Parable of the Talents

This parable is not about money, but it is a mockery of those who think they can buy God’s kingdom with their wealth. (Luke 16:1-8).

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Contrary to what you might find with a search on the internet, radio, or books, or virtually all sermons you've ever heard, this parable is not about money, talents, or how you use your possessions toward God's kingdom. Let's go through this parable again, as if you've never read it before, never having heard it preached before, while only keeping in mind that you should not try to understand this parable by itself without placing it in context of the entire salvation foundation of the Bible.

Worldly Wisdom

1Jesus also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who was informed of accusations that his manager was wasting his assets. 2So he called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Turn in the account of your administration, because you can no longer be my manager.’ 3Then the manager said to himself, ‘What should I do, since my master is taking my position away from me? I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m too ashamed to beg. 4I know what to do so that when I am put out of management, people will welcome me into their homes.’ 5So he contacted his master’s debtors one by one. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6The man replied, ‘A hundred measures of olive oil.’ The manager said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and write fifty.’ 7Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ The second man replied, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ The manager said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their contemporaries than the people of light. (Luke 16:1-8)

Who do you think this rich man was? Did Jesus use him to talk about Himself? An overwhelming majority thinks so. But verse 8 shows us the rich man does NOT represent Christ, because He cannot and will not “commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly.” The master of this evil steward, or the people of this world, cannot be a representation of the living God. In the mindset and value system of this world, a shrewd manager like the man in the parable, though may have acted against the interest of the master, his cleverness may in fact benefit him far beyond a temporary damage. But this cannot be true in the Kingdom of Heaven. This shrewd manager does not exhibit any characteristic of a man who has faith.

What about us, what do we think of God? What do we know about His value system concerning life, fruitfulness, and the value of a person? Does he value a shrewd man like this manager? What lesson is Jesus trying to teach us in this parable? The two main characters in this parable seem more fitting for this world than for God’s kingdom. Do you expect to learn anything from their dealings and value assessment? Do you really think Jesus is using them as models for us to follow?

Can worldly treasure buy eternal life?

9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by how you use worldly wealth, so that when it runs out you will be welcomed into the eternal homes. (Luke 16:9)

There is a term called “isogesis” which means interpreting a Bible passage as a stand alone concept without regarding its surrounding context. If we do this when interpreting this passage, we’d almost assuredly key in to the phrase “welcomed into the eternal homes” and jump to the conclusion that this verse shows us how we prepare ourselves for heaven. This is the conventional interpretation of the church at large. But as I preluded at the beginning of this article that we should consider this verse, or any verse for that matter, in the larger context of how God saves us. The larger context says that Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life, through whom we can have any hope of heaven. Then this verse cannot be be interpreted in the isolated manner above at all.

The targets of Jesus’ parable are those who do not yet possess a saving faith. Folks such as the teachers of the law, the Pharisees, the Hebrews who were steeped in Mosaic laws, the Gentiles with their respective religions. In short, the entire world is still deep in sin, and the gospel was not yet communicated to the world until Christ rose from the dead and returned to heaven. Those who were listening to the parable, or the whole world for that matter, though they might be willing to give up all their possessions in the hope of purchasing their way into the kingdom of God, they will not get in, because there is only one way to enter heaven that is through faith in the Lamb of God who offered himself to be a ransom for the world.

But let us suppose that the listeners were believers, those who called on Christ as their Lord and Savior, then they don’t need to “make friends for yourselves by how you use worldly wealth,” because the kingdom of heaven is already theirs. In this case Jesus didn’t even need to tell them this parable.

Therefore verse 9 must be a challenge, or a cynical statement, of Jesus: “You who are the wise ones of this world, you use your wealth to buy influence, to garner peace. You have gained for yourselves the whole world. But do you think you can buy Heaven? And those who became your friends through your unrighteous wealth, do you believe they are truly the citizens of heaven to welcome you?

Do you readers see the hidden truth in this parable? Can you see the cynicism? Can you see that Jesus was mocking His listeners who were mostly wealthy and influential religious leaders?

The only kind of faithfulness God requires

10The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and the one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11If then you haven’t been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches? 12And if you haven’t been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you your own? (Luke 16:10-12)

Jesus summarized the ten commandments of God into two most important ones: 37‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40) These two commandments are in fact ten thousand times more impossible than the original ten, because whoever thinks that he can carry them out, thinks too highly of himself. Let’s consider a more possible commandment: Keep the Sabbath to make it holy. Who among the keepers of Mosaic laws can fulfill it to God’s perfect standard? If a person is considered an adulterer just for lustful thoughts without actually committing it, wouldn’t it be the same with a Sabbath keeper, that though he can keep it physically, can he keep it in his mind? Absolutely not.

Then who can claim himself to be faithful in everything in this life? Because according to James 2:10, being unfaithful in one thing is like being unfaithful in all things. Therefore what Jesus said in verses 10-12 above is a statement of condemnation to all listeners that they were all unfaithful, without exception.

But there is one thing that God gave us that He demands our faithfulness, that is faith in Christ. That is faith in Him, not in ourselves. Romans 1:17 writes: “The just shall live by faith.” Abraham was declared righteous for his faith. John 3:16 writes: “Whoever believes in the Son of God will not perish, but has eternal life.” And many Scriptures that write of the same truth. Only of that faith that God demands our faithfulness. Only that faithfulness is the condition for us to receive the gift of an eternal inheritance, the “true riches” in this parable.

Being faithful in keeping this faith that was once delivered to the saints. Being faithful in relying only on Jesus as the way to the promise land. Being faithful refusing to rely on good works to attain God’s righteousness. Being faithful in the belief that God will carry out His promise concerning our salvation. That is the true faithfulness that Jesus speaks of in this parable. You must read this parable through spiritual eyes so you may understand its true meaning.

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen

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