I don’t remember why, but I once set out to study or at least reference the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25. That lead me to the similar story in Luke 19. Finding the differences interesting, I became curious and this is the result.
The two stories are in Matt 25:14-30 and Luke 19:11-27. On a little side note, be careful of the headings that might be in your Bible. In this case, the one over the Luke passage in my version is particularly misleading. This story is not primarily about money usage, and that is made apparent from the content of verse 11. Headings are great, but they are also a form of commentary inserted by the publisher and should be taken only as guides for finding particular passages and not necessarily accurate descriptions of what they mean.
Comparison and Contrast
Though these stories are similar, they differ in significant ways and so I take them to be told by Jesus on separate occasions. It appears from context that he shared them at the approximate time of His entry into Jerusalem days before the crucifixion. They both share a theme of responsible stewardship while the master is not present. Mathew’s account is part of a series of parables emphasizing preparedness for His return. Luke tells us in 19:11 that Jesus is responding specifically to the belief that His kingdom would be established immediately. The string of parables in Mathew may be a response to a similarly motivated question (Matt 24:3.) Both highlight three slaves, though Luke says that there were ten slaves given one mina each.
Both parables feature a master giving charge of money to his slaves. In Matthew’s account each was given resources according to his ability. Luke’s version gives the same amount to all. In Matthew the two successful slaves both double what they have been given. In Luke they increase ten times and five times respectively.
Luke adds another dimension to his story by recording that the master was a ruling official. Jesus is clearly illustrating His kingdom in this parable. The dissidents who refuse His rule are to be slain before him, just as all who reject Jesus will face a final judgment when He returns.
The accounts of the unproductive slave seem to differ only in minor detail. The major points are consistent between them. They both have an unreasonable fear of the master born of a misunderstanding of his character. They describe him as opportunistic and demanding at best. The description they provide implies evil rather than good (Matt 25:24; Luke 19:21.) They both choose to hide their master’s money instead of using it for the purpose he intended. They attempt to justify their action by means of the accusations cited above.
In both cases the master’s response is also similar. Since both slaves behaved in the same manner, we may apply the judgments of the master in both passages to both slaves. They are described as lazy, wicked, and worthless. It appears that if they had even done the minimum of putting the money into a bank they would have been spared. I will not attempt to address the implied indictment of banks except to point out that God had commanded His people not to charge each other interest (Ex 22:25.) Jesus is speaking to Jewish people here, so this is the context they would have for the reference to banks.
Both slaves have their money taken away and given to the most productive. In Matthew Jesus goes on to say that the worthless slave is to be thrown out into “the outer darkness.” He uses language here common to other references that He makes to Hell. We may safely deduce that the slave of Luke’s story is bound for the same fate.
These are illustrations of principles of the Kingdom of God. They tell us what God is going to do, how we must respond, and what will be the consequences of our response. Jesus is master and king. He gives to us different resources in the form of money, ability, circumstance or anything else that we may use. Some things are given according to our ability to use them. Others are given to everyone equally. We all have access to His love, grace and mercy. All who have believed in the Lord Jesus have been given of His Spirit (1 John 4:13.)
We must now choose what we will do with what we have been given. It was given to us to put to use. It is expected that we will cause it to multiply. Some of us will produce an abundance so great that it seems to others to be too much. Some of us night not be able to produce very much at all. God’s requirement is that we do all that we are able to do. We bring Him joy when we put His gifts to good use, and He will reward us accordingly.
The lazy slaves in these parables are not simply complacent nor are they ignorant of the master’s expectations. They have made a conscious decision not to do what has been asked of them. This becomes clear as they attempt to justify their actions upon the master’s return. Despite the evidence of his goodness they deem him to be unreasonable, demanding, and dishonest; taking what does not belong to him.
We do the same. We redefine God in a manner that permits us to do as we choose. Perverting the good news of His grace we cite our inability to live according to His standard and falsely justify our sin. We take what He has given and hide it in a hole where it can do no good for us or anyone else. We make Him into a fierce and tyrannical being and then act in self-righteous rebellion against our manufactured nemesis. All the while our true enemy laughs, knowing that we have sealed our own doom.
Another thing that strikes me about these parables is that there does not seem to be an expectation that the money is to be returned. Though it clearly belongs to the master and each slave brings it back along with the increase they have made from it, he seems to indicate that it will remain in their charge as if it were their own (Matt 25:28; Luke 19:24.) This exposes another flaw in the thinking of the lazy slaves. The money was given to the slaves for their own benefit, not that of their master. By returning unused what was given to them, they completely missed the master’s intent, which was to bless them, insulting him on several levels.
God loves us. From the beginning he intended to lavish it upon us and that we would in turn give it to each other. This is how we return everything that we have been given. We multiply it by sharing with those around us. When we keep it to ourselves thinking that we need only return it to Him in exchange for salvation, we have become worthless for His purposes.
What follows is hard for us to accept, especially in our culture of increasingly socialist ideas of equality. It even sounds crewel. Take away from the one who has nothing even what he does have and give it to the richest one? How is that justice? This tells us several things. God rewards success. He even rewards extra success with extra blessing. This is true justice, for the one who works hardest deserves reward commensurate with his effort. This does not mean that God in his grace and mercy cannot reward equally someone who though just as committed did not produce as much. See Matthew 20:1-16.
Consider also that none of these slaves had anything before their master entrusted it to them. In the same way we have nothing that God did not give us, therefore it is foolish of us to judge Him for doing as He pleases with that which is His in the first place. The unproductive slave had nothing even when he had the money for two reasons. First, as we have just seen it is his master’s money. Second, he made no use of it. It did him no good because he hid it away and did nothing with it.
This should serve as a strong warning to all of us. We may genuinely cherish what we have, both the tangible and the intangible. Imagine you inherited a collection of rare and beautiful art. You have a family and you have been struggling to make ends meet. This collection will set you for life and allow you to care for your family. Invested wisely the proceeds would benefit generations to come. However, you cannot bear to part with it. You keep it in a closet. Every so often you secretly pull it out and admire it. Maybe you even let your closest friends get a peak at it, but then you hide it away again. Meanwhile your children go hungry. Not many among us would do that. Yet that is exactly what we do with a gift that is far more precious than anything man ever created on this earth. We hide it behind the walls of our churches and grudgingly let a few people slip in and have a look. It does not occur to most of us to take it outside and share it. If it does, it’s often someone else’s job. We just keep this life saving gift all to ourselves. If this is our attitude, maybe we need to question whether we really have it at all. It is a gift that is of no value to us or to our Lord if we will not share it.
Maybe you think that you have nothing to offer. In one sense that’s true of all of us. We have nothing that is not from God. If you have received Him, you have the greatest gift of all, and it is your responsibility to share it. God didn’t stop there. I know He has given you other things that he intends for you to share. My wife, Linda, and I attend a church with some people who are barely able to move or to communicate. They have a purpose in God’s kingdom. When I speak I often remind them that one doesn’t need a mouth to pray and that God responds to intercessory prayer. No matter how much or how little we think we have been given, God expects us to multiply it.