The Parable of the Talents, for a Fearful Abuse Survivor

Dear friend~

In our correspondence, you referred to the parable of the talents as a story of a person being punished “because he feared the master’s severity.  It was not about the cleverness of investing but about how he viewed the owner/master,” you said. “I hate it… but that’s soo me. And I know it displeases Him. Because if I BELIEVED in my heart what my head and you tell me of Him, I wouldn’t be feeling this. So I don’t. And it feels like I can’t.”

You went on to say, “He invites those who sought increase and return to enter His joy… when it seems the one who had a wrong view of the master was the one who needed joy to be taught him. I so identify with the ‘I was scared to risk so I hid.’ I can see Him being disappointed – but angry seems harsh.

“What if that slave’s experience (maybe not of his own doing or choosing) taught him (falsely) to believe things about his master…would a good master treat him harshly like a ‘worthless slave’ or more like hearing your words to Anna Duggar?  It’s such a hard thing to see God in his severity.”

I responded to you that I believe it’s the hard-hearted ones that were treated like that, because look at Jesus with the way he treated most of the people He interacted with. The only ones He was severe with were the hypocritical religious leaders, and He blistered them.

You replied that you wondered, since you have been unable to NOT be afraid of Him, if that indicates that you are hard hearted.

So now I’m looking deeply at the parable of the talents, sometimes called the parable of the bags of gold. Others have done this and done it well, but I couldn’t find any writing that addressed the parable from the perspective of one who had been abused as a child by “a man of God,” who struggles with this parable from that perspective.

Matthew 25:14-30 reads:

14 “For [the Kingdom of heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more.

17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.

18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

20 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.’

22 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.’

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, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.

He went to the trouble of burying it.

But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 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.

So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Your words have indicated that you identify with the “wicked and lazy” servant because you feel afraid too. You know that your extreme fear is related to the issues that have hampered you, all of which were/are related to the abuse you suffered at the hands of Christian leaders, but this parable makes you think that God will be harsh with you as well.

So I want to look at the text as a whole and see how it applies to you.

The context of Matthew chapters 24-25

Matthew chapter 24 tells straight facts about the Kingdom and the Coming. Chapter 25 tells these same things in parable and story form. I’m taking this part from The Message paraphrase, in Matthew 24 (the whole chapter talks about what the Kingdom will be like when the Lord goes away):

45-47 “Who here qualifies for the job of overseeing the kitchen? A person the Master can depend on to feed the workers on time each day. Someone the Master can drop in on unannounced and always find him doing his job. A God-blessed man or woman, I tell you. It won’t be long before the Master will put this person in charge of the whole operation.

48-51 “But if that person only looks out for himself, and the minute the Master is away does what he pleases—abusing the help and throwing drunken parties for his friends—the Master is going to show up when he least expects it, and it won’t be pretty. He’ll end up in the dump with the hypocrites, out in the cold shivering, teeth chattering.”

The Pharisees and other Jewish religious leaders had abused their religious power. Now, in the fledgling church, Jesus was saying, “Don’t be like that. Don’t be that kind of leader.”

How to look at this parable?

Most or all of Jesus’ parables show various facets of the contrast between the Old Covenant people, Israel, and the New Covenant people, the Church (the first generation of whom came from the Old Covenant people).

So now, looking at this parable, what if these servants represented the leaders who were entrusted with the New Covenant, the New Kingdom? And because all of us can be leaders at some level or other, and all of us who love the Lord are entrusted with the gospel, ultimately the parable can apply to all of us who have trusted in the Lord Jesus.

What if the “money” they were entrusted with represented the truth of the gospel and the souls of people? This would match with the context and also with the way Jesus taught with all the parables. They were all about the gospel and/or the New Covenant vs the Old and/or the people who would populate that Covenant.

With this perspective on this parable, then, we would conclude that all three of the servants were those who were entrusted with the message of the Kingdom for the sake of eternal souls. That is, they knew who the Master was, what they had (the gospel), and what they were supposed to do.

Two of them took their commission seriously and went out and increased the investment.

This isn’t about money. It’s about spiritual matters.

And to answer another question of yours, I don’t think this “long time” represents time that they get to know Him—it’s simply representing  faithfulness in the Kingdom, since that’s the context of the parable.

The difference between the two kinds of servants

These were servants who were commissioned to do work for the Master’s kingdom while they wait for the return of the Master. In the context of chapters 24 and 25, they would represent those who knew what they had been commissioned with—the truth of who God is, for the souls of His Kingdom. Not strangers to the faith who didn’t have the opportunity to know anything about who God was or about His salvation.

The first two servants worked very hard the entire time the Master was gone, which was a long time. It was hard work to take what the Master had entrusted them with and multiply it. But they wanted to do the best they could with what they had.

The third servant said,

“Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed.”

Oh did he now? Did he really know that?

He knew the Master was cruel and hard-hearted?

Watching what had happened with the other two servants should have shut his mouth, right there. Because the master invited the servants who had done their best with what they had to come enter into his joy. That was absolutely unheard-of in this kind of culture.

This was not a cruel, hard-hearted master.

But, I’ll add, this right here seems different from you, my friend. You do not claim to know that God is cruel and hard-hearted. In fact, you acknowledge that your view of God has been distorted, and you want it to be different.

But this servant used that excuse of that distorted “knowledge” of the Master to do nothing with his commission and live his servant life for himself.

I think we can safely say that the difference between the two kinds of servants is that the first ones represented Christian leaders like who the apostles became (and other heroes of the faith), and one of them represented false leader who misrepresented the Lord the way the Pharisees did.

This is part of Jesus’ warning here and the purpose of the parable: don’t be like the Jewish leaders who live only for themselves and not for the Kingdom of God. Take your commission seriously to do what you can with what you have been given.

Everyone does what he can with what he has

A commenter I read brought 2 Corinthians 8 to bear on this Scripture. Here are verses 7-15.

7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

I loved the connection here. With an allusion to the gathering of manna, Paul says “Everyone has enough. You can give, a little or a lot, depending on what you can manage, and it will all be enough.”

It was clear to the other servants that the Master would be pleased with whatever return they brought, as long as they had done what they could. They knew who the Master was according to this principle from back in the manna days. No matter how little they had, if they had done what they could, it was enough.

You asked this:

Would they be eager looking for and expecting his return or dreading it because they knew he would ask for an accounting?  Why was it different for each?

The Lord makes it clear that He is equally pleased with small “return” as large, simply according to the opportunities and gifts the person has. If the third person had honored his gospel enough to do even a little bit with it, the Lord would have honored that.

Similarity to the previous parable about the virgins

Just before this parable, Jesus told a parable about wise virgins (who had oil) and foolish virgins (who didn’t). If the “foolish” virgins hadn’t known anything about having oil, had no idea what any of this was about, they wouldn’t have been called “foolish.” The fact was that they DID know, but just didn’t do anything about it.

This is similar to what happened with the “wicked and lazy” servant in this current parable. He wouldn’t have been counted wicked if he actually didn’t know who God was. He DID know the truth, but didn’t want to follow through. He hardened his heart.

It is those who know who He is and then purposely turn aside—those who know and yet misrepresent Him to others—those are the ones who are called wicked in the Scriptures.  

This third man . . . if he had simply listened as the Master was giving out the rewards to the other two, he wouldn’t have been able to say the things he said with any honesty. He sees the way the Lord generously rewards the other servants for their wise investments, and then he accuses the Master of being cruel and Scroogish? Not only could he see the difference right there before his eyes, but this is contrary to so many descriptions of the True Master in the Scriptures.

The third misrepresented God as someone completely different from who He actually was (which was wicked) and thus did nothing with his great commission (which was lazy). This is why the Master called him a “wicked and slothful servant.”

As one commentator said (alluding to several other Scriptures):

Christ is neither niggardly, nor exacting; he requires nothing that is not his, and gives his grace, and bestows his gifts liberally, and upbraids not; nor does he call any to service, of whatsoever sort, but he gives them grace, strength, and abilities, proportionate to it; and as he has promised, he makes it good, that as their day is, so shall their strength be.

The Matthew 13 connection

In Matthew 25:29 Jesus said,

“For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

This is an echo of verse 12 in Matthew 13. Everyone within the sound of Jesus’ voice had been given the opportunity to hear the truth from Him. Some of them thought it didn’t make sense and thus rejected it, continuing to think of God in a wrong and perverted way. Others went to Jesus for help and explanation and thus bore fruit in their lives. Here are verses 10-17.

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”  And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12  For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.  For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Those who want more from the Lord in the spiritual realm will receive more. I believe that’s what the parable of the talents is referring to, because it follows a chapter that is all about the Kingdom of God.

Those who ask for more in the spirit realm—more wisdom and understanding, more love, more eternal influence, more likeness to Jesus Christ—through the power of the Holy Spirit, will receive.

Here’s what I think

As I mentioned above, you’ve thought about this parable with the “wicked and lazy” servant as depicting YOU, because of your fears about who God really is and His seeming quickness to punish someone who was, in your mind, simply afraid. You acknowledge that your concerns may be related to the abuse you suffered at the hands of Christian leaders.

I’m proposing a new way for you to look at this parable.

Your primary abuser, as a Christian leader, is like the third servant, who wickedly saw the Lord God as someone other than who He really was, and thus depicted Him to you, causing so much confusion in your child mind. (Other Christian leaders who covered for him could also go in this category.)

You and others like you (abuse survivors who still want to know Jesus) are like the first two servants. You’re doing what you can with what you have, still seeking the Lord, still following the Lord, still loving others.

The abuser will hear something along the lines of, “You wicked and lazy servant, how dare you depict Me that way and waste what I’ve commissioned to you! Go into outer darkness!”

But I believe that you and others who have continued to try to find who the true God really is—though you may feel that the “return on investment” you have to show will be a relatively small one—I believe this Scripture and others show us that you will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter in the joy of your Lord.”

 

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Debbie L
Debbie L
4 months ago

So good. Your thoughts here are reassuring to a soul who is working hard to do right. At the very end, you slip in what I believe is a key. “…who have continued to try to find…”

A good deal of attention is given to this idea in the Bible. It seems that one of the main challenges of human beings is discerning between what is ancient and valuable, and what is new and valuable. In the Old Testament, God insists on a Book of Remembrance. Also in the Old Testament, He promises to make all things new. We observe this contrast, bemused, and spend our lives working it out.

The survivor who asked the questions is looking, and continues to look, reminiscent of the passage where Jesus describes those who ask and keep asking, knock and keep knocking. The Ten Virgins have done the opposite. They have forgotten to remember. And that seems to be a big deal to God.

The conversation reminds me so much of the young man from Calormen in The Last Battle. He walked through the door. He was searching, wholeheartedly, for The One, The Truth.

He didn’t forget to remember.

Always learning
Always learning
4 months ago

Thank you for explaining and expounding on this! It had always been taught to me that the 3rd servant was just lazy and we should not be lazy. The punishment seemed a bit harsh to me for the “crime”. I felt badly for him because he didn’t want to get into trouble so he buried it—making sure it was safe. I could not understand how keeping the talents safe would be such a serious offense–it wasn’t like he lost them or gambled them away. Because of my childhood, I always tried to be careful and safe in what I did so I “identified” with him. Thank you for teaching the correct interpretation.

Catherine Eyers
Catherine Eyers
4 months ago

Thank you, Rebecca. I’m so glad that you explained the wicked servant so clearly. I had a vague memory of a preacher saying the wicked servant misunderstood who God is, which makes complete sense after your descriptions. I’m always grateful to your insights, the truth does set us free.

Kristen Shields
Kristen Shields
4 months ago

Thank you! Never heard it this way, but it makes SO much more sense. I needed this. (And Debbie L … Emeth in The Last Battle is one of my favorites. If I recall correctly, his name actually means “truth” … Lewis liked to slip in little things like that!) Rebecca, as always, your blog is a joy and a clarity much needed.

Shelley Mills
Shelley Mills
4 months ago

Thank you for explaining what this parable meant, I grew up always fearful of God and his anger towards me. I am still learning. Thank you so much for all you do Rebecca!

Quietrunner
Quietrunner
4 months ago

THANK YOU for this diligent effort of compassion. You are a gift to many of us who have had the Scriptures so twisted in our minds and used to bring us into confusion. I have read this through a half dozen times, and am still finding parts i need to reflect on more

Lila
Lila
3 months ago

I always liked the Parable of the Talents. It always encouraged me to make the most of what I had been given. Of course, this also encouraged my performance orientation.

But I had similar fears when I read the Parable of the Wise and foolish virgins, the parable of the Fig Tree, The Vine and the Branches, The Wedding Banquet, and so many others. I lived in fear of a God who would spit me out, cut me off and slam the door in my face. I didn’t understand these parables from a perspective of Grace. I saw Grace as a one time thing, and that if I messed up, I would be irrevocably cut off from God. I didn’t see that these parables have more than just eternal implications, but temporal implications as well. Sometimes it’s saying that we just weren’t as faithful as we could have been in a given season of life. It could also mean that we don’t necessarily miss out on Eternal Salvation, but miss out on rewards. Sometimes, the tree getting cut down doesn’t necessarily mean that God revokes our salvation, but perhaps, a given season of our life, relationships, etc. comes to an end.

So many times, I read the stories of the Bible through the lens of my own abandonment fears.