We shall notice the following in this Parable of the talents as to its several elements: First of all we should carefully notice the setting of the Parable. We refer particularly to the setting wherein Jesus shows us therelationship of the servants (bond-men) to their lord (master!). It is all in the control of the “lord” in the Parable. It is all his plan and his good-pleasure. He will go on a journey abroad. This will necessitate his absence for a short while, or longer. The exact time of his absence is known only to him. Still, his interest in his affairs goes on, and that, too, on the status quo of the servants being his servants, accountable to him! Always the slave is owned by the master. He is not his own but belongs to this master, his time, his energies, his all!
Secondly, we should not overlook the fact that the “lord” in the Parable gives to these servants his substance. He gives his substance to his very own servants! (tous idious doulous—in the Greek). In a very special sense they are his own. And each of these servants has his own peculiar ability. The “lord” knows these abilities and reckons with them when he gives to these his “talents”! This shows the wisdom and also the righteousness of the “lord’s” disposition in the giving of the talents to each. He is indeed a wise, just and understanding man! He does not expect more from each servant than what his potential is. He gives each according to his ability. And he expects also of each according to, his ability in return!
Such a man is this “lord” in the Parable!
We now stand before the question as to what must be understood concretely with the “talent.” We know that a talent is a certain sum of money represented by a certain coin. Such was also a “pound.” It will afford us little or no positive value to inquire minutely into the exact amount of the value of a talent in our American, money, nor into the exact value of a pound. It will not give us any data for the proper understanding of the mystery of the Kingdom set forth in this Parable of the Talents!
Hence, we will pass on to the question at hand? what is the meaning of the “talent” in terms of the Kingdom of heaven?
And we wish to state here that we do not believe that the “talent” here represents the “natural ability” of man in relationship to God: Often these are identified and equated by those who would see in the “talents” the natural gifts, both bodily and intellectual endowments from our creator. We cannot see how on good exegetical considerations such can be the meaning and intent of Jesus in this Parable. For in the Parable a distinction is made between the “talents” and the “ability” of the servants. The “talents,” as given to each “according the ability of each”! (hekastoi kata teen idian dunamin). The term translated “ability” really is the wordy in Greek from which our term dynamite is derived. It refers not so much to might and strength as it does to innate ability! Here we are reminded that the “justice of God requires that the same human nature, which hath sinned, should likewise make satisfaction for sin”! (Question 16 of the Heidelberg Catechism.) But Jesus goes a step farther here. The justice of God is such that he requires of each individual only according to his ability in distinction from another (human) individual!
And each receives a talent or talents according to this own ability. These talents, we believe, refer therefore to the scope of the calling of each man. Each man is placed as servant in the “lord’s” domain to use his “talents,” his opportunities for the advancement of the master’s interest. And each has a certain amount wherewith to labor (te woekeren). The opportunities are commensurate to each man’s ability. There is a certain justice and wisdom of God manifested here.
And, let it be well understood, each man here labors with these talents as a servant. “Servant” does not mean a hired servant, an employee, but refers to a slave, a bond-servant. Hence, it refers to one who belongs with soul and body to his lord. Nothing is his own. All is the lords. Thus we read in the text: “delivered unto them his substance” and “And coming I could have claimed back (ekomisameen) mine own (the mine) with usury. The talents never became the possession of the bond-servants. Each moment they were laboring with their lord’s substance!
Now we further notice in this Parable that there are not ten servants who each receive an equal share of goods as in the Parable of the “pounds” (See Luke 19:11-27). There are but three servants that receive talents. And there is a distinction. The first receives five talents, the second two talents and the last only one talent!
What each does with this talent reveals and demonstrates his deepest and profoundest spiritual attitude toward his master. This is either one of love, of “entering into the joy of his lord,” or of one who is irked by the very thought of him! The good servant would make his master happy. He thinks of him alone. The evil servant thinks only about himself in aversion to his lord! He really hates and despises him! The one sings “With joy and gladness in my soul, I hear the call to prayer . . .” and the other says “In His ways and precepts I have no delight”! The good servants seek the “things above” while the evil servant seeks the “things, below”!
Let us follow the Parable just a bit.
The servant who had received five talents went straightway and gained other five talents. Thus also the servant who had received the two talents. But the servant who received one talent went and digged in the ground and “hid the talent”!
Then comes the day of reckoning.
What is here portrayed is in reality what will happen in the Day of Judgment when the Son of Man shall return in His Parousia! It represents the dominion of the Lord of lords in that day. All men will then be revealed in their deepest attitude. It will then be manifested whether they are good or evil servants.
When the servant who had received the five talents comes in that day he says “Lord, thou deliverest unto me five talents, lo, I have gained other five talents”! This is a hundredfold! This is the full measure. It was not much that this servant had received. It was only fivetalents! But it was enough to prove the worth of this servant. And it brought out his approved character. He is faithful! It is not the greatness of his success that is mentioned. It was the one element, the conditio sine quo non, which must be found in a servant! It is faithfulness! He was really a servant. He truly sought the interests of his lord. And to him it is said: Well! This servant is beautiful in grace! He is good (agathe) and faithful. In his deepest and inmost heart he is such.
The same is true of the servant who had received two, talents!
To these it is said: Since thou art faithful over little, I will place thee over much. Such is the act of the man in the Parable. But such will surely be the act of the Son of Man, and God in Him, in the day of Judgment. The question will be: are we good and faithful servants?! These two qualities go hand in hand; they belong together as root and fruit. Only when one is good can one be faithful! A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bring forth good fruits. By their fruits shall they be known! (Matthew 7:15-20.) In that day there will be a distinction made between those who received more talents according to their ability and those who received less. (The servants with five, two and one talents.) But there shall be a separation made between the evil servant and the good servants! Both are therighteous judgment of God!
The good and faithful servants shall enter into the joy of their lord! On earth they already entered into this joy by faith and hope. They had the first-fruits of the Spirit in their hearts. The parable does not teach the doctrine of total depravity and irresistible grace. It presupposes it. Here is the reward of grace. It is not out of merit. We are servants. When we have done all, we are still unprofitable servants. And as such by grace we here entered into the joy of the Lord in that day in hope of his return, and shall be found faithful and therefore,watchful! Thus we are as faithful in our office and calling as the angels of God are in theirs! And presently our “office and calling” will be pleasant and not irksome “entering into the joy of our Lord” in heaven! To our mind this means the first entrance by conversion and the continual entrance in conversion now, and presently in heaven the eternal rejoicing in the joy of Christ; His joy our joy, his interest ours forever! That joy shall not be a static joy but it will be the joy of servants, existentially in the good sense of the term! Shall we not reign over the angels and sit in judgment!
This joy we now experience in our hearts as a “beginning of eternal joy, which eye hath not seen and ear hath not heard and which bath never entered into the heart of man”! And that joy will be more than thebeatic vision of Roman Catholic theology; it will be rejoicing in God in the face of Jesus Christ, yet always meeting him as the Son of God in our nature. He is and remains our Lord! And we remain servants!
A distinction and separation is made.
It is a righteous judgment!
The evil servant is depicted as very bad. He does what no sane person will do with a talent. A talent is money, and money is a medium of exchange! He puts it in the ground and hides it. He does this intentionally. The Lord’s talent must not be unto the Lord’s joy! He cannot see anything that is unto the increase of his Lord’s. He hates. God and his neighbor.
He really casts the talent back to his Lord in indignation. He says: here is your talent! Just what I received! Besides, he makes some terrible accusations to his lord! He says: thou art a hard, severe man. I know thee! I have this as an experientialknowledge. And he uses the proverb, “Thou reapest where thou didst not sow and gatherest where thou didst not scatter!”
He ascribes injustice and hardness to his lord, yea, the impossible! Now that is exactly what man, natural man does with God in this life! And our flesh in which there dwells no good, we “by nature”? (Rom. 7:7-29.) Well, may we daily crucify our old nature and walk in a new and holy life. It is not said for nought that Job in his affliction did not ascribe evil against God. Do we not read literally, “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged foolishly,” Job 1:22. This too is written for our admonition. (See former article.)
And this servant is judged by concession. Granted for the sake of argument that it is true, then yet another course should have been followed. This man knew the way. In the original we have the pluperfect tense. Thou wast in a state of knowledge concerning me in the past up to a given moment! (heideis) It will be according to what a man knew. He that knows the way and walks it not shall be beaten with many stripes!
He is cast into hell. It is the opposite of the joy of the Lord, and entering into it. It means: to forever be judged as having been evil over against a righteous lord. No payment is made in hell. The Lord takes his own in justice!
Thus shall the kingdom of heaven be in that day!