[Note: This is a short paper I wrote for my own study while I waited in the Santiago, Chile airport on the way to the Feast of Tabernacles in 2008.]
In two parables in the Gospel, Jesus Christ speaks of the investment of gifts to disciples and their rewards based on their fruits. These passages, the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, and the parable of the minas in Luke 19:11-27, give slightly different lessons that help frame two of the problems regarding the reward believers can expect for their labors here on this earth. As we are called to be profitable servants of our Lord and Master (and Savior and Messiah), it is little surprise that these two parables sound intriguingly like the rewards given to successful investment brokers in our more modern period. Indeed, God can be said to be making an investment in each believer, and He expects to receive a return on His investment, though the rewards He gives to faithful servants is far beyond the wage of their labors.
Scope of Work
This particular essay will begin by showing the two parables (the parable of the talents and the parable of the minas) and explaining what lessons can be learned from them concerning God’s reasonable expectations for our bearing fruit. After the lessons are taken from each separate parable, some comments about the overall lessons from these two parables can be explained, with each parable providing a different perspective on the same issue. These conclusions will hopefully spur (time and energy permitting), some future and more extensive research.
The Parable of the Talents
The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), reads: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And 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 the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. 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 with them. So he who had received five talents came and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ 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 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 to him ‘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 and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, 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 to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but to 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.
Some Lessons From The Parable of the Talent
There are some lessons that should be pretty clear from the parable of the talents that are worthy of explanation. Some of these are:
- Our talents are gifts from God—no matter what we may like to think, our abilities, which we call ‘talents,’ are themselves gifts from God, or more properly, investments. God expects us to have an acceptable return on investment. (verse 14)
- God gives us different opportunities depending on our abilities, and sometimes these different opportunities and abilities vary. Not everyone has the same amount of talents. (verse 15)
- God gives the same reward where the same profit is demonstrated. Note that the faithful servant given five talents is given the same reward—being a ruler of many things for being faithful in a few things—as the servant given only two talents. Both are invited to enter into the joy of their lord because of their faithful service and profitable investments. It should also be noted that both of these servants show their faithful service in trade with the world, showing that our actions with others in this present life forms the basis of God’s verdict on our faithfulness. (verses 20-24).
- God does not tolerate excuses and laziness. The servant given only one talent hid it from the world (perhaps feeling the world an unsuitable place to use his talents), and condemns his lord as seeking what he does not own, while refusing to give his master what he wants, or even to take minimal precautions to ensure his master some return on investment—showing himself to be lazy rather than prescient. (verses 24-27)
- There are consequences for being unprofitable. Merely being obedient to God makes us unprofitable servants (see Luke 17:10), but being profitable servants means going above and beyond merely obedience to God’s law (which is difficult enough for us to do). It is virtue and wisdom that we must cultivate, rather than settling for mere continence and the appearance of virtue, or the knowledge that comes merely from listening to what others say without studying the Bible for ourselves. Merely to go to church and listen to what the pastor says about obeying God’s law is not sufficient for divine approbation—only for ‘outer darkness’ and ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ We should desire a better and richer fate, the joy of our lord. (verses 29-30).
The Parable of the Minas
The parable of the Minas is as follows: “Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because they thought that the kingdom o God would appear immediately. Therefore He said: ‘A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas [a mina is about a three month's salary], and said to them, ‘Do business till I come.’ But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man reign over us.’ And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded those servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying ‘Master, your min has earned ten minas.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.’ Likewise, he said to him, ‘You also be over five cities.’ Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your min, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ And he said to him, ‘Out o your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that I my coming I might have collected it with interest.’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’ (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’) ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has, more will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’”
Lessons from the Parable of the Minas
There are some lessons that can be learned from the parable of the minas, and some of them are as follows:
- God’s kingdom has not yet been manifested fully in this earth. Despite the claims of those who think God’s kingdom has already come, that kingdom is not in place yet, but awaits the return of our savior. (verse 11)
- Historical lessons can reveal surprising spiritual truths. The story of this parable, a nobleman going to a far country to receive rule over a people who does not look forward to his rule, parallels the situation of Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great whose inheritance of rule sparked protests by the people of Judea. Ironically enough, those same Jews did not desire the rule of their Creator over them either, treating the cruel and unjust Archelaus and the sinless perfect Messiah with the same disdain. (verses 12-14).
- Sometimes God gives the same blessings to His servants. Just as the parable of the talents shows the differing gifts God sometimes gives, this parable shows the same gift that is given to the servants of God (namely, the Holy Spirit) which works in us according to our faith. (verse 13)
- God rewards based on fruits. The servant who has 1000% profit is given rule over ten cities, while the servant whose labors (again, in the world) lead to a 500% profit is given rule over 5 cities. This demonstrates the fairness of our Lord, for justice demands that those who serve more faithfully should receive a better reward. This parable demonstrates that our view of this type of justice is a worthy one, held by our God. (verses 15-19)
- Our actions should reflect our beliefs. If we believe our God is harsh and demands what he does not give, and we have any understanding of His power whatsoever, it behooves us to act according to those convictions rather than use them as an excuse when we face the inevitable judgment. (verses 20-23)
- Being an enemy of God is a hazardous position to be in.
Some Important Similarities Between The Two Parables
There are some important similarities between the two parables, some of which follow:
- God expects a return on investment, but is generous far beyond our actual return on investment. Though God expects us to put the gifts He gives us to good use, He rewards His faithful servants far more generously than their labor would indicate. Being faithful in a few things means receiving a gift of many things. Having a return on investment of 2 and a half year’s wages for a single person gives rule over 10 cities, a vastly greater reward.
- All of God’s servants are held accountable. Despite the actions of some of God’s servants (particularly the more narcissistic ones who are drawn to positions of leadership), every servant of God will have to be accountable for what they have done with what God has given, a serious matter that cannot be neglected or minimized.
- Not all servants are profitable. Some of God’s servants do little with a lot (though they may only feel it is a little), and some do a lot with a little, but all is sorted out eventually
- Our Lord will eventually judge. Many of our problems in this life and in this world are the result of us taking God’s prerogatives for ourselves. We are not responsible for making sure our fellow servants are profitable, but on how we are becoming profitable. However, that said, the shortcomings of our fellow servants may provide opportunities to bind wounds, heal suffering hearts, and be profitable servants, so we need not neglect responding to what our fellow servants do.
Some Notable Differences Between The Two Parables
There are, however, some notable differences, particularly in perspective, between these two parables. Some are as follows:
- The two parables deal with slightly different situations. One one parable, the servants are given varying gifts, and in the other, they are given identical gifts. In the first case, the same reward is given for the same proportion of increase, and in the second case, the reward differs based on the varying return on investment. In both cases, though, the result is ‘fair.’ Where God gives us different gifts, he will reward us based on what we have done with what we are given. Where God gives us the same gifts, he will reward us based on our fruits.
- The parable of the minas emphasizes the opposition the inhabitants of the earth have to the establishment of the kingdom of God. There are human beings who are hostile to the establishment of divine rule over the earth, and they will suffer the penalty due to treacherous citizens—death. Contrary to the wishes of the some, there will be resistance until the moment that Jesus Christ returns. The parable of the talents, on the other hand, emphasizes the penalty that is given to unfaithful servants—outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth—which surely are not a pleasant fate, whatever they mean.
There is much more that can be said about these two parables, which give us some of the best information we have on the behavior of believers between our conversion and the return of Jesus Christ to establish his millennial reign over the earth. Time and energy do not permit at this time a more detailed analysis, but it should be clear from these two parables that God demands more out of his believers than merely the “passive” behaviors of pray, pay, stay, and obey. Furthermore, God gives us our gifts for a purpose, and that is to be profitable servants. Let us all be wise and profitable servants of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.