionately greater than their contributions, while less-famous scientists are awarded lesser credit than is merited by their contributions; see also Stigler's law of eponymy: "No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer."[28]

Depictions in the arts edit

The teachings of Jesus: the Parable of the Talents, as etched by Jan Luyken.
The Parable of the Talents, depicted by artist Andrei Mironov. Oil on canvas, 2013

The "Parable of the Talents" has been depicted by artists such as Rembrandt, Jan Luyken, and Matthäus Merian. In literature, the Threepenny Novel (1934), by Bertolt Brecht (1895–1956), presents a social critique of the parable as an ideological tool of capitalist exploitation of the worker and of society.[29]

In religious music, the hymn "Slave of God, Well Done!", by John Wesley, notably alludes to the "Parable of the Talents" (Matthew 25:23), which was written on the occasion of the death of George Whitefield (1714–1770), the English Anglican cleric who was instrumental to the First Great Awakening (ca. 1731–55) in Britain and in the American colonies.[30]

The hymn "Slave of God, Well Done!" begins thus:

Slave of God, well done!
Thy glorious warfare's past;
The battle's fought, the race is won,
And thou art crowned at last.[31]

Parable of the Talents is a science fiction novel, published in 1998, written by Octavia E. Butler.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Arland J. Hultgren, The Parables of Jesus: A Commentary, Eerdmans Publishing, 2002, ISBN 0-8028-6077-X, pp. 271–281.
  2. ^ a b Eusebius, Theophany on Matthew 22
  3. ^ a b Finley, Tom. The Parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Minas (Matthew 25:14–30 and Luke 19:11–27). Online: "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-02-22. Retrieved 2015-04-17.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ Ridgeway, William, "Measures and Weights" in Whibley, Leonard (ed). A Companion to Greek Studies, Cambridge University Press, 1905, p. 444.
  5. ^ Luke 19:11: NKJV: they heard these things
  6. ^ Luke Timothy Johnson and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Luke, Liturgical Press, 1991, ISBN 0-8146-5805-9, p. 292.
  7. ^ Steve Mason, Josephus and Luke-Acts, (1992), pp. 185–229
  8. ^ Gregory Sterling, historiography and Self-Definition: Josephos, Luke-Acts and Apologetic historiography (1992)
  9. ^ heinz Schreckenberg, Flavius Josephus and the Lukan Writings (1980), pp. 179–209.
  10. ^ Max Krenkel, Josephus und Lukas (1894)
  11. ^ Luke Timothy Johnson, Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Luke (1991), endnote 12, page 289
  12. ^ a b Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 17:11
  13. ^ Luke Timothy Johnson, Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Luke (1991), endnote 14, p, 290
  14. ^ Ronald Allen Piper (1995). The Gospel Behind the Gospels: Current Studies on Q. BRILL. p. 297. ISBN 90-04-09737-6.
  15. ^ Ellicott's Commentary for Modern Readers on Matthew 25, accessed 21 February 2017
  16. ^ Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Matthew 25, accessed 21 February 2017
  17. ^ Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament on Matthew 25, accessed 21 February 2017
  18. ^ Wilkie Au; Noreen Cannon Au (2016). God's Unconditional Love: Healing Our Shame. Paulist Press. ISBN 978-1-58768-570-5.
  19. ^ a b David V. Urban, "The Talented Mr. Milton: A Parabolic Laborer and His Identity" in Milton Studies, Volume 43, Albert C. Labriola (ed.), Univ of Pittsburgh Press, 2004, ISBN 0-8229-4216-X, pp. 1–18.
  20. ^ Lewalski, Barbara. The Life of John Milton: A Critical Biography, Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003. Ebook. Page 306.
  21. ^ "When I Consider How My Light Is Spent (On His Blindness)." Shmoop Editorial Team. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 5 Aug. 2014.
  22. ^ Robert Barron (September 22, 2014). "The Deeper Meaning of the Parable of the Talents". Catholic World Report.
  23. ^ "Lectio Divina: Matthew 25, 14–30". The Order of Carmelites. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
  24. ^ Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (1996). "The Meaning of the Parable of the Talents". Taken from Fire of Mercy: Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew Vol. 1. Ignatius Press.
  25. ^ Lapide, Cornelius (1889). The great commentary of Cornelius à Lapide. Translated by Thomas Wimberly Mossman. London: John Hodges.
  26. ^ a b c Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, Scribner, 1954.
  27. ^ a b William R. Herzog II, Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed, Westminster John Knox Press, 1994, ISBN 0-664-25355-5, pp. 150–168.
  28. ^ Gerald Holton (December 2004). Robert K. Merton, 4 July 1910 — 23 February 2003. 148. American Philosophical Society. ISBN 1-4223-7290-1.
  29. ^ Bertolt Brecht, Threepenny Novel, Penguin Books, 1962, ISBN 0-14-001515-9, p. 365.
  30. ^ James Thomas Lightwood, Samuel Wesley, Musician: The story of his life, Ayer Publishing, 1972, ISBN 0-405-08748-9, p. 222.
  31. ^ The Cyber Hymnal: Slave of God, Well Done!
  • Crossan, John Dominic The Power of Parable (HarperOne 2013)
  • Malina, Bruce J. and Rohrbaugh, Richard L. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Fortress Press 1993)
  • Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume V: Probing the Authenticity of the Parables (The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library 2016)

Further reading edit

External links edit