The Parable of the Talents

I hope y’all don’t mind if I get a bit scriptorial on you for a moment.  This is something I’ve pondered for years and years, and since I seem to be on a blog roll, I thought I’d share.

So, a lot of people are familiar with the parable of the talents from the New Testament, Matthew 25:14-30.  In case you’re not, here it is in a nutshell: A Master has three servants.  To one he gives 5 talents (pieces of money), to the next 2, and to the last, 1.  Then he leaves town for a while.  When he comes back, he asked the servants how they did with his money.  The first had traded with the talents and made 5 more.  The second servant did the same and made 2 more.  The last servant, however, kind of said something like, you didn’t give me enough to work with, so I was afraid I would lose it, so I went and buried it so it wouldn’t get lost.  The first two servants, of course, were praised and given a lot of rewards.  The last servant was cast out and his one talent was taken and given to the servant who had originally been given 5.  He was slothful and unwise.

Now, I look at this a lot with life and I think it applies to SO MANY OF THE THINGS.  But all of us are given talents–this time with our modern-day meaning of the word, of something like ‘skills’–in a lot of different areas.  So, let’s do an example in some quantitative way.  Let’s say we have a woman, her name is Jane.  She’s been given, through natural ability and home circumstances and simply from God, the following roster of talents:

Academic smarts: 10
Common sense: 5
Empathy for others: 4
Motor skills: 1
Musical talent: 8
Good with kids: 7
Public Speaking skills: 7
Ability to pay attention: 2
Drive/gumption: 1
Teaching skills: 6
Self-discipline: 2
Ability to choose happiness in various circumstances: 3

The list could go on and on.  But as you can see, her talents are all over the map.  Some things she’s really good at.  Others, not so much.  Now, something that a most people mean when they say someone is ‘talented’ in an area is that the number is high.  And when we deal with different people in our lives, we tend to focus on their ‘high number’ talent(s).  We praise that talent in that person, encourage development of it, and rather expect that person to ‘increase’ that talent through diligence, practice, and hard work so that it becomes a defining characteristic of that person.

I don’t like this.  In fact, I think it’s a mistake that can do a lot of harm.

Let’s look at the parable in a slightly different way: instead of three separate servants, let’s say they are all aspects of ourselves, each representing a different talent.  So the first servant is Jane’s academic smarts, the second could be maybe her teaching skills, and the third, her motor skills.  If we follow the traditional social dynamic towards a person’s talents, we’re going to praise and encourage and focus on Jane’s booksmarts until she’s really good at that.  Maybe even encourage and help develop her teaching skills along with that, too.  But her motor skills?  Forget it!  She’s ‘not talented’ there.  We’ll not only not encourage her in that area, but we’re going to mock and belittle her clumsiness until she’s afraid to even try anything athletic or requiring dexterity.  She’s going to bury that talent.  It’s not going to grow.

Now something to keep in mind: one talent isn’t very much.  Even if doubled, like the first and second servants’ talents, it’ll only add up to two.  It is quite likely that Jane will never be a gold-medal gymnast in the Olympics.  In that sense, it is still important that we really work on our ‘high number’ talents–after all, that is where we are stronger, and God gave us more talents in that area for a reason.  Doubling 10 talents to 20 could really do a lot of good in the world.
Does that mean that motor skills are not important?  Or drive?  Or self-discipline?  Do we just accept that that is ‘who we are’ and that God can’t expect to ‘reap where He has not sown?’
GAH!  NO!!
Just like in the parable of the talents, we are not judged by the number of talents we have at the end.  We are judged by what we do with what we are given.  The second servant, who was only given two talents to start with, was given the same reward as the first servant, even though his final number (4) was still less than what the first servant started with.  BUT–we still have to try.  We still have to work on even those weak talents.  Even if our ‘final number’ still isn’t that high, Christ will make up the rest because we did well with what we were given.

The world will judge you by the total number of talents.  “Man, look at that Chris Hemsworth!  He is a ten talent looker!”  It’s easy to compare our 1-talent skills to another’s 10-talent skills and want to give up, to bury our talent.  But don’t do it.  Keep trying.  Keep working.  Don’t use the world’s measuring stick.  It’s hard — believe me, working on areas where I stink is SUPER hard.  But they all work together for my good.  So I’m going to keep working at it.

1 thought on “The Parable of the Talents”

  1. Thanks, Dyany. I hadn't looked at it that way–each servant is an aspect of ourselves. My challenge is trying to develop the little musical talent I have. It takes so much work that I'm rarely consistent in practicing. And the results are much farther down the road. It's not nearly as fun as, say, photography. If I don't get the exposure just right, I can fix it on the computer later.


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