Last Sunday, the parable was about the ten bridesmaids with the admonition to keep watch. Today, the parable has the same conclusion, but with added meaning.
The bridesmaids waiting for the groom was a common image in the First Century. Today’s image is built around two historical events that everyone of the day knew; in 40 BCE Herod the Great made a trip to Rome to argue his case that he should be made King of Israel; again in 4 BCE, after Herod’s death, his son Archelaus made the trip to claim the title. Herod’s trip paid off but Archelaus was sent home with next to nothing and told never to return.
Matthew begins with, For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. ESV But it is worth noting that Luke’s version begins with, A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. ESV Matthew has good reason for his wording, even if we don’t know all of it. His version is sandwiched between two other parables dealing with the end times, so he made it fit that narrative.
Luke adds a whole different dimension with this verse: But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ ESV That happened to Archelaus, which explains in part why he lost. Otherwise, the two versions are very much the same. As with the bridesmaids, there were many versions of this parable floating around. Only Jesus would think to connect it to his return after death.
To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. ESV
Several things we need to get out of the way. A talent was about 6,000 denarii, or about 17 years income for the average working Joseph. In the USA today, that would be about $850,000. That means the first servant received 30,000 denarii—$4.25 million—and the second received 12,000 denarii—$1.7 million—and the last received 6,000 denarii.
Even in today’s economy, this is serious money. Why are we told, to each according to his ability? It’s easy to say the master didn’t trust the third servant, but, then why give him any money?
We need to place ourselves into the First Century. Servants generally lived their whole lives in the master’s home/palace. Some were born there. The Greek word used means either hired servant or slave; the same word was used for both because a hired servant had a social standing only slightly above a slave. In this wealthy household there would have been many servants. These three had been faithful for years, so the master believed he could trust them.
While this trust issue gets lost in the closing verses of the parable, it is important for us. There was and still is a strong Jewish tradition that we all live in God’s world and we are here to take care of it. We own nothing, everything is God’s, so the people listening to Jesus would have understood at once what the servants’ responsibility was. It doesn’t matter whether the master believed God owned his wealth or not, the servants would be expected to treat it that way.
In the end, the first two servants doubled the money while the third buried it to be sure it was not stolen. Thus, the title of this post, life is hard for the faint hearted. He received the worst punishment a servant could face, cast out without a reference. In those days, the man had no chance, even begging would have been difficult because everyone would have know what happened.
Eschatologically, Jesus wants all of us to understand that failure to serve the Messiah, the Son of God, will result in eternity in Hell. Not only that, but the ones who do God’s work will receive even more goodness. No pressure.
How does it all work for us in the here and now? Look at all that surrounds you; family, friends, work, house, car(s), land, air, water, trees, plants, animals, the sun, and that leads us to vacations at the beach. All is God’s and we must keep it ready for the Master’s return. We can’t abuse it, destroy it, or lose it.
There is a Jewish tradition that every blade of grass, tree, etc., has an angel looking after it. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but this world is in our hands and we need to manage it as if God were watching us, because He is.
What is our first priority? Family? Sure. But how about every one of the 7+ billion people alive today? Why hoard our wealth? Share it, put it to use in a way that will help others. Be as green as possible to slow down the warming of the earth. Recycle. Repair. Reuse.
Always ask, is this what Jesus would do?
Be righteous and do good.