A way to make sense of the parable of the Talents


So for the long silence. I’m still here, just incredibly busy with keeping all the plates spinning at the Cathedral right now.

At the moment I’m working on a sermon for this Sunday; the text is the Parable of the Talents. It’s a difficult parable, especially the last line that “To those who have, more will be given, and to those have little, even what they have will be taken away”. It’s a line that is hard to hear in a community in the midst of an economic depression, and during a moment in this Nation’s history when people are spontaneously beginning to demonstrate against the rich.

One of my commentaries makes the point that this parable can only be consistent with the larger message of Justice found in the Scriptures if we keep in mind Matthew’s explicit identification of the Master with Jesus in the parable; and then hold strongly to what we know about Jesus’ character and compassion…

The Matthean allegorization underscores three dimensions of meaning in the parable. The most important is the christological dimension. With it the evangelist ensures that the statements of the parable are not general statements about God and human beings but statements that are true only in Christ. It ensures that the slave owner of the parable is a trustworthy master rather than a cruel speculator.93 The parable speaks of the whole Christ—of the one who has been present (v. 14*), is now absent (vv. 16–18*), and will come again (vv. 19–30*)—and it encourages the reader to understand everything from this perspective.

[…and following a recapping of the historical uses of this text, the author writes…]

The exegesis and the history of interpretation here have demonstrated where the roots of such a misuse of the parable lie. The parable itself invites misunderstanding. When Jesus, his whole message and his God, becomes the parable’s signature and the definition of its contents, such misuse cannot happen. Where this was not the case, the parable was misused. The parable of the talents is theologically true only when it speaks of the God of Jesus Christ, who loves people in such a way that they are indebted to him for everything that they are and that they can achieve. It is theologically true only when it speaks of his commission to love and of the gifts that are used for that purpose and not for just any human activities. It is theologically true only when it is related to the community of love that Jesus wanted. When it does not speak of these things, it is merely an empty shell of words with which every human activity can be legitimized.

Luz, U., & Koester, H. (2005). Matthew 21-28: A commentary (261–262). Minneapolis: Augsburg.

That’s where I headed with this on Sunday. It’s not the direction I was planning on going, but having read the pretty much unanimous witness of the Church’s interpretation of this parable, I think I’m going to have conform my reading the weight of the consensus instead of bending the text to my own desire to force it to fit with a reading that would be consonant with Sts. Yoder and Hauwerwas.


The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Thanks Nick – wrestling this one to the ground – like last week and the bridesmaids. I think one has to take all 3 of these together (next week too). The master as the one in need.

  2. WmPaul says

    The Master as the one in need?

    Try instead of allegorizing in the vein above and in previous post to see where the parable turns, namely, the exposure and judgement of the lack of faith of the one who buries the talent precisely because he presumed to tell God who God was. Some parables may only have one major point to teach.

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