“talents.” In the New Testament, the “talent” is used once as a unit of weight (cp. Rev. 16:21), but otherwise it was a unit of money. Different cultures had different talents, but most scholars believe Christ would have been referring to the Attic talent, which was equal to 6,000 denarii, or 6,000 days wages. At the time of Christ, one denarius (the plural is denarii) was a day’s wage for a field hand or a soldier, which would make a talent about 20 years wage for the average worker. To arrive at an idea of how much money is being referred to, if a low-wage worker made $8 per hour ($64 per day; just above minimum wage), then 1 talent was $384,000, and 5 talents would be 1,920,000 dollars (1 million, nine hundred twenty thousand dollars), a huge sum to entrust to a slave.
In parables like this one in Matthew 25:14-30, in the mind of the Jews of the time, the wealthy man (some parables have a king, ruler, or landowner) was God, and the servants or workers were the people on earth, who are all God’s servants, whether they know it or not. In this parable, Christ is making the point that God has given humans great wealth, which we understand from Scripture is their life and all that they have, and each person has the obligation to use the wealth they have been given to benefit God. Many people acknowledge that what they have been given in life is from God, and they use their “talent” for His benefit. But many other people are like the fearful slave who does not use his talent in a way that benefits God, and God refers to those people as “wicked” and “lazy.”
This parable makes a number of important points. Certainly one of them is that each person has an obligation to use his or her “talent” for God’s benefit. In this particular case, there is what is sometimes referred to as a “happy coincidence” of language, where the Greek word “talent,” which is a unit of money, also makes sense, but in a different way, in English, where “talent” refers to the natural abilities of a person. Some people use their abilities in God’s service, others choose not to serve God, but “bury” their abilities when it comes to God’s service.
Another important point in the parable is that people have different “talents,” and God expects us to use what we have. Luke 12:48 makes it clear that much will be required from people who have been given much, and less will be required from people who have been given less. It is absolutely detrimental to try to compare what we do for God with what other people do for God, because we cannot know the true “talents” within them. Instead, each person should focus on using all their talents for God to the maximum degree.
Still another noteworthy point of the parable comes out of the mouth of the slave who buried his talent; he was afraid. Countless numbers of people do not do their best for God because they are afraid of something, and the list of things to be afraid of seems endless. The Bible tells us not to be afraid of people and what people can do, but to be afraid of the consequence of not serving God. Since the Devil is the god of this world, and has an army of godless people to support his causes, God’s people must learn to overcome personal fear so they can best serve God. [For more information on the talent as a measure of money, see commentary on Matt. 18:24].