PROPER28 Use It Or Lose It
Ordinary Time 33
13. Use It Or Lose It
"For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his
slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five
talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his
ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five
talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more
talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made
two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent
went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled
accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five
talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying,
'Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made
five more talents.' 21His master said to him, 'Well done, good
and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things,
I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of
your master.' 22And the one with the two talents also came
forward, saying, 'Master, you handed over to me two talents; see,
I have made two more talents.'23His master said to him, 'Well
done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a
few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into
the joy of your master.' 24Then the one who had received the one
talent also came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew that you were a
harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you
did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and
hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.'
26But his master replied, 'You wicked and lazy slave! You knew,
did you, that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I did
not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the
bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own
with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the
one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will
be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who
have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for
this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where
there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"
The parable has given us a new meaning for talents. At the
time of the parable it was a unit of measure for silver or gold.
Now we have talent shows, talent searches, talent contests. The
beauty pageants that came under attack from feminists for being
sexist with their emphasis on bathing suit competitions have
tried to shift to the talent of the women. Scholarships are
offered as prizes so that talented competitors may continue to
develop their talents.
Some people still put the emphasis on the monetary nature of
the talent which was given to each of the slaves. They find the
parable an admonition for stewardship. They stress the
importance of investment of money to produce a good return.
A college president was once ruminating on the nature of
government and foundation grants. His observation was that the
biblical statement that to whom much has been given more will be
given was accurate. Some of the neediest colleges that did not
have a previous track record of receiving grants had difficulty
getting any. Wealthy colleges with large endowments from
previous grants seem to have an easy time raising even more money
through such grants.
The question arises, of course, as to whether these
applications of the parable are what Jesus intended when he told
Context of the Scripture
Matthew 25. The parable of the wise and foolish maidens
immediately precedes the parable of the faithful and unfaithful
slave. In both parables the emphasis is on what should be done
while waiting for an absent lord.
The parable of the wise and foolish maidens stresses the
importance of preparedness. Having sufficient oil for the lamps
stresses the inward nature of the preparation. The parable of
the Talents stresses the active, outward use of that which was
received from the owner of the property.
Both end with those who were faithful in waiting for the
coming of the Lord being rewarded by entering into joy with him.
Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:11-27. The parable of the
Talents in Matthew has many similarities to the parable of the
Pounds in Luke. They are both set in the latter stages of Jesus'
ministry. Luke places it in Jericho as Jesus was headed for the
last week in Jerusalem. Matthew has his parable in Jerusalem two
days before the Passover.
Both parables address a high expectation that Jesus is about
to inaugurate the coming of his kingdom in some significant way.
The parables are told to meet that expectation, but at the same
time to lessen the expectation of the immediacy of the fullness
of the kingdom. The early church no doubt understood the
parables as messages telling Jesus' followers what they should be
doing in his absence following his death and resurrection.
Some marked differences between the accounts in Matthew and
Luke indicate two separate streams of tradition. Matthew says
simply that a man was taking a long journey; Luke says it was a
nobleman going to receive royal power for himself. In Luke a
note is inserted that the nobleman was hated by the citizens and
they objected to his rule. Matthew has no such suggestion.
In Matthew the three slaves received differing amounts:
five, two and one talent. In Luke each received the same amount.
In Matthew the two faithful slaves doubled the amount received.
In Luke as in Matthew only three slaves reported on the return of
the nobleman but the first doubled the amount while the second
only realized 50% return on the ten pounds. In Luke the rewards
were commensurate with the earnings. They were given authority
over ten and five cities. In Matthew the reward was only
approval and participation in the joy of the master.
In both instances the one talent or pound was given to the
slave who had earned the larger amount from what was entrusted to
him. In the Luke account a protest is registered against giving
more to the one who already had the most. No such protest is
found in Matthew's account.
Context of the Lectionary
The First Lesson. (Judges 4:1-7) The account is of the
reign of Deborah as Judge. The Israelites were subject to King
Jabin of Canaan who maintained his rule through Sisera as
commander of the army. Deborah orders Barak to confront Sisera
with assurance of God's support in the endeavor.
The Second Lesson. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11) Paul
admonishes the Thessalonians to be faithful while waiting for the
Lord's coming. They are to avoid the dangers of laxity in
guarding against idle and evil activities. They are to support
each other in faith, love and hope of salvation through Christ.
The Gospel. (Matthew 25:14-30) The parable is given to
make the disciples aware of their accountability even when Jesus
would no longer be present.
The Psalm. (Psalm 123) This is a psalm sung as pilgrims
came up toward the temple at Jerusalem. It is a plea for the
Lord to have mercy on those who were faithful despite the scorn
and contempt from others.
Context of Related Scripture
Psalm 112:10 Ä Weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Mark 4:25, Luke 8:18 Ä Those who have, to them more is
given; those who have not lose everything.
Romans 12:6-8 Ä Diversity of gifts.
1 Corinthians 12:4-30 Ä Varieties of gifts.
Philippians 2:7 Ä Jesus takes on the form of a slave.
2 Timothy 4:8 Ä Crown of righteousness is the reward.
Hebrews 12:2 Ä Jesus at the right hand of God.
Revelation 3:21 Ä Place on the throne given as reward to
those who conquer.
Content of the Parable
The content of the parable is probably interpreted
differently depending upon when and by whom it was heard.
1. By the Disciples from Jesus. When the disciples heard
it, they may have wondered at the story of a man who was going to
a far country. They may have thought that they were the slaves
who had received the five talents and were faithful in using
them. After all, they were the inner circle of Jesus' followers.
They may have thought that the other followers who were not as
close to Jesus were the two talent people. In the context of the
opposition from the scribes and Pharisees, they may have
identified them as the one talent slave who was reprimanded.
Jesus no doubt intended the parable to be a warning and counsel
to the disciples in preparation for his impending death.
2. By the Early Church. When Matthew wrote his gospel the
death of Jesus was already about 50 years in the past, more than
a typical generation. It was a long time. The church was
experiencing persecution and other difficulties. Expectations
were high that Jesus would return and establish his kingdom in
The parable would be a message to continue in faithfulness and
activity in anticipation of the reward they would receive at his
3. By the Contemporary Church. Today the delay of Christ's
return to bring the kingdom to fulfillment is even longer than
for the early church. Many faithful servants would not receive
reward for their faithful service if they waited for a second
coming. Nevertheless, those who have served Christ and used well
the gifts bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit have known the joy
of realizing the kingdom in their lives and in the extension of
his kingdom on earth. The parable is a message calling for
continuing faithfulness in using gifts received from the master.
Precis of the Parable
The kingdom of God is like a man of some wealth who has to
take an extended business trip. He calls together three of his
trusted workers. He leaves them with the responsibility for
managing his business while he is gone.
To the most capable of the three he gives $5000 as working
capital. To the next he gives $2000. To the third he gives
$1000. As soon as he departs the first two immediately put his
capital to work. The third is fearful of his boss. He knows he
is a shrewd, hard-nosed entrepreneur. He is fearful that he will
lose the $1000 by bad investment. He does not even trust the
banks. So he finds a safe place and hides the money so he will
be sure to have it when the boss returns.
Eventually the businessman completes his travels and
returns. He calls together his three subordinates and asks them
to give an accounting. The first two report that they have
doubled the original capital. He commends each of them and
assures them of tenure in partnership with him. The third comes
forward in a fawning manner. He relates how he knows the success
of the boss so he played it safe. He hid the money to be sure he
would not lose it.
The man is unhappy with the third worker. He scolds him by
saying that he should at least have put it in a saving account so
it would earn interest. He orders the $1000 transferred to the
account of the worker who now had $10,000. He comments that
those who do well with what they are entrusted will be given
greater responsibility. Those who do not even act responsibly
with the little they have will have that taken from them.
The businessman proceeds to fire the third man who goes out
to join the multitude of homeless and unemployed.
Thesis: If you don't use your abilities, you lose them.
Theme: It is not how much you have in the kingdom, it is
how well you use what you have.
Key Words in the Parable
1. "It." (v. 14) The antecedent to the pronoun goes back to
v. 1 of the chapter, referring to the kingdom of heaven.
2. "A Man, Going on a Journey." (v. 14) This is an
allusion to the absence of Jesus after his death and
3. "Slaves." (v. 14) An allegorical reference to the
followers of Jesus who were admonished to be slaves and to find
greatness by being a slave to one another.
4. "His Property." (v. 14) The implication is that the
Lord as Creator owns the earth and everything in it. We receive
the gifts of the earth only in stewardship.
5. "Talent." (v. 15) A talent which was first a unit of
measure of silver or gold became the highest denomination of
currency. It had the value of 60 times a denarius, thus it was
worth about two months' wages.
6. "At Once." (v. 16) The emphasis is on the immediacy of
the response of the two faithful slaves. They were like the
disciples who dropped their nets and followed Jesus. They were
like the inquirers who hesitated and made excuses when invited to
7. "Hole in the Ground." (v. 18) Burying treasure was a
common way of securing precious items. That was especially true
in times of disorder and war. The Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden
in that fashion during a time of Roman destruction of Israel and
not found until 1948 and later.
8. "Joy." (v. 21) The joy is probably a reference to the
heavenly banquet which was a frequent image used for the kingdom
of heaven. The first two used their talents without expectation
of reward other than the approval of the Lord.
9. "I was Afraid." (v. 25) The fear of the third slave is
the key to his failure of character. By not taking any risks he
also misses the opportunities for gain.
10. "Outer Darkness." (v. 30) Throwing out the slave to
outer darkness is the act of the divine judge, not the man who
had gone on a journey. Not to be in the presence of the Lord who
is light ultimately leaves the excluded person in darkness.
1. Personal Freedom. The Master provides us with the
resources to use for divine purposes. We are left with the
freedom to use them or abuse them. If we know the Master's will
and are about his business, we will prosper in our use of the
resources. If we neglect or abuse the resources given, we will
be held accountable. Rewards are given in proportion to our
faithfulness in using well the resources given.
2. Quality vs. Quantity. The parable suggests that it is
not the size or quantity of the talents given or the return
their use that is the significant factor in the kingdom. It is
rather the degree to which we use well that which is given to us.
Indeed, the person who has received much has the greater
responsibility for using the gifts effectively. In the kingdom
it is not the person who has the most wealth or the greatest
ability who is considered the greatest. The judgment rendered is
according to the proper use of wealth, ability or any other gifts
with which a person is endowed. The quality of service is more
important than the quantity entrusted to us.
3. The Master's Goods. The parable uses money to make a
point about the nature of expectations and rewards. It is not a
misuse of the parable to shift the meaning of talents from gold
and silver to abilities. The Master's goods extend to the
material resources for living. Jesus was never concerned with
the spirit alone. He fed the hungry. He turned water to wine at
a wedding. He healed the sick. He also gave his disciples
spiritual goods. He taught and provided examples for prayer and
meditation. He called them to faith and love. He offered
forgiveness for sins. These goods are also from the Master and
they are given for use in furthering the kingdom.
4. The Adequacy of the Goods. The slaves in the parable
were given differing amounts. They received five, two and one
talent. The Master knew their abilities and gave them
responsibility accordingly. We are assured that God never calls
us to a task greater than the goods we are given to do them. We
need not shrink back from the task for fear that we do not have
the support needed to do it if we truly discern God's call to us.
It is more urgent to risk the venture than to bury that which God
gives and fail to use whatever we have to do God's work.
5. Waiting and Working. Jesus had a rhythm in his
teachings. In the parable of the wise and foolish maidens of
last week, the maidens spent some time in waiting for the
bridegroom to come. The parable did not say that the waiting was
wrong. Jesus himself withdrew from his work with the crowds at
times to have solitude
and to pray. When Martha was too busy at work to spend time with
Jesus, he reprimanded her for her busyness. The parable today
implies that the third slave was wicked because he did not put
his talent to work. Life calls for a rhythm of waiting and
working, both in their proper time and proportion.
1. Entrusted Property. (v. 14) The Lord gives what belongs
to him for our use. People need to take an inventory of what
they have received and ask how the good master would have his
A. Material Goods
B. Gifts of the Spirit
C. Personal Relationships
D. A Base in Organizations
2. One, Two and Five Talents. (v. 15) The parable poses
the issue of how persons should consider their contribution to
the church and the kingdom. Persons have received a diversity of
gifts. All are needed for the fullest realization of what the
church and the kingdom should be. It is not the size of the
talent that is important. It is more crucial that all contribute
according to what they have received.
A. Making the Most of Money
B. Making the Most of Time
C. Making the Most of Abilities
3. The Joy of Your Master. (vv. 21-23) The church should
be characterized by joy. Its celebrations should make the
members and the world aware that Christian living is a
celebration of joy and not a somber and heavy burden to carry.
A. Celebrate the Presence of Christ
B. Celebrate the Approval of Christ
C. Celebrate the Participation in Christ
D. Celebrate the Anticipation of Christ
4. I Was Afraid. (v. 25) Too often people consult their
fears and condition their actions on them. They should look at
what led the third slave to hide the talent instead of investing
it to prosper the master's kingdom. Some are afraid of failure.
Others are afraid of success because it might bring more
responsibilities which they do not want to accept.
A. He did not Understand His Master
B. He Lacked a Spirit of Adventure
C. He Lacked a Readiness for Growth
5. Living with Abundance. (v. 29) The five talent slave
enjoyed the abundance conferred on him by the master. How do we
accept the abundance and live with it?
A. Live with Humility
B. Live Cheerfully
C. Live Responsibly
D. Live Christ-like
6. Thrown into Outer Darkness. (v. 30) Christians should
not be sentimental about what it means to fail to live as a
follower of Christ. The consequences are harsh and real. The
outer darkness is a symbol of how life is experienced without the
abundant gifts of faith, hope and love.
A. The Occasion for Fear. The fear of being left on our
B. The Sense of Failure. The recognition that one has
missed the ultimate meaning of life.
C. The Feeling of Futility. Life is but sound and fury
without hope and what one does eventually passes away if it is
not sustained by the Lord of the universe.
D. The Antidote to Fear. It is to have confidence that
trust and response to the master is a source of approval and joy.
Points of Contact
1. The joy which the faithful slaves received comes not
from the immediacy of pleasure. It comes from the deeper sources
of life. They had the satisfaction of accomplishing a task and
being approved as persons of worth. Pleasure that comes from
such things as good food, the thrill of exciting activities and
similar sources lasts only briefly. They do not give the same
underlying joy that can be found in the midst of toil and
difficulty. Jesus had an air of joy about him that attracted
people even while he labored and encountered opposition. Persons
who have the security of trust in him and awareness of his
presence have a serenity despite the troubled world in which they
live. This brings a kind of enduring satisfaction that
transitory pleasures cannot afford.
2. Life requires growth. When we stop growing we begin
dying. Muscles that are not used begin to atrophy. Abilities
not used begin to fade. Skills not practiced lose their edge.
It can be said that a basic law of life is that you must use what
you have or you lose it. The converse of the law is that those
who use what they have gain more and more.
3. Salvation may be given in an experience of a moment. But
to retain it, it must result in continuing growth. While Paul
had a momentous experience on the Damascus Road, he had to spend
a lengthy period in Arabia to work out the full meaning of the
encounter with Christ. He also consulted with the Apostles in
Jerusalem before he was ready to perform his great missionary
works. People have to invest their talents in working out their
salvation once it has been given to them. Those who are born
again in Christ need to grow up to the fullness of maturity in
Points to Ponder
1. A challenge to consider is whether we can double the
return on the talents given us. That takes some risk in trying
to use them. It also takes time and may seem that we are acting
on our own without guidance and support. How do you persevere in
2. What do you do when you experience the absence of Christ
in your life? Almost everyone has periods of spiritual dryness.
It feels as though they are no longer in touch with God. Is it a
time of testing of faith and trust? What kinds of patience and
waiting do we have to exercise in the expectation that the absent
Lord will return to us? What kinds of disciplines can we follow
which will help us recover the awareness of his presence in our
3. All men (persons) are created equal according to the
Declaration of Independence. Yet it seems obvious that not
everyone is equally endowed. The parable says that the slaves
had differing amounts with which to work for the master. Is
equality to be thought of in terms of opportunity to fulfill
their possibilities? Or is it in approval for how they perform
with what they have? Or is it in ultimate worth before God as
persons of value?
4. The judgment pronounced on the slave who tried to protect
the talent was severe. He was called wicked and lazy. We
usually do not associate wickedness with lack of action. We tend
to think of it as some dastardly actions which do injury and harm
to others. We do not usually assume that it applies to what we
fail to do in using the gifts granted to us. The consequence of
being thrown into outer darkness seems contrary to the general
image of a heavenly Father who is merciful, compassionate and
forgiving. How do we reconcile this image of the Lord with
John's statement that God is love?
5. How do you cope with the feelings of members of the
church who think that what they have to contribute is of little
worth? They may compare themselves with the people who can
perform before the whole congregation: the eloquent preacher, the
competent choir director, the beautiful voice of the soloist, the
charismatic teacher. Some members may resent those who are
elected or appointed to positions of prominence. How does the
church recognize and approve the services of the one talent
person who makes good use of what he or she has?
1. Use It or Lose It. A long distance jogger has to start
slowly and build up to the capacity to run several miles. The
experts advise that one needs to run three to five days a week,
with days in between to recover. If one ceases running, however,
in three days one is already losing muscle tone. In three weeks
one needs to start over to rebuild stamina.
Recent research with persons in retirement homes
demonstrates that exercise restores bone structure. With weight
lifting, even persons in the late eighties or early nineties have
shown improvement. Some who were using walkers or were confined
to wheelchairs found that they could walk unaided again.
2. Use the Talent You Have. A football star for a college
team was having trouble in a course on church history. He was
barely doing C work. He came to see the professor about the
problem. The professor knew he had some limited ability and
preparation. The student had dropped out of high school and
obtained a General Equivalency Diploma in the armed forces so he
could enter college. The professor pointed out, however, that he
was not necessarily expected to be a star in every area. What he
should do is the best he could with the abilities he had. Just
because he could run faster than anyone else on the football team
did not mean he could beat everyone in the classroom. He should
be satisfied that he had put forth his best effort and did the
best he could. He accepted the counsel and in fact got a low B
in the course. Later when he became a professional football
player with records for touchdowns scored, he still visited that
professor when he returned to campus.
3. Servanthood. A church executive headed a large church
agency for years. He was well-known and highly respected
throughout his denomination and in larger church circles.
Eventually he came to the age where his energies and abilities
his retirement he found satisfaction in assuming the job of
janitor in the congregation to which he belonged. He expressed
his gratitude for being able to serve the church in that way
after years of benefiting from the services of others who did
that kind of work.
A missionary to India came to the age of retirement. To
supplement his income he became the custodian of the church in
the community where he retired. He kept the building in tip-top
shape. In a quiet way he became a presence in the church and
community. His service was a role model of modesty, competence
and devotion to his work. He gave witness by this ministry.
Everyone understood why he had been an effective missionary.
4. Approval for Service. The Director of Christian Education
was telling a story about the importance of doing work in the
church. At one point she turned to the children and asked, "Now
who is doing the most important work in our church?" Immediately
one of the younger children piped up so the whole congregation
could hear, "The janitor." After a brief pause, everyone burst
into laughter and applause. It was an affirmation of what the
child said to the delight of the red-faced janitor!