The Parable of the Talents: Meaning, Summary, and Commentary

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Storytime: in the incredible novel Les Misérables by Viktor Hugo, we learn of the character Jean Valjean, who is a wrongfully accused criminal who has just been released on parole.

Near the beginning of the story, he is taken in by a bishop, but tries to leave that night with a collection of the bishop’s silver.

When he is caught and brought back to the bishop, the bishop forgives them and allows him to take the silver and be on his way, with the understanding that he must use it to become a better person.

And he does. John Valjean uses his newfound wealth to establish himself as a mayor of a small town, create a thriving business, and create wealth that far exceeded that which he almost stole. Furthermore, he uses that experience as fuel to become a righteous man, to use his newfound influence for the betterment of others.

This story is the perfect example of our topic: the parable of the talents.

What Is the Parable of the Talents?

The parable of the talents is a parable given by Jesus in the New Testament. It demonstrates how we must use the gifts that we have been given, and teaches us to do so now instead of waiting.

It is a great reminder that we cannot wait around to discover our purpose or ignore it completely. We have to move forward, trusting that by using our gifts, God will magnify them.

What Was a Talent?

First, before we get into the summary of the parable, let’s discuss what a talent is. Unlike today’s modern meaning, a talent was a unit of money during Jesus’s time.

In fact, a talent was a lot of money.

A talent was equal to about 6000 denarii, and a denarius was the regular average wage for a day of work. When you factor out the Sabbath day and assume a six-day work week, this means that one talent was worth approximately 20 years of work. That’s also assuming the work paid at the average rate.

That’s a lot of cash! In today’s dollars, we would be looking at about half a million per talent, based on the median yearly average wage of $26,363.

Summary of the Parable of the Talents

Jesus opens his story by talking about a wealthy man who gives several talents to three of his servants.

  • The first servant gets five talents.
  • The second servant gets two talents.
  • The third servant gets one.

This may seem like an unfair distribution, but the Bible points out that they were given according to their abilities, which is an important point we will talk about later.

Regardless, each of them took their talents and decided to do something with it.

The first servant put his money to work and doubled the number of talents that he had. The second servant did the same. We are not told how they doubled their money, but we can assume they probably took best practices to heart regarding investment and entrepreneurialism.

The third servant, however, decided to hide the talent, because he was so concerned that he would lose it.

When the third servant brought the single talent back to his master, the man was furious. In fact, we are told that the servant was cast out into outer darkness, which may seem like an overreaction, but I suppose when you look at how much money the other servants made, the third servant’s decision to hide his talent in the earth seems a bit irresponsible.

Instead, the master takes the third servant’s one talent and gives it to the first servant.

The Meaning of the Parable of the Talents

There are three key takeaways from the parable of the talents that I would like to highlight here.

1.We Are Not Created Equal

In the Bible we are told that each of the servants were given their talents, “each according to his ability.”

We need to remember that not all of us are the same. In fact, we are all very different. That doesn’t mean that we are better than others, but it does mean that we have different strengths and weaknesses. And to be quite honest, some of us are going to have it better than others.

And yet the man who was given two talents was equally praised by his master when he doubled that number, same as the first servant. Even though he did not have as much, he still created an increase from what he had.

We must do the same.

We must find a way to use what we have been given to the best of our ability, and to leave this earth with more than what we started, leave the world better than when we entered into it.

Because in this case, God is not concerned about how much you have, but about the effort that we put into our work, and the degree to which we magnify our gifts.

2. Use Our Gifts Wisely

Probably the most obvious takeaway from this parable is that we must learn to use our gifts wisely. Even though a “talent” was a unit of money during Jesus’s time, the word is coincidentally poignant today.

All of us come to earth with talents, interests, and passions. None of us are the same. And so the parable of the talent teaches us that we must take what we are given and find a way to create an increase.

This goes right along with a core fundamental of finding your purpose: that your skills and passions must be in service to the world in some way. We can’t just hide our skills in the earth and expect any good to come from it.

We don’t want to bury our talent. We need to give them to the world.

In essence, the parable of the talents is a parable about service.

3. Eventually it Will Be Too Late

Another key takeaway from this parable is that eventually Judgment Day will come. There will be a reckoning.

If the master in the parable represents God, then we know that one day he will ask us how we used our talents, and while he will not judge us based on how well we did, he will judge us based on our effort.

Did we magnify our talents or not? Even if we magnified our talents just a little bit, that will be enough, but we must try.

Even if you are not religious, there will come a time when you can no longer do anything more with your talents. We are on this earth for a finite period, and so we must make good use of time while we have it.

Imagine you are on your deathbed, and just as you’re about to give up your last breath, you see an image of yourself as you could have been. You see that person and all the good they have done, all of the talents that they have developed. In such a horrifying experience, I imagine one might feel like the third servant who did nothing and had everything taken away from him.

Let’s not be those people. Let’s take what we have and run with it. Let’s use our gifts wisely.

How to Apply This to Our Own Purpose

By this point you may have an idea of what your purpose is in life. In the article about Ikigai, we examine the four different aspects of a purpose: what we love, what we are good at, the service we can do to the world, and what we can be paid to do.

As you are brainstorming these passions and skills, as well as the service you can render, keep this parable of the talents in mind. How can you best magnify your talents? What is your calling in life, and how can you take further steps down that path?

I’ll tell you what we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t just brainstorm some ideas, write down what we think our purpose is, then never look at the document again.

No, we need to take action.

Let’s start with one step. What is the number one thing you can do today that will place you closer to your ultimate goals?

For me, it was writing this article. Tomorrow, it will likely be writing the next article. Because writing is one of my talents, and I hope to continue to find as many ways to contribute to the world with my writing as possible.

Now this doesn’t mean that you only need to focus on one thing. Remember, the first servant had five talents that he was given.

The good news is, our skills and passions, our situations in life will ebb and flow. We will not be in the same situation five years from now as we are today. But I encourage you to look back, five years from now, and ask yourself: did you magnify any talents?