Having left the temple mount and predicted its coming destruction, Jesus is on the Mount of Olives answering His disciples’ request for when that destruction would overtake the unbelieving Jews, lest it overtake them also. In summary of the signs He gave, He warned that they must keep watch and be on the alert, and is now illustrating in a series of parables the importance of keeping watch and what that means practically. Here in the parable of the talents Jesus is teaching that His servants have been entrusted with a great spiritual treasure to manage for His kingdom purposes in His absence, just as the Jews had been with the Law and the Prophets, and in time He will return to settle accounts with them for what they have done with it, just as was happening at that time with the Jews. Hence, to keep watch and be alert is to be obedient to the Master’s will as faithful stewards of His riches, as He had also just illustrated in the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants (Mat 24:45-51). Here in the parable of the talents two of the servants set their talents to work earning additional talents for their Master’s kingdom. For this they were commended as good and faithful and rewarded with the charge of additional things in order that they might enter even more fully into the joy of their Master as participants in His creative acts to establish a kingdom of righteousness.
But a third servant who served the master not from love but with a slavish fear was afraid his talent would be stolen and hid it in the ground so he could not be held accountable for its loss. Misunderstanding his Master’s intent that His servants share His joy by participating in His kingdom venture, like the scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus had just forsaken, he supposed his Master to be a hard man, reaping where He did not sow, and gathering where He did not “straw”. And now in his account to the Master he has returned his talent whole and intact, saying, “See, you have what is yours”. Although this third servant supposed himself safe because he had not abused or squandered his talent and had taken steps to preserve it from being stolen, how did his Master describe him for having done nothing positive with it? See Mat 25:26. Where else in Scripture do we find Jesus speaking so harshly against someone? Cf. Mat 18:32, 23:33. What is the significance that in each of these circumstances He was speaking not to the pagan Gentiles, but to His servants? What does this remind us about the greater accountability of those who are the recipients of a greater light and truth? Cf. Heb 2:1-3. What does it also teach us about wickedness including not just vile sins of commission like robbery, murder, adultery, fornication and homosexuality, but also sins of omission, such as doing nothing with the talents entrusted to us? From those to whom Jesus’ harshest words were directed, which of these might we be led to believe are actually worse in His sight?
What does the Master’s description of the servant as lazy teach us about God’s expectations for people in regard to work? Cf. Mat 20:3-7, 2Th 3:10-12, 1Ti 5:13. Does that mean that God is a cruel master, like Pharaoh who accused the Israelites of being lazy (Exo 5:8,17)? Cf. Mat 11:28-30. What is the difference between rest and idleness? Does one who is idle have anything to rest from? Can one who is idle enter into rest? Cf. Gen 2:2-3, which the author of Hebrews quotes in Heb 4:4 as a type of the Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God; notice that the Hebrew verb “to rest” (shabat) used in Gen 2:2-3 is the verbal form of “Sabbath” that means not primarily to rest but to cease or desist, as it is most frequently translated in the rest of the Bible (see for example Gen 8:22, Ex 5:5). Hence, one cannot truly rest or cease from labor unless he has first labored, which is the opposite of being idle.
As God desires us to enter into His rest to share His joy of accomplishment in His creation, what is His commensurate desire that we work, and not be idle? Cf. Gen 2:15, Exo 20:9-10, Heb 4:9-11. What does this then teach us about the importance of work as inherent to our creation and central to our well-being, as well as the integral importance of work to the reward promised to His good and faithful servants? Is there a difference between work and busy-ness? I.e., can one be busy with various activities but not actually accomplish productive work? Cf. 2Th 3:10-12, 1Ti 5:13. Again How does this help us to understand the importance of making productive use of our time, and not idling it away on vain pleasures that add no value to God’s creation? In what various ways do people in the world idle away their time, or busy themselves with vanities? In what ways did the scribes and Pharisees also idle away their time on things that did not add value to God’s talents entrusted to them? See Mat 23:4-7, 13-16, 23-25, 29-30. Is it possible that in a similar way the religious acts of many Christians are actually only idle vanities that don’t contribute to the growth of God’s kingdom, or perhaps even like those of the scribes and Pharisees that work against it? Although “laziness casts into a deep sleep” (Pro 19:15), should we be surprised that those who idle away their lives on vanities also find it difficult to truly rest in peace? Cf. Ecc 5:12. Do the scriptural admonitions to work and not be idle apply only to men? Cf. Pro 31:27, Act 9:36,39, 1Ti 5:9-13.