Have you ever heard the Parable of the Talents from the book of Matthew? What about the Parable of the Minas from the book of Luke? It’s a parable about a master who entrusts money to 3 servants while he is away. Like many of Christ’s parables, there’s multiple meanings behind this story. The parable of the talents meaning can teach us on multiple levels. Is there a financial lesson we can learn here? Yes, there is opportunity to learn here. there’s some very positive financial decisions and lessons we can take from this scripture and apply to our lives today.
What are the Talents in Matthew?
The parable references talents, but what is that? A talent was a measurement of weight which was also a measurement or unity of money in the day. Why? Weight was used to describe how much of a precious metal, like gold or silver, you had. One talent was a tremendous amount of money. Think about 75 pounds and how much gold that would be. Then remember this parable is describing a number of talents.
The Three Servants
The first servant receives 5 talents from his master. While the master is gone, the servant grows the 5 talents to 10 talents. The master is pleased when he returns to find the servant grew the money he was entrusted with.
"And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’" Matthew 25:20-21 ESV
The first servant receives 2 talents from his master. While the master is gone, the servant grows the 2 talents to 4 talents. The master is pleased when he returns to find the servant grew the money he was entrusted with.
"And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’" Matthew 25:22-23 ESV
The third servant is almost always the focus when we hear this passage discussed. The third servant was afraid. He was afraid of what would happen if the master returned and there was less money than what the servant was given. In other words, he feared doing anything that would lose money. Driven by that fear, the servant buried the money in the ground.
"He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’" Matthew 25:24-25 ESV
What went right in the Parable of the Talents?
It’s very easy, when you read this scripture, to focus only on servant number three and his money mistakes. Looking beyond that, there’s some great money decisions that took place in this scripture.
Servants One and Two
The first two servants were entrusted with differing amounts of money. Both of them took the responsibility seriously and understood the expectation of their master. We don’t know exactly how they grew the money, but we can make an educated guess. Banking was well established by the time of the New Testament. The servants likely went to a reputable banker and entrusted the money to them. The banker then likely made some loans with the money and later returned each servant’s portion with interest. The servants likely had to do some checking around to make sure they were dealing with a reputable banker and, they were getting good terms. Each servant’s efforts pay off by doubling their respective portions.
The master shows some great decision-making skills in this parable. First, he realizes that while he is gone, he needs his money to grow. He could have just buried it in the ground but chose otherwise. He then decides to very carefully entrust his assets to others in a thoughtful way. One choice he could have made was to just give all the talents to one servant. Why does he not do that? Remember the saying about putting all your eggs in one basket? Ecclesiastes 11:2 also gives this advice about diversifying our holdings. The master wisely diversifies his talents across the three servants.
"To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away." Matthew 25:15 ESV
The master could have then chosen to give an equal amount to each servant. He didn’t, but why? He evaluated each of them “according to his ability.” The master was likely familiar was the skill or experience each servant had with a task like stewardship of his money. He used this evaluation to inform how he divided money among the servants. What if he had given five talents to the servant who chose to bury it in the ground instead of just the one talent? The master would have had much less “in the bank” when he returned if that was the case.
"Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest." Matthew 25:27 ESV
Modern Day Application
There’s lessons we can take from this parable Jesus shared to help us manage our finances better.
Burying money is bad
You might not literally bury money in your backyard, but there can sometimes be a temptation to do so in spirit. Growing money over time is an important part of managing household finances. Your version of “burying” could be cash in an account with no interest that could be earning something. It could be money in a 401k or other retirement plan meant to grow long-term but you’ve never taken action on. Don't fall into the trap of burying assets that should be working for your family instead of sitting still.
Carefully Evaluate Someone You Entrust with your Money
Trust is important when it comes to finance. If you’re thinking about entrusting money to someone else, make time to check the company or individual out. This could be looking around online or asking around. Another good question is to ask how someone is paid or if they are a fiduciary.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! This is relevant in many financial questions, but investing is the most common. It’s important to diversify your holdings whether it’s a 401k or an education account for a child. In the modern investing world this means avoiding putting all your money into a handful or even just one stock. It’s easy to spread an investment across thousands of companies and lessen the blow of one company having a problem.
Be Clear with Expectations
Anytime you are working with someone on business or a financial transaction, be clear with what is expected of each party. If the third servant had asked more questions about what was expected of him, he might have been better off. If you’re not clear or you think another party is not clear, talk it over until clarity is achieved. Doing the work up front is better for everyone.
Reflect on a decision to inform the future
Reflection is important. In our household financial lives, this is no different. If you and your spouse make a big money decision, take some time later on to reflect on how it went. Did it work out? Was there something you want to do different next time? Evaluating success or lack thereof is an important part of how we get better next time.
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