Author: Ron Graham
Stewards of God’s Grace
—More parables about obedience
The parables of the Talents, the Wicked Tenant Farmers, and the Unrighteous Steward, are collected together in this lesson because they picture people who were given stewardship. A steward was a trusted bondslave or hired manager put in charge of a business, property, or estate. The steward was expected to make profits and capital gains for his master.
The three parables in this lesson again teach us about the importance of obedience to God. This is theme 3 of the seven themes of the parables that Jesus told.
We also observe in these parables, themes 1 and 2, namely the mercy and severity of God. In the parable of the wicked tenant farmers there is an allusion to the crucifixion of Christ (Matthew 25:14-30, Matthew 21:33-46, Luke 16:1-13).
1 Parable of the Talents
¶“14For [the kingdom of God] will be like a man who went on a journey. He called his slaves and entrusted his property to them. 15To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one. He gave to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
¶16The slave who had received the five talents went immediately and traded with them. He made five talents more. 17Likewise the slave who had the two talents made two talents more. 18But the slave who had received the one talent went and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
¶19Now a long time passed, and the master of those slaves returned, and settled accounts with them.
¶20The slave 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.' 21His 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.'
¶22Next the slave who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents. Here, I have made two talents more.' 23His 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.'
¶24Then the slave who had received 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, 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.' 26But 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? 27Then you should have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the one talent from him and give it to the slave who received ten talents.
¶' 29For to everyone 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. 30And throw the worthless slave outside into the darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'” (Matthew 25:14-30).
There's a similar parable in Luke 19:12-28)
Matthew 25:14 reflects the responsibility Jesus Christ (the rich man in this parable) has entrusted to us as "his own slaves" in his kingdom. Jesus long ago "went on a journey" to heaven. He has entrusted us with the treasures of his kingdom here below, and we are expected to make the most of those treasures for him.
Matthew 25:15 shows that the Lord entrusts more to some than he does to others, and expects more of them, "each according to his ability". Christ is entirely fair about that. However he does not allow any of his slaves to be slack. Even one talent was considerable capital. A talent was a weight of about 30kg. That much gold or silver is a huge amount of money. So even "the one talent man" was given much more than just a token responsibility.
Note —TALENT: In English “talent” means ability. The meaning of the word in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30 cf Luke 19:12-28) is a measure (around 30kg of gold or silver). So the slaves in the parable were given talents according to their talents!
Matthew 25:16-17 show how the two slaves entrusted with multiple talents "went and traded" —and there is the strong sense here that they did this with urgency and focus, and were both astute and confident in going about their master’s business.
Matthew 25:18 presents a complete contrast. The contrast is not in the amount of capital entrusted, one talent as against two, or even five. No, the contrast is rather in what was done. This slave could think of nothing better to do with the capital entrusted to him, than to bury it in a secret place!
Very likely, when Jesus told that part of the story, the disciples laughed. What a foolish man. We have already been assured that he had the ability to trade with his master's treasures and make profit. Instead he chose to be a poor steward indeed, doing as little as he could with that treasure, short of throwing it into the rubbish bin. He did not even bother to arrange an interest-bearing deposit at the bank for his master’s benefit.
Matthew 25:19-23 describe the master's return and the day of reckoning. The slaves were summoned and asked to give an account. Two of them had done well. They had made one hundred percent profit for their master. Therefore they saw their master smile, and they heard him say, "Enter into the joy of your master". Having been faithful stewards "in a few things" they were given charge "over many things".
We have already noted that the talents represented large amounts of capital and considerable responsibility. Yet the work, responsibility, and authority, that awaits the servants of Christ in heaven is going to be far greater. We will not be given anything however, unless we can give a decent account of ourselves at the end of this life.
Matthew 25:24-27 show how the useless steward fared. On the day of reckoning all he could offer his master was the one talent returned and an insult. I have heard his statement to the master described as an "excuse". However if you care to listen to the man, he was actually not making an excuse, he was casting blame.
He was saying in effect, "Master it's your fault that I did nothing for you. You are a hard and powerful man. You scared me. So what else could I do but dig a hole?" Well that did not wash with the master. He called the servant "wicked and lazy" —he had done wrong by doing nothing at all.
The condemned steward said to his master, "You reap where you do not sow, and gather where you scatter no seed". The master acknowledged that this was true. "I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scatter no seed".
This saying applies to someone who receives a kingdom or an estate and takes it over, being granted absolute ownership and authority over it. Christ receives the kingdom which his Father built, and will gather the harvest from the fields and vineyard his Father planted. The Father has given Christ authority over the kingdom of Heaven. Now he wants to share all that with us. Therefore he entrusts us now with a few things, according to our ability, so that he may later grant us much.
By being good stewards at present, we will in the future, enter into the joy of our Master. That is something far beyond anything we deserve, yet to receive it we are expected to make the most of our present stewardship.
Matthew 25:28-30 are chilling and awful words. I simply suggest that we read them over and over again, until the truth sinks in that Christ gives us an opportunity either to enter into his joy or be cast into outer darkness. We have to make up our minds which it will be, and what we are going to do with the rest of our lives. Will it be to do our Master's business, or will it be to dig a stupid hole?
2 The Wicked Tenant Farmers
¶“33Hear another parable [said Jesus]. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard. He fenced around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants, and went into another country.
¶34When the season for fruit drew near, The master sent his slaves to the tenants in order to get his fruit. 35But the tenants seized his slaves. One they beat, one they killed, and the other they stoned. 36The master sent other slaves, more than he'd sent the first time. But the tenants did the same to these.
¶37Finally the master sent his son to them instead. 'They will respect my son', he said. 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.' 39So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and murdered him.
¶40"So when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" Jesus asked. 41They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons."
¶42Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? 43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken. The one on whom the stone falls will be crushed to powder."
¶45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard the parables of Jesus, they could see that he was speaking about them. 46And although they were seeking to seize him, they feared the crowds, because the crowds held Jesus to be a prophet.” (Matthew 21:33-46).
(See also Mark 12:1-12 Luke 20:9-19)
Matthew 21:33-34 describe a man who invests money in developing an acreage for use as a vineyard. He does all the planting and building, then rents the vineyard to vinedressers. The rent is to be paid in product which he will then value-add and market. He sends representatives to receive this rent.
The owner-investor is God, and the vineyard is his kingdom. In this parable, there is an historic view of the kingdom looking back at the earthly Israel and Judah. The representatives coming to collect product as rent stand for the prophets of old.
The rent that was to be paid represents faith, obedience, and fruitfulness in God's kingdom. It is interesting that the rent was not in money, but in kind. Perhaps this alludes to the fact that we have nothing to pay to God to give us the right to enter into his kingdom, so he lets us in by grace, on the basis that we will yield the fruits of righteousness in due time.
Matthew 21:35-36 describe how the representatives were murdered and abused, which is just how the prophets were mistreated.
The repetition of sending more representatives, stands for God's longsuffering in times past, and his repeated attempts to get people to respect and obey him. The repitition of the representatives being abused and murdered, illustrates the repeated disobedience, and rejection of God, by the people of old.
Matthew 21:38-39 describe the vineyard owner sending his son, whom he hoped they would respect more than his servants. But they wanted to kill even his son, and did so.
The son in the parable stands for Christ, and the killing of the son illustrates the crucifixion of Christ.
Matthew 21:40-41 describe the wrath of the vineyard owner. He brings his tenants to misery and ruin, and leases the vineyard to other vine dressers who will render to him the due fruits in their season.
That illustrates the wrath of God, and shows that his grace is conditional. Those who are allowed to be in his kingdom are those who faithfully render to God the fruits of righteousness. It does not matter who you are, Jew or Gentile, king or slave, black or white, male or female.
If you reject God, he rejects you. If you yield to God, and render fruit to him in due season, he accepts you into his kingdom and will never cast you out. You will be allowed to remain in his kingdom for ever and ever.
Matthew 21:42-46 give Jesus's own interpretation of the parable, and in this case he made things so clear that the chief priests and the Pharisees perceived that he was speaking of them and their ilk.
A MINI-PARABLE Jesus also uses a mini-parable of a large stone (verses 42 and 44). If you fall down on a large rock, it may break your skin or bone. If it falls down on you, it may crush and kill you.
This represents our relationship to God. If we fall upon his grace, it makes our spirit broken and contrite, we become humble and repentant (Psalm 51). However if we reject God's grace, his wrath will fall upon us, and crush us to death for ever and ever.
3 The Unrighteous Steward
¶“1Jesus also said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to the rich man that this manager was wasting the rich man’s possessions. 2The rich man summoned the manager and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Hand in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.'
¶3And the manager said to himself, 'What shall I do, now that my master is taking away my job? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4I know what I'll do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.'
¶5So, he called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, 'How much do you owe my master?' 6The debtor said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' The manager said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly and write fifty.' 7Then he said to another, 'How much do you owe?' He said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.'
¶8The master commended the unrighteous manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world, in their generation, are more shrewd than the sons of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
¶10One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11So if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful in what belongs to someone else, who will give you what is your own?
¶13No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."” (Luke 16:1-13).
The parable of the unrighteous manager (or steward) would be very hard to interpret on its own. However Jesus provides no less than four morals to the parable. It is a story about as crafty a set of rascals as one could imagine.
The steward, aware that his job was nearly defunct, cooked the books to get on side with his master's debtors. The debtors willingly involved themselves in his schemes. And his master, when he discovered how he had been cheated, instead of being shocked or chagrined, recognised the shrewd brain behind the shady deal, and praised the steward for it!
The morals of the story are pointed out by Jesus as follows...
Luke 16:8 points out that the sons of light (people of God) should be as shrewd and eager in their efforts to be holy, as the sons of this world are to get money. It's a case of bad men setting a good example.
Luke 16:9 encourages us to use money to do good for others, and thereby benefit from it more than if we appropriate it for selfish ends. Not only will we have grateful friends, but an eternal reward.
Luke 16:10-12 advise us to show wisdom and trustworthiness in how we handle money (a little thing) for if we cannot do that, how shall we be wise and trustworthy in the kingdom of God (a big thing)?
Those who are unrighteous when entrusted with money, would be unrighteous in the kingdom of God. So they will not be given a place in God's kingdom. They disqualify themselves from what otherwise they would be entitled to.
Luke 16:13 points out that no slave can serve two masters. A slave is the property of one master and solely responsible to him. The slave who serves someone else lets his master down. We cannot be a slave to God if we are enslaved to money and riches.