The evangelist connects this parable to the previous one, for they are each in their own way about being prepared for the return of the Master. “…you know neither the day nor the hour. For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants…”
Christ went on a journey back to Heaven at the time of his Ascension, and a long time would elapse (v. 19) before his return. In the meantime, He entrusted his servants with various tasks as well as with the means to carry them out. In the parable the image used is “talents.” This term meant a weight used to calculate value, especially of precious metals. We read in the Old Testament of gifts consisting of so many talents of silver or gold. So it is as if the master were giving his servants sums of money with which they were to trade and bring forth a profit for him at his return.
For us, it might be better to use the word “talent” in today’s usage, as an ability to do something, which is sometimes called a gift. A talented person, if he or she is really talented, is often referred to as “gifted.” So the Lord grants us various gifts or talents, and he wants us to use them in such a way as to have something additional to show when He returns. Note that the master in the parable did not give equal amounts to his servants: to one five, another two, and another one—“ to each according to his ability.” So he did not expect equal returns on his “investments.” Therefore he was just as pleased with two extra talents from the one given two as he was with the five extra talents from the one given five. They both doubled what was given them, and so they were found worthy to enter the joy of their master.
If the one with the lesser abilities, who was only given one talent, would have produced just one more, he too would have entered the joy of his master. But no, he was like so many that have a grudge against God, don’t like the way He arranged the universe, are lazy in serving but clever in coming up with self-justifying excuses. Probably the master would have had pity on him if he had just made an honest confession: “I didn’t do what you asked; I’m sorry; I’m unworthy of you; please forgive me.” But the little nogoodnik actually responded by accusing his own master! “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow… Here, you have what is yours.”
The master was merciful, but he knew a hard heart when he saw one, so he showed him how easy it would have been at least to gain some interest for him, but the servant evidently didn’t want to produce any benefit for the master—so he had to be cast into the “outer darkness,” that is, outside the Kingdom of Heaven, separated from the joy of his Lord. That is why it is described as a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
All of us have been given talents, gifts from God, which He expects us to use for the maximum benefit of others and for enhancing the glory of the Kingdom. They may be physical, intellectual, social, spiritual, or any sort of combination of gifts, to some more and to some less. Not all are expected to produce the same results (in another place He said, “From those to whom more is given, more is required”), but all are expected to do their utmost to return to Him more than they were given. The Master is coming “to settle accounts” with his servants to whom he entrusted his gifts and talents.
How blessed we shall be if we hear these words: “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 Lord!” This is what our lives are about: working for the Lord, for the Kingdom, storing up treasure in Heaven, living to please Him who has given us life and offers us eternal happiness. The wicked and lazy servant lived only for himself and therefore was not concerned with his master or the things of his master—he hid the talent in the ground and left it there till the master returned and demanded an account.
We have to be aware that there is going to be a settling of accounts. Our choices in this life will follow us right up to the judgment seat of God. Let us realize that our talents and gifts are not merely for our own enjoyment but for the service of God and of his people. The Lord has warned us repeatedly in the Scriptures what we are to expect, how things are going to be On That Day. The final outcome is entering either the Joy of the Lord or the Outer Darkness. Invest wisely now, as a good and faithful servant.