Parable of the Bags of Gold
The second in a series of parables Jesus used to teach about the Second Coming. His servants/disciples need to be faithful and use what they have been given for the Kingdom of God.
The second in a series of parables Jesus used to teach about the Second Coming. His servants/disciples need to be faithful and use what they have been given for the Kingdom of God.
Hello, and welcome to Series 12 Episode 6, the 'Parable of the Bags of Gold', sometimes known as the Parable of the Talents. We're studying in Matthew's Gospel, chapter 25: 14 - 30.
Introduction and Recap
Series 12 starts with an extended study of Jesus' teaching about the end times, future events after his life, death, resurrection, ascension and after the Church has been established. We've been studying this already for five episodes and we will continue into the next episode as well. We are studying in Matthew 24 and 25. Matthew 24 has parallel passages in Luke 21 and Mark 13, but it's the most extended description of Jesus's teaching and has the addition of the material of Matthew 25 in the form of parables. We have spent our time in Matthew's account because it is the fullest and most descriptive account.
Series 12 is set in the context of Series 11, and if you've been with us in Series 11, you'll know that describes the first half of the final week of Jesus' life, the climax of his ministry. We need to keep in mind the context here. Jesus spent several days in Jerusalem. He came in an explosion of popular acclaim with the Triumphal Entry; huge crowds with him on Sunday, at the beginning of the week because the Sabbath, Saturday, is the end of the week. After that, he went to the Temple on the Monday and overturned the money changers and the traders, and challenged the marketing system that had been set up in the Temple compound by the Sanhedrin and the priests, which was making them a lot of money and creating a monopoly situation which in turn caused financial hardship to worshippers who had to exchange money to buy and sell animals and birds for ritual sacrifice. The atmosphere is tense in Jerusalem. The religious leadership, the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish Council and all the factions within it, like the Sadducees and Pharisees and the priests, were all opposed to Jesus and very keen to remove him. His popular support was so great, they really feared for their own security, their own financial position and their own status. This is the background, and is described extensively in Series 11.
The Tuesday of the week was spent in the Temple compound, where Jesus went out in the morning and taught. He taught a number of parables, was asked a number of difficult questions by his religious opponents, who are trying to trip him up. All sorts of different groups are noted to be involved in this: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, Herodians, the Chief Priest, and the Teachers of the Law. They are all described in Matthew's Gospel as part of those who are around Jesus at this time, spying on him, asking him questions, thinking of ways that they can get him arrested and perhaps handed over to the Romans. It is in this very dramatic and tense situation that Jesus denounces the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law in no uncertain terms, as represented in Matthew 23, accusing them of being hypocrites and bringing the nation of Israel to a point of divine judgement by so firmly resisting his claims to be the Messiah. That's the background that leads to the current discussion that Jesus is having privately with his disciples. He leaves the Temple after a day of controversy and tension and as he leaves the Temple, something significant happens. He travels to the Mount of Olives, a small hill just outside Jerusalem which overlooks the city, and sits down privately with his disciples. They ask him three important questions which lead to the very extensive teaching about the end times that Jesus is now giving, and much of which we've looked at already, and are continuing to look at, in the form of parables that Jesus tells to illustrate the points that he's made earlier on.
Let's go back briefly to the beginning of Matthew 24: 1 - 3,
‘Jesus left the Temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see these things?” he asked, “Truly, I tell you not one stone here will be left on another. Everyone will be thrown down.”’Matthew 24:1-2, NIV
This was a remarkable, and surprising prediction that the Temple was going to be destroyed (verse 3).
‘As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us”, they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”Matthew 24:3, NIV
There are three questions here, ‘When will the Temple be destroyed and Israel judged?’ - number one. “What will be the sign of your coming, the Second Coming?’ - number two. ‘What will be the sign of the end of the age?’ - number three. I believe that Jesus answers these three questions in Matthew 24. We have been through Matthew 24. In the first episode, we noted from verses 4 - 14, Jesus sets the general background of the age of the Church and all the complexities of that time. Then, in the next episode we noticed in verses 15 - 21 Jesus' teaching about something terrible happening in the Temple. There's a parallel passage in Luke 21: 20 - 24 that tells us the bigger picture about a conflict between the Jews and the Romans that happens within a generation of Jesus dying. That leads to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. That is episode two. In episodes three and four, we looked from verse 22 through to verse 51 in two sections. We looked at Jesus' teaching about the Second Coming and the end of the age. His formal teaching has been completed by the end of chapter 24.
He has emphasised that the Second Coming is a very important future reality. The timing of it is unknown - even to Jesus, unknown to the angels, unknown to all of humanity and only known to God the Father. He points out that the Second Coming is a public event, which will lead to the redemption and vindication of believers - disciples of Jesus - and lead to a period of mourning and regret and ultimately judgement of those who have neglected Jesus or resisted his claims. As we come to Matthew 25, we notice there are three significant parables here. There is the parable of the Ten Virgins, which was the subject of our last episode, then the parable of the Bags of Gold or Talents, which we're going to study in this episode. Then finally, the parable of the Sheep and Goats, which brings this section of teaching to a conclusion.
Parables are primarily designed to have a main point, and a main application, which is what we're going to be looking for. The details of the story may be able to be identified with other realities in our experience or not. That depends on the context. The main point about the parable is the overarching story, the conclusion and the application that that brings. This is quite a well-known parable, and if you study the Bible much you will know that there's a similar one in Luke 19: 11 - 27, which we studied in Series 10 Episode 12, the Parable of the Ten Minas. A mina is a small unit of currency, and it is a slightly different parable to this one. People have wondered whether this is the same parable just set into two different contexts by the Gospel writers but it is much more logical to suggest that Jesus told similar stories in different places for slightly different purposes. This happens frequently in the Gospels. We have noticed on a number of other occasions that his teaching and parables can appear in different places. For example, the parable of the Lost Sheep appears in two different contexts with slightly different applications. Jesus' teaching on prayer appears in the Sermon on the Mount, and then some of it is repeated while Jesus is with his disciples on the road, as represented in Luke 11. This simply represents the fact that Jesus was a creative teacher who would use material, similar material, for slightly different purposes in different contexts.
The Parable of the Bags of Gold
We need to focus on the details of this parable as stated here without being too concerned to link it in detail to the parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19. It's a parable about bags of gold. That's the terminology used in the New International Version which we're using for all teaching. But the Greek word ‘talenton’ behind this statement, the bag of gold, is linked in the English language to the word ‘talent’ and this has confused readers very often because we think of talents to mean gifts and abilities, either spiritual gifts or natural gifts - the talents that we have that we can use for different purposes. That is not exactly what is being said here. These are literally bags of gold. The translation in the NIV is literal and helpful to us. This particular unit of bag of gold was a very large sum. It is always difficult to quantify how large that sum is because the value of our currencies in the modern world is constantly changing and we are all using different currencies at different times. Whatever figure we put in terms of the value in our own currencies - in my currency pounds sterling, or in your currency - will vary in time. A better way to measure the value of a bag of gold was to say that our best calculations are that it was worth about 20 years' wages for a standard labourer who worked in the fields or something similar. 20 years' worth of wages in a bag of gold! We're talking about a very substantial amount of money. Just for a moment, if you are a wage earner, or you have a business, and you have an income, then I want you to think and calculate, ‘What is my annual income times 20?’ If you have that number in your mind in your own currency, you are getting an idea how big this number is. 20 years' worth of wages for a standard day labourer. By contrast, the mina - the unit of currency in Luke's parable - was worth about three months' wages, something very different. 20 years' worth of wages, just keep that in mind, and you will find it helpful as we read through the story. We are going to read the parable in sections, to start with Matthew 25: 14 - 18,
‘Again, it will be like a man going on a journey who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one, he gave five bags of gold. To another, two bags and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work, and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master's money.’Matthew 25:14-18, NIV
The businessman, or the master in this story is immensely wealthy. He's probably a rich landowner and businessman, with multiple sources of income and a huge amount of cash that he has got available in coinage. It looks as though he is a travelling businessman. He is travelling around doing deals, making money. He is away from his estate for long periods of time. He gives his servants a significant responsibility while he is away. The responsibility is, however, according to their ability. That is an important point; verse 15 makes that clear. One servant has five bags of gold, one two, and one only one bag of gold, which is still a very substantial sum of money as I explained earlier.
The aim is to invest this money in order to make a profit. How could they do that? Imagine yourself in first century Israel. This is an agricultural economy; this is an informal economy; this is a market economy. What kind of things could they invest the money in? Here are some examples: leatherworking, a very important trade; fishing if they were near the Sea of Galilee, or near the Mediterranean Sea; they could rent out land, buy land and rent out land to tenant farmers; buy property and rent out property for housing; they could sell agricultural products in the market; they could get involved in transportation business; they could run market trading activities. The list goes on. There are many things that could be done. If you had the money, you have the opportunity and if they are connected to this man of considerable wealth they would have a lot of contacts. Slightly behind the text is the fact that not only do they have the actual money, they would have the contacts. The faithful servants, you will notice, immediately get to work. They are not hesitant; they have confidence; they know what they're supposed to do. They invest the money. They are willing to work hard; they probably have multiple investments. They will be going to business partnerships of people involved in some of the trades that I mentioned. They'll be involved in property, buying, selling, renting and sure enough over a period of time they make a good profit.
They double the amount of money that they have. That is a very significant gain. They don't just gain 10 or 15%, they actually gain a hundred percent more. We don't know how long they had - presumably some substantial period of time and are rewarded as we will see in a moment with more responsibility. What is the key to their success? Faithfulness, hard work and preparing for their master's return. It's notable that they went at once and got to work.
The Master Returns
Verses 19 - 23 tells you the good results of these two successful investors,
‘After a long time, the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who'd received five bags of gold bought the other five. “Master, you said you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See I've gained five more”. His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You've been faithful with a few things. I'll put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!” The man with two bags of gold also came. “Master”, he said, “You entrusted me with two bags of gold. See I have gained two more”. His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You've been faithful with a few things. I'll put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!”’Matthew 25:19-23, NIV
This is a very good story isn't it? They have been faithful; they have worked hard and been responsible; they haven't been selfish; they haven't siphoned off any of the money for selfish goals; they are willing to give back their gains; and they are rewarded with greater responsibilities in the business empire of their master because he was very wealthy and would have substantial roles for them to fulfil.
Now comes the contrast, the unfaithful servant. What happened to him? Something very different - verse 24
‘Then the man who'd received one bag of gold came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you've not sown, and gathering where you've not scattered seed. So I was afraid, and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See! Here is what belongs to you!” His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I've not sown, and gather where I've not scattered seed! Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned, I would have received it back with interest. So take the bag of gold from him, and give it to the one who has 10 bags. For whoever has, will be given more, and they will have an abundance. But whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them, and throw that worthless servant outside into the darkness, where there'll be weeping and gnashing of teeth!”’Matthew 25:24-30, NIV
You couldn't get a greater contrast. He had less responsibility. He probably had less ability, that's the implication of what is stated earlier on but he still had a whole bag of gold, worth 20 years' wages of a standard labourer. What did he do? He dug a hole and hid the treasure in the ground. This is an interesting strategy. This is referred to in Matthew 13: 44, where Jesus tells a short parable which says,
‘The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all his property and bought that field’.Matthew 13:44, NIV
We see an interesting fact here. Money was sometimes hidden underground. Why was that? There were no other secure places to keep it because there were no formal banks, there were no secure security buildings. You couldn't lock things up very securely in your home; there wasn't sophisticated and modern surveillance equipment and electronic equipment to store such huge amounts of money. It was actually quite common for people to discreetly bury money in the ground, in a place where they hoped no one would find it, and cover it over with soil so that there was no mark of them having done so. That is what this man did. He dug a hole and he hid the money. The result - no gain, no investment.
The master was angry. He said that he was afraid. We can question whether that is really true. He said that the master was a hard man but I think that is an excuse. The master says, ‘You're wicked and lazy’: ‘wicked’ meaning disobedient - he didn't do what he was commanded to do. He was commanded to invest the money but instead he hid it away. He was ‘lazy’ - he was unwilling to work. The investment involved work. You had to follow through on the investment; you had to decide where to put the money; and you had to get involved in trading activities, in property issues, in marketing issues, in agricultural issues. He said ‘You're a hard man’ but what was the real reason why he buried the gold? Have you ever wondered that? You may think this story is an odd one, until you really discover what the real reason is. It seems to me that this man hopes that his master would not return, would get detained or come to a bad end somewhere else. He hoped that he could get hold of this money for himself. The other servants were not seeking to increase the money for their own benefit. They were going to give all the money back to their master. They were simply being servants. This man was not operating like a servant; he wasn't thinking of the welfare of his master; he actually hoped that maybe the master may not return, in which case there would be no-one to hold him to account for the bag of gold that he had been given. It would become his. He would steal it.
There was another alternative he could have pursued, which was to put the money in with bankers. There were no formal banks in those days. Bankers were informal organisations - individuals who kept your money for you. It was a little bit unreliable. You couldn't be hundred percent sure you would get your money back, but they would pay you a small interest. This man did the wrong thing for the wrong reason and so the bag of gold was taken from him, given to the man who had invested five, and this servant was thrown out of the household, was taken away from the employment and considered unfaithful, unreliable and selfish. It's a well-known story.
What can we learn from it? The topic is the Second Coming. The first verse starts with the word ‘again’, and that refers back to the beginning of the chapter, chapter 25: 1, which says, ‘at that time the Kingdom of heaven will be’, and then ‘again it says’ here, which means it's referring to the same context . That time, Matthew 25: 1, is the time of the Second Coming, which has been the theme of the second half of Matthew 24. The context is teaching about the Second Coming. This return of the master is an analogy or a metaphor for the return of Christ. What is Christ wanting from people when he returns? From true disciples, he wants them to invest what God has given them to advance the Kingdom of God, to do that with all their heart until such a time that Jesus returns. True disciples are investors. You have money, you invest it in the Kingdom; you have abilities, you invest it in the Kingdom; you have time, you invest it in the Kingdom; you have the ability to pray, you invest it in advancing the Kingdom; you have a home, you use it as a place where the Kingdom of God can be manifested, through family life, or hospitality. There's an accountability for all of us. Jesus draws a distinction here between nominal believers and true believers. The nominal believers are really only religious in a selfish way. They want to get what they can. They want to be secure but they're not actually serving the purposes of that Kingdom. Jesus is looking for faithfulness; faithfulness with what God has given you. That's the foundational truth of this parable. Faithfulness is vital in true discipleship. The gap between the first coming and the Second Coming tests our faithfulness. Are we anticipating the return of Christ? Are we preparing for it, or not? We need to be faithful.
The second thing this parable tells us is that we should be working hard for God's Kingdom. It is worth reviewing our lives, and asking to what extent are we investing the opportunities we have in God's Kingdom? Let's do that with all our hearts, and see how he amazingly multiplies the things that we give him that we have available to serve him. Thanks for following this study.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- If you had all this money in your culture, what would you invest in?
- How are you investing what God has given you? Are you working hard to use it for him?
- Compare and contrast this parable with the Parable of the Minas in Luke 19:11 - 27.