Meanings from parables

Many of us have pondered the meaning of the Parables, especially of the Parables of Minas/Talents. Leaving aside what we are “told in bible study” to believe, let’s look deeper. In Mt 25:14-30 is the Parable of the Talents, and in Luke 19:12-27 the Parable of the Minas. If the lesson to be learned was that faith in Christ shall be rewarded, on what basis are we to assume such? How could the giving of money in the parable be a metaphor for faith as a gift we receive from Christ? The parable is that a master puts his servants in charge of his assets while away on a trip, and upon his return assesses the stewardship of his servants.

Is the lesson just “use it or lose it”, a moral admonishment toward hard work? If so, what role might luck have played into the success of a servant, and what if one took higher risks that by luck played out to his benefit? Also, to the servant who gained nothing, a negative reward is given. But he hid his money from fear and thus was called a “wicked and slothful servant” and "cast into outer darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth’’. So for simply hiding the money and not taking a risk, he is admonished rather severely.

If the message is to use any and all God-given gifts in the service of God, on what basis are we to conclude that from the text, where only money is used to make more money? And if we do not use these God-given talents what does the parable tell us about the consequences, other than that he loses money? In the Matthew version, the master gave different amounts of money to each of the 3 servants “according to their abilities”. So he prejudged them, giving only 1 talent to the one who did not succeed. One could conclude that this is an example of a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. It seems possible that this is only a parable about financial management issues and to be diligent about such. If the intent was a greater message of faith, why would Matthew or Luke not make that clearer to the audience?

I’m not looking for individual interpretations, about “what I think”, but rather a logical analysis of the words as recorded, and the basis on which we render an interpretation. I’d love to hear other’s thoughts on this.

The talents is another one I didn’t mention. I’ve always wanted to know - what if the ones who invested their money (all the talents given them) had a run of bad luck and lost it all? Would they have suffered worse punishment then than the one who at least returned the same that he got?

My thought is that it isn’t about “results” like we western, stock-market minded capitalists would be all in-tune with, but about actual spiritual gifts. The servants’ self-knowledge to be able to brag: “look I got you back ten times as much” (and the master’s commentary about a bank and at least earning interest) do make it look a bit like modern western capitalism - but I think we can safely still conclude that such focus would still be anachronistic. If I use gifts God has given me to faithfully do anything at all to further God’s kingdom by helping others out, I think the ‘results’ of my labors at that point are safely in God’s hands.

Now … why Jesus tacked on that horrible ending about “…now bring those opponents of mine here and torture (or slaughter) them in front of me…” that part is jaw-droppingly unlike Jesus as far as I can see. I’ve never understood why he added that part except maybe as an over-the-top dire warning that “you don’t mess with the king.”

Okay, so the traditional interpretation is based on the juxtaposition of the word Talent. A Talent was a genuine form of currency but it happens to also be a word for abilities.

Parables are not usually over devious or complex. The simple answer is usually the right one. We are given gifts and they will diminish if not used. Paul’s letters to the Romans and Ephesians build on this trying to dissipate any ideas of favouritism or hierarchy of gifts. (talents).
You will find that Christ is not shy in pointing out the punishments for sin or the horrors of Hell but…
The offer of forgiveness always overrules any possibility of Hell.

There is no need to overthink the possibilities of failure. The parable(s) make it clear that the failure is deliberate not circumstance. God judges on intent, not results. And we are not looking at it in terms of finance with all the baggage that entails.

You have to remember that Christianity is not based on “works” as in “Buying a stairway to Heaven”. We cannot earn our passage but we can lose it.

Furthermore, parables are not meant as stand alone teaching. It is not wise to overthink or over emphasise one parable. Nor do we advise comparing one version to another. Each Gospel writer has a specific audiance and message in mind so the details will be aimed at that audiance.


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But the parable IS about results. And only results. It didn’t address the methods used, the risks taken or the intent, but only the results. He did not care how or why the best servant gained 10 minas. Good results = great rewards. Bad results = punishment or worse. If Jesus had wanted us to take the message of “doing for others”, the Nobleman would have, could have, judged each of his servants according to a different metric very easily.

Regarding His close of "But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me” I am also troubled. But we cannot discount that part of the message as being “unlike Christ”, since Christ did not make such mistakes, did He?

So to the logic, it may have been to address work ethic, not faith and certainly not money management. It may have been how to deal with the gift of Himself and belief in Him as the Son of God, but if so why did the parable not make that clear at the outset? And why would His expectations and apriori judgement of the servants be relevant to the story?

Of course, a talent was money. A mina is said to have been worth 100 days pay, and a talent 10 times as much. No one has suggested that the nobleman awarded anything but money. Now the message of what Christ intended to replace the money is a different issue indeed.

It better be, or else the parable is a poor message, isn’t it? But my original point was to delve into the actual text and further into what the logic might have been, rather than to reinterpret what He said to fit our personal comfort levels. The servant who received the ‘worst grade’ did not allow his mina/talent to diminish (he buried it), so his poor performance was inaction. But he had no gains. So he was to be “slaughtered” before Christ" at His insistence.

Yet such was not offered to the servant who buried his money. Christ could have offered him a second chance or even an understanding that could infer forgiveness. But He did not.

Indeed but still he is still, absolutely, judged on his results and results alone. And his crime was to “deliberately” not invest the money, hardly comparable to a deliberate act that affects others.

Of course not, and I doubt the parable was intended to make that point, but of course we understand that by Grace alone shall we be saved. Our good deeds and good actions are, however, viewed favorably (jewels in our crowns perhaps?).

But remember that Matthew likely knew Christ and had first hand information and Luke had as much data on which to quote Christ. These are not lay person’s opinions of what He said. These are (I think) intended to be His exact words as relayed to us by authoritative sources inspired by Christ. They would never alter a quote from Christ because of the audience to whom they were speaking, would they? And the parable was told (I think) while Christ was in Jericho to a community very intelligent living in an area that was the longest continuously populated city in the world (since 11,000 BC according to archaeologists). So I doubt that the message was altered in any substantial way.



It is about hearts as well, and maybe faith?

There are some who actually see it differently, and feel the last servant is the only one who acted ethically in the story, as charging and collecting interest was forbidden by Jewish law. Also, the odd description of the rich man as being hard and gathering where he did not sow is a little out of place if describing Jesus and his return.What Does the Parable of the Talents Mean? - Biblical Archaeology Society

That sort of turns it on its head. And, parables are meant to be thought experiments, so maybe there is some truth in both ways of looking at it, and it is vague for a reason.

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Again, show me where there is any reference to hearts or faith. My point is that it clearly invokes a reward for the best management of money. He could have easily framed it otherwise, yet did not. So you may think and wish to believe that it was about faith and are free to do so. I’m asking for logic that might have been used around 33 ad, and why it used language and specifics that convey the wrong thought when to do otherwise was so simple and easy.

Very interesting Phil…Very interesting indeed. I wonder if that culture might have been different in Jericho?

…which does fit the teaching that a tree is known by its fruit.

Since I’m a believer - not only in Christ, but in the superintended recording of his words later by his disciples, my objections are; as I think you’ve guessed - rhetorical - but only in a “bigger, faith-context sense”. On the surface my objections remain. Because of many other teachings recorded in these same gospels by the same writers which show that Jesus (and therefore God) is not all about seeing life destroyed. The only thing he could be said to hate, in fact, would be anything that tries to cut off that abundant life from anyone - especially from the ‘least of these’. James and John got excited about calling fire down from heaven on some people who were less than welcoming, and Jesus would have none of it. I see the balance of the gospels going in that direction; so - yes; when the unpopular king in a parable instructs his followers to bring and “slaughter my enemies in front of me”, I do reject what that looks like on its surface because the rest of the gospel all rejects what that looks like on the surface. That leaves me with little more than interpretive creativity - perhaps a literary flourish on the end of a parable that had already made its main point? Here’s what typical kings of the world are like? … and you fear them, so why don’t you fear God even more? Something like that, I suppose. But I don’t lose too much sleep over it.

They may still have been relishing that ancient prophetic tradition of dangling difficult teachings in front of people that are not necessarily there to just “clear everything up.” I speak in parables so that not everyone gets it, Jesus tells us - but to you (you disciples - and now you, the readers) it is given to see farther into these secrets. So apparently, parables were not all about shining light on absolutely everything for everyone. Jesus would have been dinged by today’s practitioners of differentiated instruction. But he had something deeper in mind than mere education.

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It’s a parable – that denotes metaphors and symbolism, doesn’t it? You know, ears to hear?

I don’t think I am going to judge Jesus’ parables and his choice of metaphors.

Clearly… and literalistically. There are also degrees of reward in heaven (it is clearly taught in the NT).

About Sarah Smith in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce:

I think the master rebukes the heart and faith of the 3rd servant–the 3rd and only the 3rd servant calls the master “hard” and is fearful of him. This shows that the 3rd servant has a distorted view of the Master (God) and lacks faith in God’s loving and just character.

Perhaps. But I note the possibility of the exact opposite conclusion that comes from from the Biblical Archeological Society sent to us by JPM. They suggest:

Whereas a modern, Western audience would applaud the first two slaves for trading and investing well, an ancient audience would have approved of the third slave’s behavior and condemned that of the first two slaves because they profited at the expense of others . Rohrbaugh explains:

[G]iven the “limited good” outlook of ancient Mediterranean cultures, seeking “more” was considered morally wrong. Because the pie was “limited” and already all distributed, anyone getting “more” meant someone else got less. Thus honorable people did not try to get more, and those who did were automatically considered thieves: To have gained, to have accumulated more than one started with, is to have taken the share of someone else.

So to Dale’s point, that’s why they call it a parable.

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Which … would make for a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, like telling someone: “You have nothing to fear except fear itself.” Or - God will be fine with you as long as you aren’t afraid he will punish you. Don’t even think that way!

I do believe God is good - and in fact was and is good to us quite prior to us trusting in him. If I, a sinful human, know better than to come down like a ton of bricks on a child who already didn’t trust me because he was afraid of me - then how much more righteous would God be than me! For those who are beaten down, oppressed, having a rough time of life - his yoke will be easy and his burden light.

I thought it was 50. 1 days wage ~=7 grams of silver; 1 mina ~=700 g silver, 1 talent ~=35 kg silver. Given precious metal values at the time, the 10,000 talents owed by the servant to the master in a different parable is in the very vague value-equivalence range of $10,000,000,000. (i.e. 4 months of the entire Roman Empire’s military budget, vs. 4 months salary owed to the servant).

Maybe you are right. I wonder about sourcing things such as this, and do not claim to have independent knowledge of those values. Nor did I know about the culture of the time about it being against God’s wishes to make money from money as was pointed out in one article. Of course, the “money-changers” were frowned upon by many in those times.

Basically you are asking too much. Parables aren’t meant to encompass the whole message in one go. Neither are they meant to be disected and scrutinised to the extreme. The basic message is the whole message. The Devil is in the details.


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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