Theme: Faith without works is dead.
This week’s lessons teach us that laziness and evil behavior must not characterize God’s people.
“Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
When the master returned for their accounting and the faithful servants told what they had done, the servants’ words do not merely report that they had doubled the amount they were given. The man who had been given five talents seems to have come with two bags, each containing five talents, and what he literally says is: “Master, five talents you placed in my hands; look, an additional five talents I have gained.” You can almost feel his proper pride in the achievement? Hendriksen comments, I think rightly, “The mans eyes are sparkling. He is bubbling over with enthusiasm, is thoroughly thrilled, and, as it were, invites his master to start counting.”1 The man has been waiting for this moment and is pleased at having done so well.
The master is equally delighted, “Well done,” he says. We might almost translate his reply as: “Excellent!” “Great!” or “Wonderful!”
It is the same with the servant who had been given two talents. He says the same thing and receives an identical word of commendation.
By contrast, we can hardly fail to hear the angry, self-justifying, accusing tone of the servant who had hidden the master’s talent in the earth, “Master, I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you” (vv. 24-25). This accusation was not true. The master was not a hard man. He had been generous to have given the servants so much wealth to work with. But this man hated him. We can hear his contempt as he resentfully throws his talent on the table, “Here is what belongs to you,” he says. It was returned exactly as the master had given it, not a bit more and no less.
In response the master condemns him both for his wickedness and for being lazy—wicked because he was accusing his master unjustly, and lazy because he had not faithfully used what he was given. The master then gives the talent to the one who had ten, on the principle that, “everyone who has will be given more” and “whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (v. 29). He then causes the servant to be cast “outside, into the darkness” (v. 30).
We must avoid a “do nothing” Christianity. One commentator said, “To have done no harm is praise for a stone, not for a man.” But the situation here is worse than that. To have done nothing is proof that we do not love Jesus Christ, do not belong to him, and have no share in his kingdom. It is to perish forever.
So much for the story. What are the lessons we need to learn from it?
The first clear lesson is that there will be a future day of reckoning for all people. That is so obvious, both from this parable and from all the parables in Matthew 25, that it seems almost sophomoric to stress it. Yet it must be stressed, if only because people usually think in precisely opposite categories. Jesus spoke of judgment being obvious. It was a subject that was not even up for debate. But they consider God’s judgment to be the most irrational and least-to-be-anticipated thing in the world.
1 William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), p. 881.
With what tone do the first two servants approach their master?
How does the third servant’s response compare to that of the other two?
Read James 2:14-26. How does the message of James chapter 2 reinforce the point of this parable in Matthew 25? What else does James teach here?