Two Parables—The Pounds and the Talents
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.—Matthew 25:29
By Richard Doctor
On Friday, one week before his crucifixion, Jesus and his apostles were traveling by foot on the road from Jericho to Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem. Before reaching Lazarus’s home in Bethany, Jesus spoke of Christian capitalism, patience and stewardship in the familiar Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:12-21).
After his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, cleansing the temple, and public teaching, the Tuesday of the following week found Jesus once again alone with his apostles. Apparently, it was necessary to break off his public ministry so that he could privately instruct them. Conversing in peace on the Mount of Olives the company likely overlooked the city and the dominating temple mount. Jesus taught about the kingdom of heaven, delivering a second parable on Christian capitalism and stewardship, sometimes confused with his earlier parable. This is called the Parable of the Talents and is found in Matthew 25:12-41.
Clearly, these two parables share many common images as well as differences. Is this simply a case of Jesus thinking that the apostles did not get the point the first time, and repeating the lesson with a far larger sum of money? This is not necessarily the case. The earlier parable may be understood as concerning the stewardship of our inner life, while the second parable concerns the stewardship of our outer life in community.
Similarities and Differences
Both parables were part of our Lord’s private ministry to his disciples, rather than his public ministry. Both begin with a rich man, our Lord Jesus, who goes off to receive a kingdom and returns having received it.
In both parables, money is entrusted to the servants for stewardship. In the first parable, the amount each receives is one mina, while in the second, the amounts vary from one to ten talents. Since a talent is sixty minas, this means that the second parable dealt with investment capital that was worth sixty to six hundred times more.
The silver “mina” is nearly unchanged as a unit of precious metal trade since Roman times. Today it is 97% of what we today call the “troy pound,” being slightly more than 12 oz. of common weight. Because of this, the King James translators helpfully rendered this parable in “pounds.” The troy pound consisting exactly of 12 troy ounces, rather than our common avoirdupois ounces. To this day the troy ounce is the basis for precious metal trading. Currently on the Chicago Board of Trade, one mina of silver is worth approximately $62.78. Of course this had a lot more purchasing power in Jesus’ day.
For the second parable, the talent is valued at 60 of the same mina. Consequently, the servants were entrusted with between $3,766 and $37,665. In the first parable, the unfaithful steward was able to keep the 12 ounces—his one mina—of silver in a napkin on his person. While in the second parable, with the much larger weight, the unfaithful steward went ahead and buried his sixty troy pounds—sixty minas—of silver in a field.
In both parables the rich man takes a lengthy journey. The rules of economics have changed little over the millennia. For the faithful servant of average abilities to expect a talent to double at an annual return of 7%—typical for Roman business—we are talking about a period of 10 years. The significance of this was not lost on Luke who prefaces the parable with this observation in Luke 19:11: “And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought the kingdom of God should immediately appear.”
In both parables, at his return, the rich man settles accounts with his servants beginning with the superperformer and then the successful servant. For the first parable, the super-performer shows a tenfold return on his one mina and the successful servant a fivefold increase. In the second parable, where we are dealing with much larger sums of money, both servants double the money entrusted to them. Notice how carefully Jesus makes even the details of his parables accurate. It is more realistic to get large returns on small sums of capital than to get the same returns on large sums of capital.
In both parables, the servants are verbally commended and rewarded with rulership. The first parable is more specific in that it is one city for each mina returned to the rich man. In both parables there is the problem servant. The one who received the treasure of the rich man but did not trade with it. Both give the same reason. They were afraid of the exacting and severe nature of the Lord. They were afraid of failing. In both parables, they do fail and are punished. In both parables this money turned over to the most successful of the traders.
What does this mean to us? We begin by looking at the Parable in Luke 19. We should find this amazing. Usually we do not think of ourselves as having received anything from the Lord equal to what the Apostle Paul received. But here we have it. Every one who consecrates their life to God through the provision of Christ’s merit receives one mina—that is, one pound.
In Reprint 5492, there is an article entitled “Faithfulness to Opportunities.” Here the author suggests that this one pound represents the justification in Christ that each one receives. To quote briefly from this article: “We are not to confound the parable of the pounds with the parable of the talents.” Continuing six paragraphs later: “Some have more and some have less wealth; some have more and some have less mental capacity; some have more and some have less of a favorable or unfavorable environment. None of these varied talents belong to the parable of the pounds. The pound is the same to all: it represents justification.”
While this is reasonable, it is not entirely satisfactory. For example, none of us through our trading efforts can amass five to ten justified lives—nor would it be reasonable to consider this as passing along our life in Christ to ten other of our fallen human fellowship. It seems clear that the definition needs to be broadened. Possibly the mina might represent one justified life experience. What does this mean? Each Christian begins with justification in Christ. As we pass through our experiences in life, how are we developed by them? Or to be more specific, how does God open up our lives and cause us to grow and be developed by them? How can we find our lives having this ten-fold increase?
Fruits of the Spirit
This ten-fold increase certainly includes the fruits of the spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
Would it not be marvelous if by our willing decision alone we could make these fruits grow? Things are not so easy. We can not will these fruits. We are talking about character and emotions, what we are in our hearts, not what we believe in our intellects. We can pray that we develop these fruits—we can will and work so that the soil conditions in our hearts will be right to encourage their growth—but ultimately, character growth and change into Christlikeness is a matter of patient development. Our Lord knew this would be the case. He patiently waits for this fruitage (James 5:7). Remember this is a parable for those who believed they were on the verge of receiving the kingdom.
Consider love. God made us to love. God is love. We relate to a universe through love. If we love one another as brethren, we do well. “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?” (Matt. 5:44-46).
Let us begin on this ten-fold road by practicing and believing our Lord’s words here. These words are no easier now than when Jesus first gave them. Let us take a minute to pray for one of our enemies.
Joy. Though our master was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Yet his life was one of joy as we read in John 17:13: “And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” We can not always find joy in our experiences. Indeed, if we trust in our own strength we will never find true joy. Perhaps we get a sense of joy when we share our hearts in worship and the singing of Hymns. Peace. “Be ye angry and sin not . . . ” we are counseled in Eph.4:26. The ability to be angry comes so easily for us, and is so blinding that we are not surprised to find the counsel of scripture so consistently warning us against the effects of this God-given but overpowering emotion. The complement of anger in the well-balanced character is peace. Jesus encourages us in Matt. 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
Here again, the scriptures are consistent. We can not will peace in our hearts but Jesus gave us something we could work at by the decision of our will, that is to be “peacemakers.” By God’s grace, the effect of this work will be peace in our hearts.
Longsuffering; literally, “great spiritedness.” The verb form of this word is consistently translated “patience.” Paul speaks of his personal experience along the line of this growth in fruit in 1 Tim. 1:16: “Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” Paul is explaining that anyone who knew him and could see what God’s grace through Christ had done to change his Pharisee heart would confess the gracious, longsuffering, and patient character of God. We need to bear the same fruits in our lives.
Gentleness. The Greek word incorporates the thought of kindness, goodness, generosity and gentleness. In Romans 11:22 it is contrasted with “severity.” This is the Christianity in action that offers the cup of water to the thirsting one. This is the Christianity that when confronted by the effects of sin responds not with anger, but with the kindly healing touch. This is the Christianity that offers grace to the repentant and shows Christ by example and not by sermonizing on the depravation of sin.
Goodness. The commentators seem challenged to distinguish this fruit from the previous fruit of kindness. In Greek it is contrasted with “badness” and seems to refer to the inner moral quality that constitutes our character make-up. “Goodness” refers to innermost heart’s desire which motivates our actions. In contrast to love, goodness is the moral sense in relationships. In contrast to “kindness” this “goodness” extends itself even towards those who are our enemies. This is why Paul wrote in Romans 12:19-21: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Goodness is a character trait of God we are admonished to emulate as we read in 2 Thessalonians 1:11: “Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power.”) Goodness is Christian policy in action even in uncomfortable situations with our enemies.
Faithfulness. The thought here is dependability. We trust God when we can not see his every leading because we know he is dependable. As we grow spiritually we should seek to be known for our dependability. I am sure none of us would want to think of ourselves as small in faith. Perhaps we should look at this from another aspect and ask whether we are high in dependability. We know that our heavenly father’s arms are open to us let us show forth this same character in our lives.
Meekness. God is meek, his Son is meek. With true greatness there is no need for boasting. We may not think of God in his awesome highness as meek. But let us remember that he is holy, or in English—”whole” or all-encompassing, so he knows about meekness. We read of God’s meekness in Isaiah 57:15: “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
When you are in the spirit of holiness, there is no need to brag. Jesus on the night of the last supper gave one of the most memorable lessons when he interrupted his disciples questions on who would be the greatest by arising, putting off his outer garment so that he could wash the apostle’s feet.
Self-control. This is the last fruit mentioned, perhaps because it is the most challenging. Indeed, James, with his down-to-earth practicality declares that we will ever be challenged by our untameable tongues (James 3:8).
We have gone over these fruits in Galatians not only because they are critical lessons for all of us but because there is not one of these fruits which requires special intelligence, elected position in the church, monetary riches, physical health, being married or not, with or without children, or favorable environment. These are the fruitage of one justified life experience. This fruitage will only grow in the soil of prayer, thanksgiving, and an active Christian life with God’s grace giving the increase. This is true Christian capitalism.
The Lesson of the Pound
This is the lesson of the parable of the pound. Have you seen Jesus, repented of your sins, and consecrated your life to God in heart response to his call? Then rest assured your life experience—now turned towards holiness—is something God wants as part of the body of Christ. Perhaps you feel as though someone as poorly off as you is hardly what God could want as his son’s bride. But in fact, you are exactly what he wants—that is the good news—but he doesn’t want you to accept the blood of Jesus—the justification in Chris—the pound—and stop at that point wrapping it respectfully in a napkin and packing it in your pocket. He wants your heart to change, he wants a return on his mina. If you are feeling weak in this regard, the Lord gives particular and pointed admonition. He wants to be a gracious loving encouragement and help you see that your new life is not a stopping point but a starting point. Let us look to see how well this capital that God has placed into our hands-a sanctified Christian life—grows each year.
The Parable of the Talents
What then about the other parable that treats the big dollar stewardship? It would seem as though this parable was concerned with our actions in witnessing to the gospel. Now in this parable, all our advantages or limitations in life become important. Why show this work as so much greater in value?
The answer is not that our character development is of small value and our works are important. Rather we serve as the agents who place the gospel of Jesus before those who are seeking for God. In the word of God there is the power to convict of sin, to remake hearts, to restore communities and ultimately to rebuild the world. These promises in scripture are faithful and true regardless of our character.
It is not because we are so remarkable. We have been given a rich source of capital and as we can see, the efforts here are in one sense big dollar efforts. But in another sense, as the details of the parable show the return on each mina here is two-fold rather than the five to ten-fold return of the earlier parable.
What are some of the talents we may have individually?
* The talent to read and understand the Bible.
* Talents in music, poetry, art, science or business.
* The talent of being able to listen to people.
* The talent of raising children with all its rich experience and opportunities for contact with neighbors.
* Or, the talent of not raising children, and the additional time this creates.
* Any other of the advantages of education, wealth, health or environment
The list goes on but the point is that we are all different in regards to the talents that God has given us. When we consecrate our lives to God we offer up everything of our human nature. But as it turns out, God turns right around and gives these back to us to serve as his stewards. Our outer work is to witness to Christ and reconcile the world to God. This is what Paul wanted us to understand in 2 Corinthians 5:17-6:13. The New English Bible is especially forceful on these verses.
Here is a life of double increase. Let us look away from the timid and fearful servant who buried his talent and let us pray for God to show the ways in which we may serve him and show an increase on this great treasure of salvation and reconciliation in Christ. Let us lead lives of rich Christian capitalism.