The Real Meaning of the Parable of the Talents

Updated: Jan 27

Since I have only been a church-going adult for about 6-7 years now, I will stipulate immediately that I cannot make a statement about the All-Time history of church sermons.  I will add that as a church-going boy, for the first 15 years of my life, I recall very little about church sermons.  I was usually more preoccupied with filling my time of forced captivity doing things that seemed (at the time) more important.  I do remember drawing lots of stick-figure army men battle scenes on the back of “Prayer Requests” forms, and having to go to the bathroom a lot, just to get out of the pew.  Therefore, with that disclaimer, I want to do my own sermon about a Gospel topic that my personal experience has repeatedly seen as avoided by priests, like the plague.

The Gospel topic is the parable told by Jesus to the disciples on the Mount of Olives.  It is known as the “Parable of the Talents,” the “Parable of the Minas,” or the “Parable of the Pounds.”  I see this parable as one of the most important (if they are not all equally “most important”) instructions a “disciple of Christ” can understand.  It is that important.  However, from my personal experience, sitting in pews on the Sundays when the Church calendar has called for one of the versions (Matthew or Luke) of this story about the “talents” to be read aloud in church, the sermon has had nothing whatsoever to do with explaining the topic so the pew-sitters.  I have realized its importance by reading it myself, without anyone telling me what the meaning is.

Most frequently, I have heard how that reading has become synonymous as a lead-in to the Church’s annual beg-a-thon, where a Gospel topic of money is reason enough to point out to the pew-sitters that they should give money to their master, via the Church.  In that misuse of this Gospel reading, I have heard a priest explain that a “talent” was the equivalent of a “whole year’s worth of money.”  In the “New International Socialist Version,” (a translation that I detest) the word “talent” is replaced with “bag-o-gold.”  A nice mistranslation like that keeps the priest from having to dirty his or her hands by actually saying the word “money” in church, before begging the pew-sitters to give lots of it, even if it hurts them (financially) to do so.

On other occasions (only a couple), I have heard how priests so hate having to do the yearly begging for money sermon that they will scramble to find someone willing to volunteer to do the sermon for them that week.  They prefer the Church email requests format, saying, “Don’t forget its that time of year when the coffer needs to be refilled so we can pay mundane bills.”  After a reading about giving talents away, the priest still prefers to side-step that issue altogether.  The way they do that is by having a “guest speaker,” whose topic of presentation is the always the same, no matter what week of the calendar year it is.  They all ignore the readings and instead preach about what church work it is they do, and how they need help doing that church work.  It is not bad to have them get the “air time,” but the result is that in 6-7 years I have not once heard a priest tell anyone what the parable of the talents means.  Therefore, I will make it public for all to know that meaning, through this blog.

To keep from repeating here (it takes up space), I recommend you read Matthew 25:14-30 (the “talent” version) or Luke 19:12-27 (the “minas” version).  Those details can be summed up in a similar recount of Jesus telling of a “Master” giving his “slaves”(or “servants”) differing amounts of money, presumed to be in order to maintain the homestead in the Master’s planned absence.  The amounts range from 5x to 2x to 1x this amount termed a “talent.” Those amounts are given by the “Master,” to three (a symbolic number – always) “servants,” who would be keepers of the Master’s place.  When the Master returns, the first two had doubled their “talents,” showing the Master his money had been well invested; but the third slave explained how he had hidden his money, so he only had what was given him, and nothing more.  At that point the Master admonished the last slave as having squandered his opportunity to show responsibility with money.

Now, that is a strange story, isn’t it?  If we were to ever to live through a real-life experience like that, say when our parents were going out of town for a vacation and they left us home alone, they might be expected to handle the departure with this style of “going away address.”  They would give up a credit card or cash (an amount to cover all normal expenses), with instructions not to trash the house while they are gone.  When they get home, they certainly would not expect us to have increased the cash twofold.   If that were to be a normal expectation, why not make a career out of going away?  Right?

The reality is that they would be happy to come home and find out the house wasn’t burnt to the ground and all siblings were still alive.  This means this parable flies over our heads unless it is explained.  It is vital that it be explained.

At first, I was so naïve that I thought priests must not know the meaning of this Gospel reading.  That would explain their fear of preaching on the topic.  I thought, perhaps the seminaries of the world had been too confused over the meaning.  To teach one consistent meaning would only lead to contradiction, so everyone is taught to shun explaining it.

Then, I realized the Church has known full-well the meaning of this parable, for a long, long time.  That meaning, if passed on to the check-writing pew-sitters, could mean less moolah for the Church.  The plan to always schedule this parable when it is time to beg for a yearly pledge keeps it from being truly understood, on purpose.   If that is the reason no one preaches about the meaning, then that speaks volumes about why the world is nearing its end now (which it is).

It must be understood that the word “parable” is synonymous with the word “allegorical,” meaning it is not really about what the story tells.  Just as Aesop told of a rabbit racing a turtle, he did not really mean that.  Likewise, Jesus telling of a “Master” giving a big hunk of money to “slaves,” he did not really mean that.  So, anyone who panders to the idea of “give money away,” as the meaning coming from this Gospel passage, would be likely to tell you to give rabbits and turtles if they read Aesop’s Fables in church.

In case you are not “catching my drift,” that is absurd.  The mention of “talents” and/or “minas,” both of which were known to have been real amounts of monetary value (Wikipedia says one talent was worth 6,000 denarii, or the equivalent of over sixteen years wages for the ordinary citizen of Judea/Jerusalem), is NOT the real intended purpose.  It is allegory.  It means something so valuable that it is beyond putting a real figure to it is the point intended.  It is something priceless, it is so valuable.  Priceless means get over begging for a money value.

In that regard, my thinking the Church might not know how to teach priests to talk about this Gospel reading might actually have some merit.  According to Wikipedia, the common folk who write the articles there have summarized, “Traditionally, the parable of the talents has been seen as an exhortation to Jesus’ disciples to use their God-given gifts in the service of God, and to take risks for the sake of the Kingdom of God. These gifts have been seen to include personal abilities (“talents” in the everyday sense), as well as personal wealth. Failure to use one’s gifts, the parable suggests, will result in judgment.” (Wikipedia article, “Parable of the talents or minas,” under the heading “Interpretations,” as a “Teaching for Christians.”)

There you go.  That is T-totally wrong.  One does not read an allegory and come away thinking, “take risks for the sake of the Kingdom of God,” which includes risking “personal abilities (“talents” in the everyday sense),” and in particular risking “personal wealth,” to the (shudder and shake) thought that “Failure to (do so) … will result in judgment.”  Each individual “slave” that “took risks” compounded their “gifts” two-fold.  How is one expected to take his or her “God-given abilities” and end up with two times those “God-given abilities?”  It is impossible.  If one takes some sum of their “God-given personal wealth” and gives it away, how is one to be able to show to God, “See here!  I gave away $500,000 and I got back $1,000,000.  And, it is all for you God!”  It is ridiculous to assume that is the meaning.

It is even ridiculous to think that the parable is telling disciples to give anything away, because only the Master gave.  Add to that an understanding that the Master gave as a loan, expecting the “slaves” to have compounded that gift placed under their protection.  By that, the gift was with the understanding that it would grow through interest (not usury, as we know interest today, but growth as one would take a mustard seed [another parable] and nurture it with interest [care] into a large mustard plant).  This means the “Gift of God” is a “talent” that must be grown and cared for, not given away (tag, you’re it) or buried for safekeeping, so that one seed given would become one seed never expanded.

In my 15 years as a boy going to church, many times we would sing the song, “This Little Light of Mine.”  Not once have I heard it in “big boy” church, but then it is a children’s church song.  Too bad the adults don’t practice singing those words more.  The lyrics simply repeat, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, shine, shine, shine.”  It also sings, “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m going to let it shine.”

Well, boys and girls, that song would seem to put the words of Matthew 5:15 to music, where that verse states, “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.”  That is another of Jesus’ teachings to the disciples, again on the mount.

Matthew 5:16 continues what song by stating, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  That is the meaning of the parable of the talents.  A “talent” is the “gift” of “light.”  You do not hide this “talent,” nor do you let it go out.  We are not expected to give away our personal light, so that someone else becomes the light.  Simply put, the gift of light is not ours to lose.  Instead, keepers of the flame let others ignite their own fire of light, while keeping their own fully ablaze.

Certainly, the gift of light is not given so one can hide it, or keep it in a place so that it does not help others to see.  You should never want the Master to come to you (He always returns when we die) and hear your soul tell the Master, “I saw what you meant, but I did not tell anyone!  I promise!  I kept it our secret!”  Nope.  That would be BAAAAAD.

The parable of the talents is saying, “The Master gave one disciple the gift of wisdom to discern the message of God, the gift of understanding prophecy, the gift of prophesying by speaking in tongues, the gift of healing, and the gift of having miraculous powers.”  It is then saying, “The Master gave to a second disciple the gift of knowledge to know the truth, and the gift of recognizing those who follow false spirits.”  It is then saying, “The master then gave a third disciple the gift of faith in the Holy Spirit.”   In case you are a little confused here, let me make it clear that these gifts I have listed come from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, determined to be “Spiritual Gifts.”   They are listed in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, which I also recommend reading on your own.

Upon the Master’s return, the parable is then saying, “The first disciple told the LORD, I have given the gift of wisdom to a new disciple, the gift of understanding prophecy to another new disciple, the gift of realizing holy language to a third new disciple, the gift of healing to a fourth new disciple, and the gift of performing miracles to a fifth new disciple.  All of these new disciples are compounding the Holy Spirit that is your gift to those willing to receive it, my LORD.”  God is pleased hearing news like this; and He knows when it is true.

As for the second disciple reporting to the LORD upon his passing away, the meaning of the parable says he will report, “I have given the gift of realizing the truth to a new disciple, and I have given the gift of discerning false spirits to a second new disciple.  Together those are continuing the legacy of your gifts to me, my LORD.”  Again, God likes this report, and rewards the “slave.”

Finally, the parable of the talents is saying that the third disciple will report back to the LORD by saying, “Sire, I have protected the faith you gave me, and I have maintained faith in you as the LORD.  However, I have not been able to pass that faith on to others.  The world is a hard place to live, and I have been worried that my faith would be ridiculed if made public to others.  Please accept your servant’s soul as having protected your gift of faith so well.”  Of course, the parable is fairly plain what the response of the LORD will be in those cases of personal faith, whose light was kept well hidden under a bushel, and not placed on a lampstand.

Now, in the mode of Aesop, let me get to the moral of this story.  It is important to realize the meaning of this parable because the world is going to hell with many, many, many people holding their light under a bushel.  Sure, you all get together and sit in pews, and write checks to the Church of your choice, but once out of church the light goes back under a bushel.  You only let your lights shine when you know its safe to be seen displaying your faith, because only others of faith will see it.  A “disciple rally” is well and fine, but it does nothing to “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  It only lets others see how wonderful you are, so you can wallow in your own sense of wonderfulness, when it is not the natural you.  You force yourself to “do good works,” only because you think giving money to the church will buy you a stairway to Heaven.  It is the pretend you.  You act in front of other actors, and this becomes a self-gratifying exercise.  The lampstand only comes out in church.  It has to be out at all times.

I say this because to you truly, because of the gift given to me by the LORD.  I have been given the gift to understand prophecy, to teach others how they too can see the meaning of the scriptures, and to see the truth in the words and the works of people.  Falseness is all around.  Fear of letting one’s light shine is a sign of capitulation to evil.  The world needs light now, more than ever before.

My “talents” include a deeper understanding of the books of the Holy Bible; and that “talent” includes my abilities to understand the writings of Nostradamus as a true Prophecy of the LORD.  I do not have this ability because I invested money in learning a trade, from which to compound my money.  I have been given this talent as a “slave” for the “Master.”  I offer what the LORD has given me to the whole world.  I offer it individually.  I offer it to groups of people.  I offer it as a lamb to be sacrificed, for inspection for blemishes.  I offer it as the LORD’s gift to save humanity.

Yet, I cannot report to the LORD that I have doubled my “talents.”  I do not see others teaching what I have given them to pass on to others.  I do not hear others speaking, by asking questions so they can better tell others by knowing the answers.  I shine the light of Prophecy to a room where people hide in the shadows at the corners.  I ache because I hold a talent I cannot give away.

My heart aches because I do not feel others openly passing on the gift of understanding holy scripture to others.  People do not touch pew-sitters with the Holy Spirit of understanding, the way Jesus opened the minds of the two he walked with on the road to Emmaus.  Pew-sitters do not come to me and question if I am a “false prophet,” with some hidden agenda to fool Christians from being “slaves” to the LORD.  I sense people preferring to sneak around and secretly peek at what I say, here or other places I post the truth.  I feel them acting like Nicodemus, acting in the dark of night to spy on what I say, and then sneak back to report to the authorities of my heresies.  I see the shadows moving, but they stay unseen, crawling into their holes, covering themselves with their warm and fuzzy bushel.

Come out!  Come out!  Wherever you are, come out!  The LORD has given you a gift and He will soon expect a report on how much you have grown that gift.  Don’t be pointing to that big multi-million dollar church, with padded pews and cup holders that you helped pay for as how you wasted your talents.  Let your light shine!

R. T. Tippett.

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