Infographic on the Parable of the Talents
I summarize the flow of talents from the parable in the infographic below, and you can also read the full parable here in Matthew 25:14-30.
The first two servants delivered on the master’s task. Servant 1 wound up with eleven talents, Servant 2 with four talents, and Servant 3 with none.
Talents: Ancient Money and Modern Skills
The “talents” were a unit of currency in ancient Rome, though you can also make the connection that these talents refer to one’s abilities.
On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others. Differences appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits derived from social commerce, and the distribution of wealth. The “talents” are not distributed equally. These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular “talents” share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures.—CCC 1937-1938 (emphasis added)
Given these differences in abilities and reflecting on our own unique, God-given abilities, we need to decide: do we make full use of these gifts to bear fruit for the kingdom and help others?
The third servant buried this invitation, and his own happiness along with that. Let’s try to understand how the third servant fell short.
The Third Servant: Slothful and a Silent Hater
The first two servants returned twofold. The third servant did not; he was called out by the master as slothful because he fearfully buried his only talent.
Today, that would symbolically equate to someone burying their God-given abilities out of fear, that crippling emotion we all experience at one point or another that does not come from God.
Even worse, you might have someone who has not only buried their talents, but they try to bury others’ talents with hurtful words of discouragement and insults.
These “haters” try to tear others down in a misplaced attempt to try to feel better about their own sloth. The sting of sin is numbed to some degree when everyone around you is also steeped in the same sins.
The third servant (as far as we know) was not publicly and verbally hating on the other two servants, but we get hints that he was doing so in his heart.
The Wealthy Man’s Estate: A Modern Take on the Parable
Let’s look through the eyes of the third servant for a moment with a modern analogy of the parable.
Let’s say you and your two buddies are entrusted by a wealthy man to watch over his new estate for one year.
His estate has:
- a beautiful mansion,
- a fully-furnished guesthouse, and
- a small shed, which primarily serves as a woodworking shop but also has modest living arrangements.
Across the entire estate, in each building, there is still much that is unfinished and can be built upon.
Everything is paid for, even the food. However, as compensation for your stay, you are asked to improve upon the estate.
You are thrilled about this, and you already have some great ideas for the mansion’s backyard.
The rich man calls the three of you together. He shares that you will not be living in the mansion together and working together on the whole estate.
Rather, he is splitting up your responsibilities across the estate.
Your first buddy is given dominion over the mansion and your other buddy gets the guesthouse. He then turns to you and tosses you the keys to the woodworking shop.
What?! You smile weakly, but below the surface, you are equal portions confused and irritated. You start brooding to yourself,
“The lousy shop is only 1/8 of the estate’s value, and yet there are 3 of us? NOT FAIR!”
Why Was the Third Servant Wicked?
We don’t have a ton of detail into the third servant’s full motives, but the master called him out as wicked.
With the perspective cast by our modern example, it seems he was offended by only being entrusted with 12.5% of the property, not 33%. This could have been what led him to decide spitefully and vengefully to sit on that single talent he was given, so that the master wouldn’t derive any profit. It was a passive aggressive way to “stick it to the man.”
There is a whole, tangled ball of sin here in servant #3; he lacked humility to accept the gift with gratitude, as he was too busy coveting the greater amount that the others received. So he was envious, and his response was to be intentionally slothful, which manifested as selfishness in that he withheld producing goods for the master.
Christ reveals not only here but also in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) that God can portion to each of us as he wills. This is not God being unfair, but rather it shows his superabundant generosity.
God’s generosity is exhibited multiple times. A couple events that come to mind is God’s inclusion of the Gentiles in the New Covenant, and also Christ’s invitation to the good thief to make his final “theft”, stealing an invitation to the eternal, heavenly banquet in the last moment of his otherwise sinful life.
Your Invitation: Have Focus Like the Second Servant
So the invitation is to make the best of what YOU have been given. Pray for grace and gratitude to recognize what you do have from our Lord, and also for wisdom for how to use it.
The name of the game is comparing yourself today to yourself yesterday, taking steps to go in the right direction. Don’t look to the left or right, comparing yourself to others, like the third servant did.
The third servant ought to have been like the second servant. The second servant also received less than a third of the estate but he didn’t complain. He shut down the selfish, envious voices whispering lies in his head about how “unfair” it is how much the first servant got.
He faithfully buckled down and got done whatever he could with what he had.
YOU have a unique mission for the kingdom here on Earth. No one else has the same exact mission as you, since your specific set of abilities is unique. The moral here is to work with God to discover that mission, focus on that with endurance and faith that makes the demons tremble, and to pray for heaps of grace. Get after it.