The Parable of the Talents
A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper
For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. (MAT 25:29)
The Parable of the Talents is a story about judgments. Cold, hard, definitive judgments.
We live in a culture and environment that teaches us to shy away from making judgments and instead encourages us to find the good in everything and everybody no matter what foolish choice they have made. Sometimes we are required to twist ourselves into intellectual and moral knots to do so. Certainly it is wrong to be "judgmental" if by that we mean setting our own behavior as the standard and judging all others by comparison to self.
Some have taken the Lord’s own words, "Judge not that you be not judged" out of context and used them to support the idea that there is no standard of truth, there is no standard of behavior, that we should leave everyone in freedom to act and live as they please. But that’s only the first half of the sentence! It continues, "for with what judgment you judge, you will be judged" It is not that we are not to make judgments, but that we are to judge ourselves and each other justly. The only way to judge justly, is to judge everyone according to a common standard, and that standard is set out by God Himself in the Ten Commandments. The two stones, the one telling us how to love God and the other telling us how to love the neighbor, are the two essential ideas of religion and life upon which the rest of the Word, and civilization itself, is built.
There is a caution for us mortal and fallible human beings when making judgments, of course. While in the world we cannot judge either our own internal states or the internal states of others because they are hidden from us. It is only proper for us to judge others by their outward behavior. We are permitted to presume that a person’s internal states are reflected in their external behavior provided that we remember that this works for both good and bad behavior, that if a person always acts in a kind and courteous way, it is probably a reflection of their good character. However the angels can see the internal states, and after death, we are judged not only by our external appearance, or fruits but also by that which was hidden.
Our focus today is on the judgment that each of us faces when we lay aside the earthly body and enter the spiritual world. The very first thing we must understand about the parable of the talents is that this is not about what we call "talents" – inborn skills in certain areas. In scripture, a "talent" is a measure of weight that was sometimes applied to precious metals, and therefore, in this context, it is a sum of money, and that is the leading idea that defines the representation. we are to think of the "talents" of the parable as sums of money which represent the goods and truths which the Lord gives to every person during the course of his life.
The goods are the goods which we call "remains." The truths are from the world, from reason, and from the Word. Everyone receives these to some degree during their life. It is also true that although everyone receives these goods and truths from the Lord, they are not received in equal quantities by everyone. If they were, there would be no point to caring for our children, there would be no point in having New Church Schools, there would be no point in having schools at all – it would all be entirely in the hands of the Lord.
The result of millions of years of human choice is that people are born into an incredible variety of conditions. There are people who live in abject poverty and yet find comfort in their faith and raise their children in simple dignity to be useful, honorable adults. There are people in the same circumstances who live in anger and resentment and teach their children to hate. There are wealthy people who use their riches to uplift through the support of churches, civic organizations, and the arts, and there are wealthy people who use their riches to gain power over others.
Every home is different. There are differing degrees of love and instruction and differing degrees of neglect and anger. We are, to a degree, a product of the circumstances into which we are born, just as we are also a product of the hereditary inclinations that are passed to us from our parents – and all these things are totally beyond our control. All we can do is respond to them, learn from them, and use our own freedom and reason to improve ourselves and prepare ourselves for heaven.
This is why it is said that the master gave 5, 2, and 1 talents to the three men. It is a symbol of the different kinds of natural and spiritual circumstances in which people live. The man with five was very fortunate, and represents those people who have sufficient wealth, education, and spiritual resources to live well, and the good sense to share their bounty with others. The men with less were relatively less fortunate. But the point of the parable is not the fact that there are different gifts, but what the men do with what gifts they have.
The conclusion of the parable seems odd, and perhaps a little unjust. It certainly puts an interesting twist to the concept of redistribution of wealth! The parable concludes with those who "have" getting more. And those who have not, losing even that which they have – a teaching that is borne out in a number of other New Testament passages and incidents.
In order to understand and to see the perfect justice in this we have to lift our minds above the things of the world, the concepts of money and wealth that tend to anchor us down to worldly concepts, and remember that this is a parable about the preparation for spiritual life. A person’s eternal home in the spiritual world is determined by the ruling love. Simple obedience to the Word will lead a person to eternal life in the Natural heaven. A love of truth and the neighbor will lead to the Spiritual heaven. A love of good and the Lord leads to the Celestial heaven.
With great variety as to uses, affections, and background, we prepare for heaven through self-examination, repentance, and reformation, and the Lord then Regenerates us. It is a process that is never completed in this world. So no matter how "good" we may be, there yet remains some evil. And evils are not permitted into heaven, so they must be removed before you can move from the world of spirits to your final home in heaven itself. If our ruling love is good, the evils are either removed or made quiescent through vastations and we are then free to be useful and acquire all good and truth of heaven: "To them that have, more shall be given."
But what if we don’t prepare for heaven? What if we love evil, and twisting truth into falsities to hide our evils? Then all good is taken away, because it does not correspond to the ruling love.
The point of the parable is clear. No matter under what circumstances we are born and live the Lord provides the opportunities for us to learn truth and do good. If we respond by learning truth and doing good, at the time of death, all impediments to this life of good will be removed and new pleasures and skills will be added. But if we do not respond by learning truth and doing good, at the time of death, even that little good which we do have will be taken away: For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. (MAT 25:29) Amen.
First Lesson: MAT 25:14-30
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. "And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. "Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. "And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. "But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. "After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. "So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ "His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ "He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ "His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ "Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. ‘And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’ "But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. ‘Therefore you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. ‘Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. ‘And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Second Lesson: HH 349
All who have acquired intelligence and wisdom in the world are received in heaven and become angels, each in accordance with the quality and degree of his intelligence and wisdom. For whatever a man acquires in the world abides, and he takes it with him after death; and it is further increased and filled out, but within and not beyond the degree of his affection and desire for truth and its good, those with but little affection and desire receiving but little, and yet as much as they are capable of receiving within that degree; while those with much affection and desire receive much.