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Parables Bible Study 9: The Talents

Title: Parables Bible Study 9: The Talents

Subject: The Kingdom of Heaven

Age: 13+ years

Locations: Matthew 25:31-46; it can also be found in Luke Chapter 19

Handout for note taking: Bible Study Worksheet

Begin the Bible Study with a prayer. Read the passage, and then allow time for quiet reflection. Share the following notes on the parable.

The characters of the Parable of the Talents are simple to understand. There is the master, representing God, and the servants, representing all of us. Verse 14 speaks about property. The master is giving all that he has over to his servants. The importance of this is that our Heavenly Father does give us all that He has; He delivers it over to us. The servants are like bondsmen.

Today we hear the word talents and think of our ability to do something well. Then, however, it was a monetary unit equal to about six hundred denarii. It is unlikely that a master would entrust this amount of five talents to a servant. Yet the emphasis is that the master is giving them a lot, even to the servant he gives just one talent.

There is nothing truly unusual about this passage. The main point of the parable is to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We know this from verses 20 and 21, which discuss entering into the joy of the Lord. In the Parables of the Ten Virgins and of the Sheep and the Goats, we also see this theme of entering. From Matthew 25:34, "Then the king will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'" Within all three of these parables, there is an invitation to be with the Master, the Bridegroom, to enter.

Prior to going on a trip, a master distributes various amounts of money to three servants. He then returns to settle the accounts. All of this is a metaphor for the Second Coming. We are born, we are given talents, we are left to our own devices, and then there is the day of accounting for our actions. The master divides his goods; to some he gives more, to some he gives less. This is not different from life. It does appear that the master has some insight as to who should get more and who should receive less. His trust in the first two servants proves to be true. The master, Our Lord, knows just what to give us. The master, in dividing his goods, uses his judgment, and in the end his judgment is spot on.

Though it is not stated, the servants did seem to suspect that their master would return and they would have to settle accounts with him. It is clear because the first two servants immediately begin trading their talents, each of them doubling their master's money. The third servant buries his. This speaks to the character of the two servants. They are hard working, enterprising, trusting, faithful and good. They know that if they work diligently, they will be rewarded. God creates only good servants. We by our own devices become cursed like the goats. These two servants retain their goodness. They didn't waste their talents but rather put them to good use. We know this by contrast of the third servant who because he buried his talent is called wicked and lazy. Yet another key characteristic that the early Fathers give to the two servants is that they loved their master. This statement is supported by two scriptural passages.

Within the first Epistle of John is a beautiful phrase, "perfect love casts out fear." The terms "love" and "fear" are not typically uttered in the same sentence. Yet the position of the third servant toward his master is one of fear. The Fathers say that the first two servants loved their master by noting that the third was afraid.

Another passage supporting this statement is the one in which the father says to his son, "Go out and work in the fields." The first son says that he will, but does not. The father goes to the second son saying, "Go out and work in the fields." He says that he will not, but does. The son who acts does his father's will. For example, a mother tells her child to clean his room. The child may respond out of fear, knowing there is a consequence if he does not. When a grandmother tells the child to do the same chore, he might respond immediately out of love for all the attending and spoiling she has given him throughout the day.

The Fathers see in the word "talent" that the master gave his servants so much that it was only natural for them to invest it and return it. Again in John, scripture says, "He loved us first." In experiencing that love, we return love. It is fair to characterize these servants with the attribute that they loved their master. Said another way, how long can one remain a Christian if it's about "ought-to" or "have-to." It becomes a burden. We should see it as a joyous thing to be Christian. We serve God because we want to, not because we have to.

Recall the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. The sheep aren't aware they have done something good. "When did we…?" It was natural for them to respond out of their hearts. In the story of the Good Samaritan, he responded out of love when he saw his brother, it was natural for him to do so. There is something powerful in the Father's saying the chief characteristic of these two servants is that they love their master. If we love our Master, God, then we have no problem completing tasks without feeling as though they are a burden. If we love our God, we can serve Him out of love, and those actions we do, do not seem like a task. This is not to say that to love is easy. Turning the other cheek and being a pacifist take hard work. When someone is about to strike us, our tendency is to defend or to strike back. It would not, however, be the tendency for those perfected in the mind of Christ. The goal is not made invalid by its difficulty. This is why the saints are so important. They show us what is possible. We should strive to get to the point where we see our brother's wound as our own and give him aid.

Let's return to the character of the two servants. In addition to all the other attributes (they are good, faithful, etc.) they seem to think that the wisdom and justice of their master are right. They accept the difference in amount of talents without question or complaint. Whether they are wicked or good, all three servants are given freedom. There were no strings attached in that they were not told how to use the talents. They were aware they would eventually have to settle with their master.

There is a relationship between the three parables: The Ten Virgins, the Talents, the Sheep and the Goats. Archbishop Dimitry said the following:
"All three seem to emphasize our Lord's desire or concern that His disciples live in a state of readiness, a state of preparation for His Second Coming, and that they redeem this present age by proper use of God's gifts." (The Parables, Archbishop Dimitry)

The word to focus on here is "proper." There may be many uses of our talents, but what are the proper ways? For example, anger is a gift from God. To be angry when you see someone suffer is proper, however to become angry when we are cut off in traffic is not. Our talents have their proper and improper use. It is important to find their proper use; if we are not spiritually mature we may not recognize the difference. What is the proper use of anything? If we start to think in this way, we can begin to reclassify, reorganize and reform how we look at things, not because we have a task master, but because He truly wants us to be alive. We can't be if we use the talents God gave us improperly.

Let's turn now to the idea of different gifts and varying degrees of gifts. Today we tend to focus on those things which we do and do not have. This passage is curious, however, because the two servants do not respond to the misuse of the third servant. In the Prodigal Son, the elder brother is bitter and mad about his brother's return. We are not told that the elder brother is good, just that he is with his father always. In this parable of the Talents, we learn that these are profitable and good servants, and they don't comment negatively on the third. What is important is that we have a lesson to learn; it is that there can be no judgment. The two servants do not judge the third. How do we handle the difference of talents today? Whether we are honest to admit it, we simply do not handle it well. We place value on things we shouldn't; we may have negative or ungodly thoughts of others, such as jealousy or judgment.

In Luke 12:48 we read, "…For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required." That person who is given many talents will have a lot to answer for. What if the person given five talents made only one? He and the servant given two talents both doubled what they were given, so it would seem that we are to give back double to God. Yet we are asked to give back only ten percent.

Corinthians 10:13: "No temptation has over taken you except such common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." When we review our paths, we often wonder why God allowed us to experience an event in our lives. We often fail to see the blessings we have been given, and that sometimes leads to our misuse of them. This idea of gifts, abundance, not having the same gifts is something we all struggle with, wishing for something else or a different outcome.

To put into context the unprofitable servant who buried his talent in terms of doing nothing, we can look to the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Five of the virgins are shut out of the bridal feast for doing nothing. In this Parable of the Talents, there is an unprofitable servant who receives nothing because he failed to do anything with the talent he was given. In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, the goats are described as cursed because they failed to do good works and are left in anguish in hell. Doing nothing is not a wise choice.

The following is a quote from St. Gregory the Great, The Parables of the Gospels:
"We should note that the worthless servant says that his master is hard and nevertheless, refuses to serve him. He says he was afraid to trade with the talent he was given, when in fact he should fear its profitless return to his master. This servant is a figure of many in the Church who are afraid to lead a better life, but not afraid to continue in the quagmire of their inertia. Because they consider themselves to be sinners, they tremble to approach the way of sanctity, but they are not afraid to persist in their vices. But they who find excuses for evading a conversion and a return to a better way of life because they consider that they lack faith, who call themselves sinners and repel that master who could instruct them in sanctity. They are like madmen who can not use their intelligence, for they are dying and still in mortal dread of life. He who has not the gift of charity will lose even those gifts which he seemed to have. It is true charity to love your friend and God and your enemy for God's sake. He who has not charity loses all the good he had, he is deprived of the talent he was given and in the words of Christ Himself, he is cast into outer darkness. The punishment of him who voluntarily lived in interior darkness is to be thrust into exterior darkness. There against his will, he must suffer the darkness of punishment because here he willingly enjoyed the blindness of his passion."

This is a powerful quote because St. Gregory the Great points out that many of us are afraid of the sanctity and of life itself. While that may be difficult to hear, we may find it to be quite true. Many people persist in their sins because they don't know or even fear what is possible. The sin they know is their god, and they would rather be their sin. Often times we are paralyzed by the fear of sanctity. It's as if we would lose the mirage of our identity and become real if we were to give up our sins. "If I am not a liar, a cheat, etc, then what am I? If I have sin it is not really me, it never has to be me."

At this time, read the passages once more and allow time for quiet reflection. If there is time, you may have a discussion about these parables.

End the bible study with a prayer.

Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas

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