The Parable of the Talents


Today’s text is Matthew 25:14-30.  Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on November 16, 2008, the Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost.


Dear Friends in Christ,


Today we hear another parable from Jesus.  A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  This parable involves a wealthy landowner who was preparing to go on a long trip.  He called together his 3 servants and divided his money among them, each according to his ability.  To one servant he gave five talents, meaning a sum of money, to a second two, and to a third one.


The realism of this story is that even today we seem divided into folks who have different talents.  Even though we are all equal in the eyes of God and we have equal rights under the Constitution, when it comes to our abilities, we are as different as different can be.  God simply did not make us all the same.  There are some people who can handle five talents; there are some who can handle only one.  There are some persons who have great intellectual capabilities, and some who do not.  There are some who have the ability to speak well on their feet and articulate their thoughts, and there are some who cannot.  There are some who have great physical strength and good looks, and there are some who do not.


The important thing to remember is that each servant was given something.  No one was left idle.  You may not be a five-talent person, but you have some talent.  We all do.  And you know something?  I think that there are a whole lot more one and two talent people in this world than there are five talent people.  Oh, there are some people who seem to have it all. But most of us are just one or two talent servants.


The landowner went on his journey.  When he returned he called together his three servants and asked them to give an account.  It seems that the five talent man had invested his talent and was able to return an additional five talents. A 100% return.  So, too, the two talent man doubles his money.  “Well done, good and faithful servant.”




But what about the one talent man?  He stepped forward and said: Sir, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow.  So he returned that which he had originally been given him.  The landowner, incensed, uses words such as “slothful” and “wicked”.  Angrily he took the talent back and gave it to the servant who now had ten.


It is obvious that the focus of this parable, perhaps the villain, is the one talent man.  So we ask: why did he choose to do nothing with the one talent that had been given him?  Amazingly, we are not really given the answer.  As Jesus often does, he wants us to ponder and speculate.  This morning, let me do some speculating about the servant’s inaction…


First, he perhaps did nothing with his one talent because he feared failure.  He said “I was afraid” and so he hid his talent.  Fearful of doing the wrong thing, he chose to do nothing at all.  I read that in Jesus’ time his action symbolizes the traditional way of saving money.  Perhaps he thought he was being a good conservative businessman.  He was not going to risk someone else’s money by buying into some speculative venture.


Would you agree that it seems like the older we get the more conservative we get?  Someone once said, if you are not liberal when you are young, you do not have a heart.  If you are not conservative, when you are old, you do not have a head.  So, perhaps, we have older gentlemen in this parable.  The tendency is to want to play it safe and not go out on a limb.  He wanted to play it safe and what is wrong with that?


If I am being faithful to Jesus’ parable, I must say to all of us this morning: Go, and take risks.  Take risks in life and don’t fear failure.  If Jesus had played it safe, we would not be sitting here this morning.


A second reason why this one talent man did nothing with his talent is that he played the game of “if only.”  If only I had been given the talent of these other two men, then I could have accomplished something.


We like to play that game too.  I would love to teach a Sunday school class, if only I had her ability.  If only I had his voice I would sing in the choir.  I would support the church if only I had little more money.  We would fully support this mission and ministry of the church if only we had a little more money in the budget.  It is a dangerous game because it too easily gets us off the hook.



I love the story of the thirty- eight-year-old scrubwoman who would go to the movies and sigh, “If only I had her looks.”  She would listen to a singer and moan, “If only I had her voice.”  Then one day someone gave her a copy of the book, “The Magic of Believing.”  She stopped comparing herself with the actresses and singers.  She stopped crying about what she didn’t have and started concentrating on what she did have.  She took inventory of herself and remembered that in high school she had a reputation for being the funniest girl around.  She began to turn her liabilities into assets.  When she was at the top of her career, Phyllis Diller made over $1 million a year.  In the 1960’s that was a great deal of money.  She wasn’t good looking and she had a scratchy voice, but she could make people laugh.


Well, maybe God is saying something like that to us.  Maybe when we complain that we wish we had more, if only we were like someone other than ourselves, if only…He says to us: Use the gifts I have given you.  Stop crying about what you do not have and start concentrating on what you do have.


Well, Friends in Christ, we have come to the end of Jesus’ Parables, at least for this church year.  These teachings are what Jesus has left us until he returns again.  Next week in our Sunday morning worship, we will be celebrating Christ the King Sunday.  We’ll be shooting past the death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus to focus on what it means that Jesus is in heaven, sitting at the right hand of God, the one given the responsibility of being the judge of who will be invited to live in his kingdom forever.  In the meantime, we have these parables that give us a glimpse of the way Jesus expects us to live our earthly lives.  May God inspire all of us one talent folks to action!





I am grateful to Brett Blair and Staff of ChristianGlobe Network for providing the illustration about Phyllis Diller and the biblical research  for this sermon.