Matthew 25:14-30 records this parable, sometimes called the parable of the ten talents. There is a similar, but not identical, parable in Luke 19:12-27, and the message is the same. Again, Jesus is teaching as aspect of the kingdom of heaven. “The kingdom of heaven is like…” In this parable, Jesus taught of three servants entrusted with different sums of money, “to each according to his own ability” or capability. The one given the five talents doubled the money, as did the man who was given two. But the third man, who had been entrusted with one talent, buried it in the ground. When the master returned, he asked the three men to give to him a report of how they used what they were given. The master praised the two who had doubled the money, but he was sorely disappointed with the third man. That servant admitted to his master, “I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.”
The master’s response was severe. “You wicked and lazy servant… you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
A talent was a unit of measurement, not a coin such as a denarius, and varied in its value depending on whether it was gold or silver. It is impossible to equate its value to modern currency, however, even the lowest value for a talent puts its worth at several thousand denarii, and a denarius was the usual payment for a day's labor. So a talent was the value of many years of work by a common laborer, perhaps the total amount one might accumulate. “One talent, then, equals a lifetime of earnings. This is a lot of money and a key point in this parable. Your God-given design and uniqueness have high market value in heaven. God didn’t entrust you with a $2 talent or a $5 skill. Consider yourself a million-dollar investment – in many cases, a multimillion dollar enterprise.” (Max Lucado, from The Cure for the Common Life)
Jesus had been teaching about the signs of His second coming, and had just finished the parable of the ten virgins, a forewarning emphasizing being prepared and mentally and spiritually vigilant. The parable of the unprofitable servant illustrated harsh disapproval for the failure to utilize the talents the master had committed to his trust. Jesus’ concluding words in this chapter called attention to doing good works, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned. The lessons within this entire section of Scripture interconnect, stressing total commitment to live for God and to give all and everything one has for Him.
“To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29 NLT) The reason the third man was a “do nothing” was fear. Fear utterly immobilized him and earned him the dishonorable designation of being wicked and lazy, depriving him of his destiny. The essence of this message and a stern warning appears in Hebrews 10:38: “Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”
Nineteenth century American author, poet and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world. Don’t waste life in doubts and fears; spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour’s duties will be the best preparation for the hours and ages that will follow it.”