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TALK ON THE PARABLES

PARABLES OF THE TALENTS AND THE POUNDS. 

10th November 2011

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Today we will continue with our analysis of the Parables which we began last week. Today's Parables will be the Parable of the Talents from St. Matthews Gospel and the almost identical Parable of the Pounds from St. Luke's Gospel. The talents should not be mistaken with the modern usage of the word which we use to describe the natural gifts and physical skills people have although in its spiritual meaning it can also refer to these. A talent was a weight measure used by the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean region. In ancient Greece it was usually a weight in silver which was also used as a very large sum of money. To get an idea of its value we have to understand what the Pound is in the second Parable. It has nothing to do with the English pound but translators of the KJV used pound for the Greek word mnas because as a monetary unit mnas was totally unheard of and would not have made any sense to the English reader. In money terms, a talent is equal to 60 mnas and 1 mnas is equal to 100 drachmas or 100 pennies. That might not sound a lot, but during the time of Christ an ordinary worker earned one drachma a day so a talent was equivalent to a person's wage for sixteen years.
Let's then hear the first Parable of the Talents.
"For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and dug in the earth, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou newest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundantly: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:14-30).
In the Parable Christ presents himself as a man travelling into a far country with the intention of returning at some time in the future. When Christ had finished the work he had come to do, he left this world and ascended to heaven, but with the intention of returning which will come about with his Second Coming. On leaving this world, Christ charged His apostles and other followers, to continue His work, to gain personal salvation, and to help save others. His followers, in other words all Christians who have a desire to serve him in some way, are represented by the three servants of the parable. To them he gives his talents which denote all the good things given by God to man whether material or spiritual. Material talents are wealth, favourable living conditions, social status and good health. Talents of the soul are a logical mind, a good memory, skills in the arts and crafts, eloquence, courage, sensitivity, compassion, and other qualities placed in us by the Creator. Then there are talents of the spirit. The Apostle Paul mentions some of them in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues" (I Corinthians 12:7-10).
These are just some of the many gifts that God has given to man. And because they are gifts then nothing actually belongs to us: the original owner is God. That is why in the parable he calls us servants. This might sound demeaning, but it is in fact a title of merit with special honours. A servant of God is someone free from slavery to his sinful self which leads to eternal death. A man free from sin, does not live egocentrically, in other words he doesn't live exclusively for himself to satisfy his ego, but uses the gifts God has granted him to serve God's will. He shows obedience to God and thus he is God's servant.
The distribution of the talents is done according to the disposition and eagerness of each servant to work and obey his Lord, who is love. That is why he doesn't give everyone the same. To one he gives five talents, to another he give two and to the third he gives only one. The Lord gives to each according to the ability each person has to put those talents to good use. If would be pointless and even destructive to give someone a gift if he hasn't the will and strength to put it to good use. If we think of talents as love and the heart as the vessel which God fills with his love, some hearts can receive and give more love than others. The first man had room for many talents, and the Lord gave him five to begin with. The other one, who also was a faithful servant - he had room for less talents, so his Lord gave him two talents. The last one really had no room for any talents, but his Lord, out of mercy towards him, out of patience towards him, to give him a chance, gave him a talent. He gave him a chance to use this talent properly.
The amount of talents is not important, what is important is that no one remains without divine grace. The greatest of all talents is that all of us are an image and glory of God on earth. We have the grace of adoption from "our Father which art in heaven" which once we had lost when we left his presence, but which has been renewed in the mystery of Holy Baptism. This is the greatest of all talents that each and everyone of us has received from God and which comprises the presupposition for us to "enter into the joy of our Lord". Being in the image of God means that we must be like him and as God is love we also must become love and live our lives with love towards God and our fellow citizens.
Although God doesn't give equal talents to his servants, the reward for using the talents with love is the same for each "enter thou into the joy of thy Lord". The servant who received two talents and made two more received exactly the same reward with the servant who received five and made five more.
How then do we use our talents to make them increase? He who had gained five talents used them in business and gained five other talents. He who had received two talents gained two others. One must increase the talents gained by exercise in active trading, but by this I don't mean industrial buying and selling. If someone has the gift of prayer, he must diligently pray not only for himself but also for others. If he has the gift of teaching he must use this gift to teach and educate others, and so forth. The Apostle Paul writes: "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth on exhortation; he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness" (Romans 12:6-8). If we act according to the apostle's counsel, we know our talents will increase. The widow who put only two mites into the temple treasury pleased the Lord more than the rich who gave more. Why? Because she gave everything she had, everything she had need of. She sacrificed her needs for the sake of love for others. She too will hear the Lord say to her: "Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things, enter thou into the joy of thy lord."
The servant, who received one talent, buried it in the earth and for this he was reprimanded by the Lord. He too was given the talent of grace to live his life with love towards God and men, but he was a foolish and stupid man. He had no true desire to live the Christian life. The plain truth of the matter is that the man did not want to change, he did not want to use his talent. He did not really love God, and wanted to live his own life of depravity, or perhaps of not even depravity - just heedlessness, and godlessness. He took no interest in the talent, neither in God or his Kingdom. He was a self centred person who had no time for his fellow men and whose only interest was to satisfy his ego and carnal desires. The Parable calls him a servant just like the others, but as we saw earlier a servant is an honorary title given to those who show obedience to God. He may have began as a servant like all who are baptised and receive the talent of being in God's image, but he did nothing with this talent other than to bury it and therefore lost the privilege of being God's servant.
So at the time of reckoning this man is confronted by our Lord - "Why have you not increased your talent"? And trying to justify himself he accused the Lord of harshness and cruelty: "I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine." What he said is very difficult to understand: what does he mean by reaping where thou has not sown and gathering where thou hast not strawed? Is not everything in creation from God? Has not God sown everything? Are not all the things given to man gifts from God and therefore belong to him. What then doesn't actually belong to God? There is only one thing that although it was originally a gift from God, he gave it and made it totally ours without conditions. This is our free will to be obedient to him. God has not given us obedience and he will not reap it from us unwillingly. The wicked servant thought that God demands obedience and like a tyrant would force it upon us. But that is because he didn't perceive God as love. He has never tasted the joy or felt in his heart the treasure of this love. He didn't believe that life lived only for oneself leads to death while life lived as love becomes eternal. It is clear in the parable that he never felt God as love by his words and actions: "I knew thee that thou art an hard man." Because he never loved God, he had no reason to expect his return and didn't believe in another life of eternity.
The Lord calls him a wicked and slothful servant, because he never worked for his salvation. He never made even the slightest effort to change his way of life. He never once made even the slightest effort to show love to others. This slightest effort is to have put the money in the bank so that when the Lord came he would have received his money back with interest. He too could have increased the talent he was given, but his laziness was so wicked that he accused his lord of unjustness. Reaping where thou hast not sown could also mean that he was accusing the Lord of unfairness. If the Lord reaps from the gifts he has given, then the lazy servant was saying that the Lord was unjust because to the others he gave other gifts which helped them to increase in virtue, but he was given only one talent. He was complaining that he was not given sufficient gifts so why should the Lord expect or desire him to succeed spiritually and look to the benefit of others. If the man with five talents lost a talent through trading, he still had four more to work with, but he only had one and he feared that if he lost this he would be severely punished, so rather than take the risk of losing the money by trading it, he hid the talent in the earth to keep it safe until the Lord demanded its return. And when the Lord did return this is what he did he gave back the talent with the justification that he returned it intact as he was given it.
By his very words the wicked servant pronounced the sentence against himself. If he thought the Lord was cruel, then he should have made an even greater effort and be more fearful. If the Lord demands what is another's, then all the more will he demand his own. Thus the Lord pronounced his judgment on this lazy and impertinent servant: "Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundantly: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Here we also might think that the Lord is unjust. Why would he take the grace given to the negligent servant and give it to the servant who had ten talents and not to the servant who had four? None of God's gifts go to waste. If someone does not use a gift wisely it is taken from him and given to someone who will put it to good use. By good use I mean it will be used for the benefit of others. The man with the ten talents obviously has a capacity for more talents and would use the extra talent far better than the man with four. This is not an injustice to the man with four talents, because his reward is the same as the man with ten just as the reward would have been the same for the man who only had the one talent if he used it wisely. Taking the talent from the negligent servant also is not unjust, because by hiding it in the earth he clearly didn't want the talent which he saw as a burden.
Although the reward of the two men who increased their talents is the same, the ten and the four teach that there is a hierarchy in heaven and as Christ said elsewhere, there are many mansions in my Father's house.
Let's now see the Parable of the Pounds which is almost identical, but with some differences.
"A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." St Luke 19:11-27
Often the Parable of the Pound or Mnas becomes confused with the Parable of the Talents, of which we have already spoken of and, indeed, there is much in common between them. Both parables show a lord, on departing, giving a specific sum of money to his servants, for them to invest in commercial enterprises and increase. Both parables show some of the servants to be faithful and to increase the silver, while others prove to be lazy and get no return on their money. Both parables show the diligent men getting a reward, while the lazy are punished. The excuses of the lazy and the lord's reaction are almost identical, as well as the lord's reactions. Both parables show the silver taken from the lazy and given to the zealous.
But there is also a substantial difference between these two parables. Thus, in the parable of the mnas, the lord gave out this silver coin out to all in equal measure, but in the parable of the talents, each received according to his strength. In the parable of the talents the diligent servants increased the money by doubling it while in this parable one servant increases the money tenfold and another by fivefold. In the parable of the talents the lazy servant buried the money in the earth while in this parable the servant hid it in a handkerchief. And there are other differences as well that imply different spiritual values.
The parable begins with "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return." In the Greek it says "A certain man of noble birth". Christ is referring to himself and first calls himself a man to signify his human birth and then of nobility to signify his royal heritage from the House of King David and also as King of Heaven. This nobleman "went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return". Here Christ is using an image from a contemporary event which his audience still remembered. Archelaeus, the son of King Herod the Great, had gone to Rome to request his succession to the throne of Judea. He went to receive for himself a kingdom, but an opposing Jewish delegation had followed him to Rome, asking for the denial of his succession. In the parable also, "the citizens", in other words the Jews, hated Christ and "sent a delegation after him saying: we will not have this man to reign over us." It is also reminiscent of the passion when Christ was brought up before Pilate and the Jews denied he was their king saying: "we have no other king but Caesar."
So as Christ was preparing to leave and ascend to heaven and receive his kingdom, signifying the sitting on the right hand of the Father, he called ten of his servants and gave them each a mnas and telling them to trade and invest it until the time he returns and demands they give an account of what they had done with it. The servants are men who have come to believe in Christ and to serve Him. At first, these men were all Jews, but later men of other nations came to believe and joined the original servants. The citizens are men who reject Christ as their king. The delegation that they send after Christ is the hatred and blasphemy of His enemies. Note that it says "His citizen's" According to Christ's human nature they were of the same race and had the same forefathers. In John's Gospel is says: "that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, they hated me without a cause." (John 15:25) There was no real reason to hate Christ whereas with Archelaeus they had a real and serious reason to hate him because he had slaughtered 3000 of them during the first Passover after his proclamation as king.
There is another aspect to the Parable. The nobleman who is to receive his kingdom is preoccupied with the future organization of his kingdom and decides to test his servants to see how capable they are and if on his return he can use them as official administrators and ministers of his kingdom. The apostles and others who followed Christ and who were his immediate environment expected that the kingdom would be almost upon them and as the followers of the king; they would be raised immediately to ranks of honour, but with this parable Christ is telling them that instead of this, he is assigning them as men of business where they are called to work and sweat with great diligence.
To each servant, the Lord gave one mnas to use in trade. This is a rather small amount especially when compared to the Parable of the Talents where he entrusted his servants with all his goods. Why here do we have such a small sum of money? Possibly because by giving them only one mnas to do business, they would remain humble. They would not become great business tycoons, but remain simple and through hard work try to multiply their capital. A large capital would also have been a temptation to some to buy rich clothing to look the part of a successful business man and have expensive dinner meetings to make a good impression on others. Christ didn't give his servants the mnas for them to have a good time but to work. The KJV says "Occupy till I come" but in the original Greek it says "πραγματεύσασθε" meaning to negotiate or haggle or bargain until I come. In the spiritual sense it means to go out and preach the Gospel, expand the Church in the world, instruct the nations in faith and obedience. When Christ, after his resurrection, breathed on his apostles and gave them the Holy Spirit, they received their mnas. When we are baptized and chrismated we also receive our mnas which is none other than the grace of the Holy Spirit. But we must work and put great effort if we want the gifts of the Holy Spirit to manifest within us and multiply.
The servants knew to take the mnas and to multiply its value in accord with God's will and his commandments. If we live according to the Gospel, overcome our human will, and fulfill God's will, then our inner strength will grow and grow and as our strength increases, the Lord distributes more of His gifts of grace.
The rest of the parable is almost identical to the parable of the talents. The Lord returns having received the kingdom, and commands the servants to give an account of what they had done with the money he gave them. The first traded and from his one mnas he gained ten. The servant is humble and doesn't praise himself for his hard work but gives all the credit to the Lord's money, your pound has gained ten pounds. In other words not me Lord, not my great effort and hard work, but the Grace of God that was given me, has made it possible to multiply. The Lord was pleased with him and gave him authority over ten cities. The second made five so he likewise was given authority over five cities. Note in the Parable of the talents that although the one servant made five talents and the other made two, their reward was exactly the same because they had both doubled what they were originally given. In this parable the rewards are given according to merit. Each had only one mnas to begin with, but the one servant made ten while the other made only five. Thus accordingly their reward was that they were given authority over as many cities as they had mnas.
Their rewards vary according to merit. Whoever revealed greater zeal in pleasing God gained a greater reward. But what this reward actually means is beyond our knowledge in the present world. Only the Lord and they that receive it know what the ten and the five cities signify. We only know that, according to Christ's word, "in my Father's house are many mansions" (John 14:2).
What the ten and five cities are saying is that in heaven there are various degrees of glory and that this glory is distributed according to the measure of work each has shown in this present world.
Of the ten servants who received the money, only three are mentioned of having appeared before the Lord to give account of what they did. They are used as examples: the first to show the greatest care and activity, the second to show the middle or average activity and the third to show total inactivity.
The third servant, representing total inactivity and the rank of those who will be punished for carelessness and disregard for the Lords work, appears before the Lord and says: "behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin." Like the others he understood that the aim of human life is service to God and salvation of one's soul. He had not forgotten this truth but had preserved it, "laid up in a cloth." He knew he was to multiply his wealth, but he was overcome with laziness and repeatedly told himself until he believed it that as long as he didn't lose the money he would be ok before the Lord. In his confession he is actually saying: "It is true Lord that I have not increased the money, but it is also true that I have not lost or diminished its value so that I should give you less that what you gave me." This is exactly what many people say to justify that they should be rewarded with heaven: I haven't done anything bad, I believe I'm a good person because I've never harmed anyone. What is missing in this statement is that neither have they ever done anything good for which they should be rewarded. Not doing bad does not equal doing good.
In the Parable of the talents, the lazy servant had received much less than the others and it was possible for him to use this as an excuse to justify why he hid the money out of fear of losing it. In this parable the lazy servant cannot use this excuse because everyone was initially given the same amount. His only excuse is "For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow." Again these strange sayings. What the lazy servant is saying is: "I feared thee because you are a hard man requiring perfection from me, but you haven't given me the strength to acquire this perfection." You give me a small amount of money and you want me to do all the hard work to multiply it and in the end you take everything, but if I did all the work then the gain should be mine; why should you take up what you haven't given?"
The Lord replied: "Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee" in other words, if you knew I was a hard man then you should have tried all the more to please me. If as you say you truly feared me and feared losing the money what safer place than to put the money in the bank so that at my coming it would have as least gained some interest. But the truth is you were totally lazy and showed complete disregard for the things that are mine.
Even a weak man can develop goodness. If he hasn't the strength to be perfect he can at least fulfil some of God's easy commandments. He can help the needy, he can forgive offences, he can console the sorrowful, visit and look after the sick, abstain from harmful amusements, he can fast and pray. Such works develop the spiritual powers of the soul and attract the Lord's help. In time the soul will become stronger and the person will more easily cast off the bad passions that bring about his destruction. The lazy servant in the parable should have tried these methods. But he didn't and for his he was condemned.
The Lord orders his angels to take from him the mnas and give it the servant with the ten mnas. The wicked servant's general carelessness caused God to withdraw any further divine help. And that divine power that helped him before is given to whoever serves the Lord more faithfully and bears greater spiritual fruits.
And they said unto him that stood by, Lord, he has ten mnas. It doesn't say who said this, but it isn't logical to assume that it was the angels who obey the Lord without questioning his reasons. Rather the astonishment came from some who stood by and heard the parable. The bystanders thinking in human terms thought it unjust to give the extra silver to him who was rich without it. But here is no injustice. The spiritually rich servant can use the extra mnas with his own for his benefit and for the benefit of many. Interesting is the last verse of the parable: "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." Everyone who does not accept Christ as their king is considered an enemy and in the new order they will be destroyed. We often hear from some who compare the Old and New Testaments that the hard and often cruel God of the Old Testament seems like a completely different God from the God of love as presented in the New Testament, but here we see that not only in the Old Testament, but also in the Gospels of the New Testament God's austerity and judgment against those who oppose him is clearly taught, thus he is the same God.
The overall message we receive from both parables is that we must make our spiritual wealth to grow, and for this to happen we need to do whatever good works the Bible commands us. Doing good helps in the fight against the passions and sin, and plants virtues in our soul and give us the strength to abide in God's will. As we become more faithful servants of God, the Lord grants us more spiritual gifts which we must use for ourselves, but at the same time for everyone else. We must increase our talents while there is still time so that we also hear the Lord say to us "Thou good and faithful servant enter thou into the joy of thy Lord, or have authority over 10 cities." In our present world we cannot apprehend the unceasing joy that He has prepared for those who love Him. As the Apostle Paul writes: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)