The talents (worth about 20 years’ wages each) represent the benefits in this life of faith in Christ and our obligation to use them to grow and to do good works for God’s glory. (Eph 2:10, Titus 2:13-14) The various amounts given to the servants show that we are placed in different situations and naturally and spiritually gifted in different ways. These natural variations in our talents can raise some challenges, we can see this in the wicked servant’s behaviour.
1. Laziness. The man was lazy (vs 26), preferring to do what was easy rather than the harder work of investing his master’s money. Likewise we can be spiritually lazy: although our salvation is free, growing as a Christian and serving others is “work”. We often choose to do easier things, even busyness at work or home can be a way to dodge the harder work of using the gifts God has given us. Perhaps our laziness is borne out of our experience of futility, we fear that the rewards for working hard will be negligible, but the 100% profit made by the other two servants shows us that if we are faithful with God’s gifts our efforts will be profoundly worthwhile.
2. Greed. The third servant wasn’t just lazy, he was wicked. Perhaps he planned to keep the talent for himself if his master forgot about it or failed to return home. His greed showed he did not understand the largesse of his master who gave even more to those who were faithful. Likewise, we can keep the benefits of our salvation to ourselves because we forget that when we use our blessings to bless others God gives us more.
3. Pride. The third servant’s wickedness may also have consisted in rebellion against his master because he felt overlooked and jealous of the other servants. If so, he acted proudly, since the parable tells us that the master gave to each servant “according to his ability.” (vs 15.) Likewise, we can see the way God has gifted or used others and feel overlooked by God, this can lead to a proud refusal to serve him with our gifts. Changes in circumstance, such as age or parenthood can see our opportunities to serve God or others decrease, and we can find ourselves with apparently menial responsibilities. We need to serve God faithfully, trusting that he can be glorified and we made more like Christ no matter how we are called to serve.
There is also a big picture to this parable that helps us understand what lies behind these struggles. God is “gift”, and when we make our lives a gift to others and God we are wisely investing our “talent”, the weighty, glorious image God. The desire to be left alone and to serve ourselves only is diabolical. A complete refusal to give our lives will eventually see us shut out of God’s presence forever, (vs. 30) but when we pour out our lives for God and others, as Christ poured out his life, we are rewarded with life in the Spirit and we are prepared for eternity sharing in our master’s happiness. (vs 21, 23)