‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents,to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then 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.” His 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.” And 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.” His 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.” Then 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; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But 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? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For 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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Translation: For just as a man went away, he called his slaves and he delivered over to them his possessions. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, each according to his own power (ability), and he went away immediately. The one who received five talents took and traded with them and he gained another five. Likewise, the one with two gained another two. But the one receiving one talent took and dug ground and hid the money of his lord.
But after a long time, the lord of those slaves came and brought together a word with them, and, drawing near, the one receiving five talents brought five talents more, saying, "Lord, you delivered over to me five talents. Behold, another five talents gained." His lord made known his thoughts to him, "Good, excellent and faithful slave, you were faithful over a little, I will place you over much. Enter into the joy of your lord."
And the one having two talents said, "Lord, you have delivered over to me two talents. Behold, another two gained." His lord made known his thoughts to him, "Good, excellent and faithful slave, you have been faithful over a little, I will place you over much. Enter into the joy of your lord."
And coming forward, the one who had received one talent, taking hold, said, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, harvesting where you did not sow, and gathering together where you did not scatter, and I was afraid, taking and hiding your talent in the ground. Behold, you have what is yours."
But his lord answered to him, saying, "You wicked and lazy slave. You knew that I harvest where I did not sow, and gather together where I did not scatter, it is necessary for you, therefore, to throw my money to the moneychanger, and coming, I am taking back mine with interest. Therefore, take away the talent from him and give to the one having ten talents. For to the ones having, more will be given, and they will have abundantly. But from him who does not have, what that one has will be lifted away from him. And throw out the useless slave into the outer darkness. There, there will be weaping and gnashing of teeth."
Background and situation: The parable of the talents begins with the words "for just as a man went away." Notice it does not begin with "the kingdom of heaven is like." This is not a "kingdom of heaven" parable, in other words, and appears instead to be a continuation or commentary on the preceding parable of the ten virgins, the main theme of which was to address the problem of the delay of the bridegroom. Here, the main problem is similar: "...a man went away..."
Matthew has several stories and parables that relate to the problem of absence. We can gather that the Matthean community, c. AD 80, was trying to come to grips with the problem of the delay of the coming of the Lord and his apparent "absence" from the world.
The lection appears to be mostly Q. The parallel in Luke is 19:11-27. (Luke states the problem straight out: "...because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately...")
The parable of the talents: The man called his slaves and "delivered over"--paradidomai--his possessions. This is the same word that will later describe the "delivering over" of Jesus to the authorities. The man is giving everything, as Jesus would soon give everything.
To make the point further, the man gave all "his possessions." The word is huperxonta, which carries the sense of possessions, yes, and also one's entire substance and even life. As soon as the man "delivers over" everything that is his, he leaves "immediately", (unfortunately not translated in NRSV). He gives, and is gone.
The man is hugely rich. Eight talents was several million dollars. He gives money to each slave according to each slave's dunamis, the slave's "power" or "ability." The first two slaves doubled the money. The third slave "hid the money of his lord" in the ground.
The next part of the story is introduced with the words "after a long time." In Greek, the phrase is meta polun xronon. The word xronon is one of two Greek words for time. Xronon means "regular time." It's where we get our word "chronological." According to "regular time," the man has been absent. In "regular time," the disciples must wait patiently for the return of the Lord.
Incidentally, all of the financial machinations in the early part of the story take part in xronon, regular time. The wheelings and dealings of the marketplace, with its varying rewards and punishments, is the normal and regular way of life.
After xronon, "the lord came" and "took up a word together with them"--sunairei logon meta autone. When the lord appears, breaking in to regular time, he takes up "a word" with his slaves. Anytime anyone in the early church would have heard the word logon, they would have thought of Christ the Word and the gospel. The first thing the Lord does when "he came" is to bring together his slaves around "a word," the gospel.
This is, keep in mind, not the arrival of the kingdom--this parable is not a "kingdom of heaven" parable, and the gospel is not synonymous with end times. Rather, it's about the gospel present to inspire and encourage even in xronon time.
Xronon time is a reward and punishment time. That's how the world--"regular time"--works. The two who made money get rewarded--obviously--and the one who merely preserved the capital winds up in "outer darkness."
This is the one who apparently didn't have all that much ability--or power--in the first place, as the lord had known when he assigned him one talent. Now, this slave perceives that the lord is a "hard man"--harvesting where he did now sow, and "gathering together" where he did not scatter. What does that mean exactly? Harvesting where someone else has sown? Isn't that called stealing?
Yes, and that sounds just like Jesus, who has indeed harvested where he did not sow. The savior of the world "harvests" outside Israel and also outside of Christianity. He has indeed "gathered together" where he did not scatter.
Jesus did do some "scattering". He broke up, or attempted to break up, the corrupt power structure of the time. In the end, though, the trump card of Jesus is his "harvesting where he did not sow" and "gathering together" of all people at the foot of the cross.
This new reign of God made the third slave "afraid" and he played it safe, trying to protect himself from the "hard man." That is a very xronon thing to do, and certainly not called for by the situation as it is described--the man giving away talents has done nothing to indicate that he is a "hard" man. Quite the contrary. He has been trusting and generous.
Note the precise accusation: The lord calls the slave "wicked" and "lazy." The laziness charge certainly sticks. This slave not only took the easy route of following the conventional rules--people often buried money in those days--but was also lazy about discerning the new world of God. "Gathering together where one has not scattered" is actually a good thing, but the unimaginative slave, in thrall to business as usual (xronon), could only be frightened by it.
Image: Parable of the talents, Annette Fortt