There are quite a few things to be learned from the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 which is the Gospel Reading for Proper 28, or the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost. Before embarking on a foreign trip, a master “summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability”.
The parable appears in a variant form in Luke 19:12-28 in which the master was a wealthy man traveling to a foreign country to be crowned. This Lukan version has inferences to Herod Archelaus who, according to Josephus, traveled to Rome to be made king and while on the way, Jews sent a delegation to Augustus to oppose his coronation. Upon his return, Archelaus slaughtered 3000 of his enemies in the Temple. In Luke too, ten servants were entrusted with ten minas each. Ultimately one was able to give back a yield of ten minas, another five and a third, nothing.
This parable is not in Mark, but there is – or supposed to have been – another version of it in the non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews, according to the third/fourth century church historian Eusebius. In this version, the servant given two talents earned two more talents while the one with five wasted the money with prostitutes.
Matthew’s talents were a monetary unit and in our everyday language a talent has come to mean a gift, or special ability. As the parable illustrates, everyone has been given a special gift – in accordance to one’s ability. Nobody is without. The measure varies but no one is lacking.
This is the first lesson of the parable.
The second is that a return is expected. The talents, or gifts are given to be used and to produce a yield. They are not for individual display or personal gratification.
Lesson number three: There is a day of accounting or reckoning. Every servant will give an account of the gifts given; and number four: There is a reward for work well done; recompense for everyone.
Now, it is the guy with the one talent who is at the center of this parable – along with the master, of course. Indeed, those with one talent – the majority of the world’s population – face some quite peculiar dangers, and that is our next discussion.