Jesus came to earth as the long-awaited Messiah to die on the cross for our salvation and for the redemption of humanity. He also came to establish the kingdom of God on the earth, which he saw as beginning small and somewhat unimpressive, like a mustard seed, but eventually blossoming to cover the entire earth. When teaching, Jesus often used indirect forms of communication that appealed to the imagination of people and provoked further thought. As a result, he often left his hearers puzzling and pondering over the implications of his message.
After entering Jerusalem the final time (Mt.21:1-11) and weeping over the city of Jerusalem for their refusal to accept him and his kingdom message (Mt.23:37-39), Jesus gave some final instructions to his disciples for the days ahead of them (24:1–25:46). Through a series of parables, Jesus warned them to be watchful, prepared, faithful and productive during this time. One of these parables was The Parable of the Talents or The Parable of the Three Servants.
The Parable of the Three Servants (Matthew 25:14-30)
This story moves along with a rhythm that creates a sense of expectation. But there is a twist at the end. The decreasing quantities of talents given (a ‘talent’ was a large amount of money) simple serve to build the story to a climax. Surely the one given the least would have the easiest time of all making good use of it. But, no! This third servant is not only severely reprimanded by the master; what he has is taken away and given to another. In many ways this story is a tragedy.
The parable raises many questions. Who is this ‘wicked and lazy servant?’ It is a disciple or not?  What is Jesus trying to say to his disciples … and to us? Is the end of life like a big final exam? Aren’t we saved by grace not by works? We know that God is loving and kind, but is he also hard and stern at times too? What does the parable tell us about God?
No doubt, the master is this story represents God and the servants represent various types of people and their response and relationship to God. In most parables, Jesus is endeavouring to teach his listeners a number of lessons. Let’s look at a few of them together.
Reflection #1: God entrusts each one of us with resources according to our ability
Like the master, God entrusts all people with a portion of his resources, expecting them to act as good managers. Notice that when the master left, he divided his assets and gave each of the three servants a different amount (5, 2, 1) and he did so in “proportion to their abilities (vs.15).”
Our resources include more than just our money, as in this parable. It includes all that we are and all that we have at our disposal (our time, talents, opportunities and our finances). God is a creative God. He doesn’t make clones. He makes unique individuals. Understand and accept how God has made you – your SHAPE. Don’t compare yourself with others. Take a stock-take of what you have been given by God. What’s in your hand? Your very life is a gift and an investment from God. Like the master in this parable, God believes in you and has confidence that you will manage his resources wisely and with an entrepreneurial spirit. [Helen Keller is an inspirational example of someone who rose above her limitations to do what she could do with what God gave her]
Reflection #2: God is pleased when we use and invest our resources
When the Master eventually returned there was a time of accountability for how each of the servants had used the money entrusted to them (vs.19). The first two servants immediately got to work, investing their money and over a period of time they earned 100% more (vs.16-17). They obviously felt good about their own efforts and the master responded with praise, commendation, celebration and reward (vs.21). Note that the servants were not treated in regards to the amount they had been given but for their faithfulness with what they had individually received (vs.21-23). They both received the identical statement of praise and joy from the master. What matters most is not what we have been given but what we do with it.
I believe that Jesus teaches that anything we do for the benefit of God and others is pleasing to God. That includes our work (whether paid or not), our love (acts of kindness towards all people), and our service (voluntarily helping others – anywhere). We can’t even give a cup of water to someone without God noticing it and rewarding it (Mk 9:41). That’s encouraging!
Reflection #3: God is displeased when we play it safe and refuse to risk
The third servant dug a hole in the ground and hid his money, doing nothing with it (vs.18, 25). The main problem was his attitude toward his master. His inaccurate perception became an excuse for his personal irresponsibility. In the same way, our view of God strongly influences our behaviour. The master was angry with this servant, calling him “wicked and lazy,” taking away what he had, and punishing him severely (vs.26-30).
What is God like? From this parable, we could say that God is a risk-taker! He gives us resources and he wants us to make them grow. That requires overcoming the fear of failure. Think of the risks that Jesus took - challenging religious leaders, overthrowing deep-seated racial and gender prejudice, and entrusting his kingdom work to his often fickle followers. He also called others to take risks too – including leaving all and following him.
God wants us to confront our fears and insecurities. He calls us to step out of our comfort zone. This does not mean that we should be reckless with our lives but following Jesus requires faith and faith often means risk. Life is meant to be an adventure. That involves risk and sometime even failure (click here to view an inspirational video clip about people who overcame failure). God has given each one of us such amazing potential waiting to be unpacked. He calls step out of the boat.
When our life is over, our eternal destiny will be based on our faith in Jesus. Salvation is by grace, not through our good works (Eph.2:8-10). However, we will be held accountable for what we do with what we have been given by God. He has made an investment in our lives and he expects a return on it. This is not a heaven or hell issue. It is a matter of rewards (1Cor.3:10-15. 2 Cor. 5:10). This truth should provide good motivation to ensure that we make every effort to make our life count for the short time we are here on earth.
Sample Reflection Questions
- What does this parable teach us about God and his character?
- What do you think are some of your own God-given talents and abilities?
- When you have done something useful for God or others, how does it feel?
- Why is it important to honor and commend one another, as we do our church volunteers?
- If you had unlimited resources, what would you do? What would you attempt if you knew you wouldn’t fail?
- Reflect on one of the biggest risks you have ever taken in life. How did it turn out.
- Many older people, when reflecting back on their life, wish they had risked more. Will you?
- What step is God calling you to make right now? What are you afraid of?
 Some interpreters suggest that Jesus speaking directly about the immanent judgment on the nation of Israel, and the religious leaders he had just denounced (Mt.23), who had failed to take what they had been given and share it with the world.