Hidden Talent and Mistaken Identity

Misjudgment of the Master
Many people have heard the parable of the talents, about how the master of a property went away and gave one, two, and five talents to three of his servants. Maybe you know essentially how the story goes, that two servants doubled the master’s money and one did nothing with what he was given? Well, that’s the foam on top of the latte but have you ever sat down and drank the whole cup? What I mean is, have you looked up close at the details of what happened to each servant and why? Let me explain to you why misjudgment of the master is the seed which produces the consequence of the third servant being called “wicked and slothful”.

First of all, here is the text from Matthew 25:14-30:

[The Parable of the Talents]
[14] “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. [15] To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. [16] He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. [17] So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. [18] But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. [19] Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. [20] 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.’ [21] 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.’ [22] 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.’ [23] 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.’ [24] 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, [25] so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ [26] 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? [27] 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. [28] So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. [29] 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. [30] And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

(Matthew 25:14-30 ESV)

Mistaken Identity
Imagine you had a friend who told you, “Hey, I know the Queen of England.” You would probably laugh first and then maybe ask, “What’s she like?” If your friend looked at you seriously and answered, “She’s great. She’s so young and vibrant, it’s hard to believe she’s only 40 years old, she seems like 20. And she’s an amazing athlete, did you know she swam the English Channel last month?”……. You would likely respond with a concerned, “I think you’re talking about the wrong person.” Your friend’s description of the Queen of England would totally discredit their knowing her and their authority on any information about her whatsoever.

Or consider this more sobering picture of mistaken identity, in the recent pro-life documentary film “180” produced by Living Waters Ministry young people are asked the question, “Do you know who Adolf Hitler is?” Some of the responses are shocking and unbelievable for those of us who do know who he is. For example two of the answers were, “Isn’t he a communist?”, and, “An actor or something?” These young adults are obviously talking about the wrong person, in the same way that the third servant had the wrong idea of who is master was. Verse 24 quotes the servant, “He (the servant)… 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…” He is relating what he thought he knew about his master, which is untrue and even slanderous. Let’s look at why the master’s response to the first two servants disproves this “wicked” servant’s accusation of him.

“The Joy of your Master”
Each servant was entrusted with a portion of the master’s money “according to his ability”. The master knew each of the servant’s and he knew what they were capable of. In his wisdom he granted them responsibilities according to his knowledge of each of them. Verse 16 says of the one who was given five talents that he, “..went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more.”  And it says of the second in verse 17, “So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.” The first servant didn’t delay in using what he was given to immediately benefit his master, and the second servant didn’t bother questioning the master on why he was only given two and the first was given five, he took what he was given and multiplied it for his master’s profit.

When the master returns notice how the two servants with fruitful results come forward first in approaching the master, they come to him in confidence because they know they have done the most they could with what they were given. And the master responds to each of them in turn, “‘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.’” Be careful not to overlook the fact they each receive the exact same response to what they have to offer. It makes no difference to the master that one has brought ten talents and the other is only bringing four, he is rewarding them for their faithfulness to him. He is not as concerned about the amount they have to offer but the service they have spent for him.

The master’s loving praise of these two servants, the honor of greater responsibility he awards them, and the abundant reward of entering “the joy of your Master” that he bestows on them proves his goodness and kindness; while disproving the wicked servant’s complaint against him that he is “a hard man…” who is unjust and unfair.

“To each according to his ability…”
God has entrusted something of value to each person, something that actually belongs to Him and is meant to be used for Him. That something is both a measure of faith and specific gifts (or “talents”, if you will). Read Romans 12:3-8 for an excellent parallel to the illustration of the servants and the talents…..

    [3] For by the grace given to me (Paul) I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. [4] For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, [5] so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. [6] Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; [7] if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; [8] the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

(Romans 12:3-8 ESV)

So we see in reading this that it is God, our Master, who assigns the measure of faith we are given and it is God who gives specific gifts to each that differ, according to the grace given to us. This sounds just like the master in the parable who assigned talents and gave gifts that differed to each servant. Paul says, “let us use them…”. Just as the good and faithful servants used what they were given to benefit and profit their master, we must be faithful to use what God has granted to each one of us (faith-wise, time-wise, money-wise, gifts/talents-wise) to advance and profit our Master’s Kingdom. Remember, everything belongs to him already so he is not needing you to make him rich or to help him in any way, he wants you to be faithful.

Self-Defensive and Excuses
Now, back to the third servant for one last look at “what not to do”. This one comes forward with excuses and self-defense already spilling off his tongue (“‘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…’”) Keep in mind he has just witnessed the master’s loving and extravagant response to the first two servants. I can just picture this servant nervously wringing his coat in his hands, with sweat at his brow, trying to explain his lack of faithfulness in hopes of mercy and entrance to the master’s “joy” as well. But he is not met with the same gentle and approving reply that his fellow servants received.

Instead, his heart is exposed “wicked” and “slothful”. This servant had no love for his master, no respect, no care or concern for his affairs, and he was lazy, self-interested, and oblivious to his master’s character and the grace he was offered by being given the one talent to begin with. Maybe, in light of the harsh sentence he receives, it seems like these are mild offenses. I mean, really, he didn’t murder anyone, he didn’t hurt anyone else in any way, he didn’t even steal from his master, in fact he returned all that he had been given! What it comes down to, maybe surprisingly to you, is his lack of faithfulness and his wicked heart. Just as the first two were called “Good and Faithful” he is the opposite, he is Wicked and Faithless. And again, it is not the amount returned to the master that matters, it is the faithfulness (or lack of it) that counts.

“Even what he has will be taken away…”
God gives and he takes away (see Job 1:21). In his loving kindness he graciously gives opportunity for people to be saved and to put their entire faith and trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, alone. This blog post is not suggesting that entrance into heaven is gained by any merit, service, or work of our own, but rather it is granted by the grace of the Master who has entrusted the free gift of faith to those who will use it for His glory. He is glorified by our submission to his Majesty, by our repentance and sorrow for our sins against him, and he is glorified by our good works and service in His Name.

The wicked servant in the parable of the talents is a warning to those, most specifically within the church but also without, whose misjudgment of God’s character (in thinking that he is “all forgiving and all loving”) will excuse them from doing what he asks and still allow them entrance into heaven. He is “all forgiving” and “all loving” to those who come with a “broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17) before judgment day, but because he is Just when that day comes (which is what this whole parable stems from anyway) his Justice will trump the forgiveness and mercy that the world has had ages to receive.

What people who take for granted God’s grace will find on that day is what verses 29-30 soberly remind us,

[29] 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. [30] And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

HOPE
This might be corny, but it’s okay because sometimes I am, here’s an acrostic poem that sums up my HOPE for what you might take away from this post as the reader:

Hold on to the Cross and never forget what was accomplished there for you, that is where you first received your “talents”
O
pen your appointment book, your wallet, your hands, and your life for the prosperity of the Master’s affairs not your own
P
ersevere through trials and waiting for His return, the trials will end and He will return bringing joy and reward to you.
E
valuate your heart and thoughts toward the Master, make sure they are biblical and built on what God says about himself.

With much love in Christ….

Preparing the Way,
Danae Martin