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As we look at this familiar parable of the talents, we are reminded that what God requires of us as his servants is faithfulness.
It is clear who the people in the parable represent. The man going on a journey is Jesus. This parable is sandwiched between the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the sheep and the goats. Jesus is talking about the last days and his second coming. So the man going on a journey represents Jesus returning to heaven to be seated at the right hand of the father where he distributes gifts to his church, ruling all things for the church, until the father says the time for his return in glory has come.
The servants represent believers, people who are his servants, who claim to love him and want to serve him by working in his kingdom. The servants represent not just the disciples, but you and me.
The talents, or bags of gold, represent money, but not just money. They represent everything God gives us to manage for him on earth and to use to serve him and our neighbor until he comes again in glory.
Did you notice how many times Jesus indicates that everything we have really belongs to him? The man entrusts HIS property, HIS wealth to his servants; the servant who was given the one talent, or bag of money, went and buried HIS MASTER’S money, and when he returns what he was given, what he had buried, he tells his master, here is what belongs to you.
In addition, when the first two servants give an account to their master, they not only return what he had given them, his money, but everything that they had earned using his money. They realized that even what they earned using his money rightly belonged to him. They didn’t think they were entitled to any of it. They gave him 100% trusting that they would be well taken care of by their master.
Jesus shows that such trust is not misplaced. The master blesses these two servants. He declares them to be good and faithful servants. Because they have shown their faithfulness in little things, he deems them worthy to handle even greater responsibility. But best of all, he invites them to share in his happiness, words that remind us of what Jesus says in his next parable, come blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.
Nothing is better than that. Nothing is better than having God invite us to come into his presence and to experience happiness beyond imagination, to experience living without care or worry, without sickness or disease, without pain or death, or anything evil. No amount of money, no amount of pleasure, nothing in all the earth is worth more than being invited by God to come into his presence and share his happiness forever. When we realize what he has in store for us we are motivated to use all he has given us faithfully, to the best of our ability, to serve him and our neighbor and extend his kingdom.
Did you notice something else about the master, Jesus? He knows his servants intimately. Even though he has millions of servants, believers, all over the world, he knows each of us by name. He knows our talents and abilities. He knows what we are able to handle in this life so that he will never allow us to face anything we can’t handle with his help. He will never ask us to do anything for him that we can’t do with his help. He distributed his wealth, to each according to his ability. Whatever God has given you to manage, he will help you manage faithfully as you commit yourself to do everything in a way that brings him glory.
When we started, I mentioned that this parable is about faithfulness. It teaches that God is not concerned as much with what we have, much or little, after all, he’s the one that has given us what we have. What he is concerned about is faithfulness with whatever we are given. That becomes clear when we hear the master say the exact same thing to both the servant who gained 5, and the servant who gained 2. He didn’t praise the amount they gained. He praised their faithfulness. They had done what he knew they could with what they were given.
It also becomes clear from the third servant. He was given one talent, one bag of money. His master knew that he was capable of gaining one more if he would just use it faithfully. But he was only concerned about himself. He had no desire to serve his master or do anything to advance his kingdom. He didn’t even put the money in the bank so that it would earn interest. He didn’t want to be bothered with the responsibility of handling something that wasn’t his, or gaining more with it that he couldn’t keep. That’s why the master is so harsh with him, calling him wicked, lazy, and unfaithful. He had claimed to be a servant of the one who did not come to be served but to serve, but he had no intention of serving him or anyone but himself. Then, when he is called to account for his laziness, he tries to blame the master implying that the one who knows him inside and out expected too much from him.
Unfortunately, we see ourselves more in this wicked, lazy servant than we do in the other two. We prove ourselves to be unfaithful when we excuse our laziness, our lack of service to the Lord, with false modesty. We say, “I can’t serve. I don’t have the gifts. I don’t have the time. Let someone else do it.” If it’s really true that we don’t have the gifts for a particular form of service to the Lord, that’s fine. But you do have the gifts for some form of service. Paul makes that very clear when he talks about Spiritual gifts and says, All these (gifts of the Spirit) are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. God knows each of us inside and out. He knows our abilities and talents; he knows how much we have or don’t have. He has given every Christian gifts that he expects them to use to serve him and their neighbor. He rightfully expects faithfulness, not excuses.
What a gracious God we have. When we realize that we have not been completely faithful, that we have often been lazy and selfish with all that God has given us, that we have tried to blame him for expecting us to serve him when he knows exactly what we are capable of doing, we can still come to him in repentance. When we confess that we have been unfaithful stewards who have not used our time, talents, and treasure to do all we can to serve him and extend his kingdom to every creature, he graciously reminds us that he remains faithful. He points us to Jesus who alone is the perfectly faithful servant who always used everything the Father entrusted to him to serve God and his neighbor, and to extend his kingdom. He points us to Jesus who faithfully served even to the point of death on the cross so that our unfaithfulness would be forgiven. It is only because of Jesus that we can look forward to the day when he returns and we must give an account for the way we used all that he has entrusted to us. We can look forward to that day because our unfaithfulness is covered by his faithfulness in our place. Because of what Jesus has done in our place we will get to hear those wonderful words, well done good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s happiness.
Because we know what we have to look forward to, we can devote ourselves to using everything God has entrusted us to serve him, to do all we can to make sure that the gospel is proclaimed to everyone. In the end, nothing else matters. Whether we have much or little, whatever we have on earth will disappear. What really matters is storing up treasure in heaven. And what greater treasure could there be than meeting someone in heaven who is there because of your faithful service to the Lord and your neighbor.