The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) is a familiar story. A master puts his goods in the hands of his servants whilst he is away from home. The story doesn’t say whether the master advised what to do with the wealth but it was significant. Greek, Roman and Babylonian talents differed slightly but basically the quantity was the same as the amount of water required to fill an amphora (large jar). The Babylonian talent was 30.3kg. At the current London bullion spot price of £31,274.55/kilo, one talent is therefore worth £947,618.86, two are worth £1.89m and five are worth £4.74m!
The context of Matthew 24 and 25 is one of warnings to the disciples. Is this Jesus teaching his disciples how to manage resources? It comes between the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (“Keep watch, because you do not know the day or hour.”) and the separation of sheep and goats (“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’”).
The third servant was admonished for not investing with the bankers – something that would have required less effort than digging a hole and burying the talent. But of course usury was frowned upon in Jewish law. Should we therefore have sympathy for the servant? He was, after all, seeking to ensure that the gilt-edged investment was not at risk.
Traditionally this parable is supposed to teach that Jesus was encouraging his disciples to use their gifts. Failure to use wealth and skills, it seems, will result in judgement.
However, we could be missing the point. The first and second servants took risks to double their stakes. The third did not. Risks don’t always reap rewards but these two servants were wise and invested well. We don’t know whether all their investments went well but I think we can assume that there were times when things didn’t always go as they might have hoped. But on balance they came out well.
So, in looking at this parable shouldn’t we also be asking whether Jesus expects us to take risks – knowing that we might not always back a winner but that, in taking risks, we are more likely to further His kingdom on earth than if we keep our hands in our pockets? Is he encouraging us to be less risk averse? When we review the management accounts of our lives how might we score on God’s risk register?
Placing a Scripture into someone’s hands entails risk – so how often do we keep the gold that we know exists between the covers of a Gideon Bible buried in a handbag, pocket or briefcase? In a risky world are we always as prepared for failure as we are for success?
Michael Hodges, Zone 4 Trustee