The sermon today covered the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids, and this parable (Matthew 25:14-30) follows immediately.
A note about talents
In biblical times, a talent was a unit of weight, and a talent of silver or gold was an enormous amount of money. The talent was about 75 pounds, and one commentator says it would have been about 20 years wages for an ordinary worker. The ten-talent servant got a truly princely amount of money to care for, but the one-talent servant didn't get mere pocket change. (Note: Modern Christians who moan that they "have only one talent" don't get the point of this parable. One talent was still a lot of money.)
Points we usually miss
- Each servant was given money according to his ability. The master's expectations were reasonable—nobody was being overwhelmed.
- There was no promise of reward to anyone. Apparently, the only instruction was "Here! Take care of this money until I return!" Apparently all got the same instructions.
- The one-talent servant's description of the master was seems to have been accurate. At least the master didn't disagree; in fact, he seems to have accepted it. All three of the servants were familiar with the master's ways, and apparently the first two accurately read his business style.
- The one-talent servant says he was afraid that if he fouled up an investment, he would be punished. The master calls this behavior "Wicked and lazy." (Is this because the one-talent servant thought the master was a man without any mercy?)
- As with the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids (and a lot of other end-of-time parables) the master was absent for a very long time and returned unexpectedly.
- Another similarity between the parables is that those who got it right entered into a joyous relation with the master, while those who got it wrong were excluded and punished. It's difficult to put specifics on the instructions beyond "Do what you know you are supposed to be doing."
John Milton's poem "On his blindness"
Milton seems to have missed the "to each according to his ability" and still thinks of the master as a hard and unmerciful man.
When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."