One of Jesus’ most significant parables regarding work is that of the talent as recorded in Matthew 25:14-30. It is a simple story about a man who entrusts his possessions to his servants before embarking on a journey. He distributed his wealth among three servants, apportioned to them on the basis of their abilities. To the first he entrusted five talents, to the second two talents, and to the third one talent. The first two servants quickly set to work with their master’s money. The third servant did not invest his master’s money at all; he dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. When the master returned, the first two eagerly met their master, apparently delighted in the opportunity to multiply their master’s money and both were commended as “good and faithful servants”. Both were rewarded with increased responsibilities in their master’s service. Both were invited to share in their master’s joy. The third servant came to his master with only the talent his master had originally entrusted to him. In fact, if this were to take place today, that money would due to inflation likely be worth less, and all he could offer for his conduct was a feeble excuse. He told his master that he was a harsh and cruel man, a man who was demanding, and who expected gain where he had not labored. He contended that this is why he was afraid to take a risk with any kind of investment. And so he simply hid the money, and now he returned it, without any gain. The master rebuked this slave for being evil and lazy. He took his talent from him, gave it to the one who earned ten, and cast this fellow into outer darkness, where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The meaning of the parable extends far beyond financial investments. God has given each person a wide variety of gifts and He expects us to employ those gifts in His service. It is not acceptable merely to put those gifts on a closet shelf and ignore them. Like the three servants, we do not have gifts of the same degree. The return God expects of us is commensurate with the gifts we have been given. The servant who received one talent was not condemned for failing to reach the five-talent goal; he was condemned because he did nothing with what he was given. The gifts we receive from God include skills, abilities, family connections, social positions, education, experiences and more. The point of the parable is that we are to use whatever we have been given for God’s purposes. The severe consequences to the unproductive servant tells us that we are to invest our lives, not waste them. This slave does absolutely nothing with the talent that has been entrusted to him but bury it. Let us realize that we will be judged not only for what we have done, but also for what we may have failed to do, then we can fully appreciate the sentence passed upon the fearful and slothful servant.
The parable also frees us from some potentially guilty feelings. We cannot all be super athletically gifted or intellectual geniuses but we can all improve upon ourselves. We should not look at others with far more abilities than ourselves and get discouraged or look at others with inferior skills and become lazy and proud. The apostle Paul told the Galatians: “Let everyone be sure that he is doing his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work well done and won’t need to compare himself with someone else” [Galatians 6:3-4 TLB]. To whom much is given, much is expected. We have a responsibility to be proactive in all we do and with all God has endowed us with. God does not expect us to be idle. We are not to cloister ourselves somewhere secluded from the vicissitudes of life and merely devote ourselves to the study of His word. Study and contemplation of the Word of God are useful and certainly merit our fullest attention, but they are not to be an “end” unto themselves. Our Lord expects us to be diligent in all our doings and even if gain doesn’t come immediately, or if sometimes there are setbacks in progress, He expect us to remain steadfast and focused because as long as there is life there is hope.