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The boss expected one thing--that his company profit and grow in his absence.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.
"Then he who had received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. Likewise he who had received two gained two more. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money.
"After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts. He who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, 'Lord, I have gained five more talents.' His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'
"He also who had received two talents came and said, 'Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.' His lord said, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'
"Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.'
"But his lord answered him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap and gather where I have not scattered seed. So 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.'"
Matthew 25:14-30 NKJV, condensed
Growing God's Assets
What is it with this wealthy man who would entrust substantial operating capital to his workers and expect them to deal honestly with him and be faithful to his trust even after a long period of unaccountable absence! Was he out of his mind? Didn't he know anything about "out of sight; out of mind"? Didn't he know workers get lazy, neglectful and need supervision?
We learn from the Old Testament that one talent of gold or silver weighed about 75 pounds. In Jesus' day, the average person could work 10 years to earn one talent. Five talents represented 50 years of labor. So if you multiply your annual income by 50 you will glimpse how much risk this businessman took with his #1 servant!
The people in Jerusalem for the Passover festival probably thought they weren't hearing Jesus correctly, and scratched around in their ears to remove some of the wax. Then they heard servant #2 received the equivalent to 20 years of labor, while servant #3 was held responsible for only 10 years wages! These were extravagant amounts with corresponding expectations, not given equally but to each according to his ability.
While their employer was gone, the first two servants actually fulfilled his highest calculations by doubling his money. But the third servant was characterized by fear. He played it safe. In stark contrast, he dug a hole in the ground and buried the share he had been given, preserving it in tact.
The contrast is further magnified when the landowner returned from his long absence. The first two were happy and proud to report on their successes. However, the interaction between the final servant and his master present a shock. The apprehensive one had his speech prepared and shows us a different perspective, one which the other two servants didn't seem to know about--their master is hard, ruthless, unforgiving and bent on profit.
We can sympathize with this cautious man. After all, we bury our gifts all the time. Or worse yet, we don't even know we have any God-given capital. We, too, plead ignorance and give a variety of excuses, blaming everything and everyone but ourselves.
As it turned out, what the third servant believed, did come true. His master was indeed harsh and demanding. If you're always cheering for the underdog, you will not like this ending. The disappointed taskmaster lashed out at his trembling servant with cruel words, calling him lazy, wicked, unprofitable, useless. Without sympathy nor understanding, without warning nor provisions, he threw his unproductive worker out into the darkness.
What was the sin that brought on such condemnation? It was not something he did, but something he failed to do. There's nothing in this story about the kinds of corruption we usually associate with crime. No fraud. No cover-up. No immorality or violent acts. He was neither dishonest nor unethical.
Quite simply, the third servant had buried the valuable trust instead of venturing out and taking the necessary risks to use and multiply the assets given to him by his master. He was distrustful, and in the end wasted all the potential of his wonderful resource.
Like the essential oil in the preceding parable, Jesus again pointed to some urgent and necessary actions that are required for life within God's kingdom. We can daydream all we want about what we would do if only we had five or more talents, but the real test is scored by how well we use what we do have. What we achieve with one talent is a sure indicator of how well we would do with greater amounts. Because the man with one talent didn't use it, he lost it to someone who did have the will and energy to double it.
The idea is not to remain unscarred and in tact. Jesus took a chance and bet the house on us. Will we not do the same for him? The first two servants emulated their master's faith and confidence; the third individual sat it out and lost everything he had. Jesus laid two choices before us in this "use it or lose it" parable, and they are as opposite as heaven and hell.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What motivates you to do a good job?
Discuss the attitudes of the servants toward their master in this parable and how those attitudes decided the outcome. How does your attitude toward your boss affect how you do your job? How does it happen that two people can interact with the same person and arrive at opposite impressions of them?
Name an area of life wherein you feel like you have only 1 talent compared to others who have more. Do you use your talent anyway? Or does the success of others leave you intimidated? Do you think Jesus would agree with your assessment of your abilities.
Why would the master in this parable give equal praise to the first two servants even though the first one accomplished much more than the second? Describe the differences between being faithful in God's sight and appearing successful in the eyes of your peers? In what ways did their master model risk-taking?
React to the following quote: "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do." --Edward Everett Hale One talent is not zero talent, so why do we often treat it as such? Is pride part of the problem? If so, in what way?
Note the perils of negligence in the previous parable and laziness in this one. Where do you see these two traits among the people of God today?In both parables, these people missed their opportunity and the door was shut. What is the message in that for our own day? Are you living your life like someone who believes in their Lord's return?
Who does most of the work in your congregation? 5-talent people, 2-talent people or 1-talent people?
When Jesus died, he left his ministry to his disciples (then and now) to complete. Was that foolishness on Jesus' part? Or faith or what? What do you think the generous chunk of gold (talent) represents? How do we grow and multiply "God's assets"? What is the biggest challenge to you in this parable?