Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentary

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In the Gospel time, a talent was a large sum of money equal to 60 minas. A mina equaled 100 denarii (or pennies in English). During the life of the Savior, an ordinary worker earned one penny a day. We find the parable of the talents in the 25th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew:

"For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and dug in the earth, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou newest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundantly: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:14-30).

In preparing to leave this world, Christ charged His apostles and other followers, to continue His work, to gain personal salvation, and to help to save others. He gave his followers spiritual gifts, talents, according to his strength. The parable of the minas showed how a man's spiritual strength grows as he learns to overcome his own will and to do God's will. Whoever has gained greater strength also receives greater gifts.

Then Christ left this world. But even to this day, the Lord distributes His spiritual gifts to the successors of the apostles, to the pastors of the Church, and to all Christians who believe in Him, who have a desire to serve Him in some way. The talents in the parable denote all the good things given by God to man. Material talents are wealth, favorable living conditions, social status and good health. Talents of the soul are a lucid mind, a good memory, skills in the arts and crafts, eloquence, courage, sensitivity, compassion, and other qualities placed in us by the Creator. There are also talents of the spirit. The Apostle Paul counts some of them in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues" (I Corinthians 12:7-10).

To this we add the gifts of prayer, exhortation, and justice. There are many other gifts. He who had gained five talents used them in business and gained five other talents. He who had received two talents gained two others. One must increase the talents gained by exercise in active trading. Having received, for example, the gift of prayer, we must diligently pray for ourselves and for others; having received the gift of teaching, we must educate others, and so forth. The Apostle Paul writes: "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth on exhortation; he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness"(Romans 12:6-8). If we act according to the apostle's counsel, we know our talents will increase.

The servant who received one talent, buried it to hide his lord's silver. To do so uses abilities given by God only to arrange worldly affairs a little better, and not to benefit the soul. He who gained five talents, and he who gained two, showed equal effort in the direction of working for the Lord. So they received equal praise. The Lord values diligence. The widow who put only two mites into the temple treasury pleased the Lord more than the rich who give more. " Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things."

"Enter thou into the joy of thy lord," says the Lord to the faithful servants. God is the All-blessed Spirit, and ordinary man cannot understand the unceasing joy that He has prepared for those who love Him. As the Apostle Paul writes: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."

For his negligent spirit, the third servant received only one talent. He could have increased his talent also, but his laziness was so wicked that he accused his lord of unjustness: "Thou art an hard man, says the servant, reaping where thou hast not sown. Thou didst not given me sufficient gifts, and desirest of me that I myself succeed spiritually and look to the benefit of others. I was afraid to use thy money in trading so as not to lose it completely, and incur punishment for this from thee. I went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. At least I have returned the money to thee intact."

This servant's proud boast is insulting. By calling his lord cruel and avaricious, he pronounces the sentence against himself. If the lord is cruel, then he must make an even greater effort and be fearful; if the lord demands what is another's, then all the more will he demand his own. And the lord pronounced his judgment on this lazy and impertinent servant: "Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundantly: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

As in the parable of the minas, grace is taken from the negligent and given to him who brings the great fruits to the Kingdom of God. The richer a man's virtues and other gifts and talents, the greater his benefit to his neighbors. The worthless servant was cast into outer darkness as a soul outside of communion with God. God is light, and whoever abides in God abides in light. Whoever is deprived of communion with God is deprived of light as well (I John 1:5-7; 2:8-11). One must increase one's talents while there is time.

The cross one carries in life, one's difficult times and decisions, is also a talent to use, multiply and increase. And no matter how hard those conditions, the Christian always comes out victorious who stays faithful to God in word and deed until the end of his sojourn here. Increase the talents given you by God.

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