NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
So, it did not surprise the disciples that the servants in this parable were left to take care of the estate. The question as to why the owner gave different amounts to each servant he chose can only be attributed to his reasons for doing so. However, based on standard practices followed by such professionals they usually gave more to the experienced and less to the novice. But the principle of being responsible is exactly the same. This was already a part of Jesus’ thought as we see when He said, “But what about the servant who does not know what his master wants? He also does things that deserve punishment. But he will get less punishment than the servant who knew what he should do. Whoever has been given much will be responsible for much. Much more will be expected from the one who has been given more.”1
The disciples surely could have learned a lesson from the prophet Obadiah who was in charge of the king’s palace. We read: “Obadiah was a true follower of the Lord. One time, when Jezebel was killing all the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah hid 100 prophets in two caves. He put 50 prophets in one cave and 50 prophets in another cave. Then he brought them food and water.”2 In this case, Obadiah did not wait to be told what to do, he gladly accepted the responsibility because of his position as a servant of the LORD. This is the difference between an experienced servant and a beginner.3
When we look at this owner’s estate as representative of the church and the servants as those to whom Jesus gave the great commission, then we can see that among the twelve He originally chose, eleven of them did take the gifts of instruction and wisdom He gave them and worked hard in order the make His kingdom grow. And, it is easy to see how some of them, such as Peter, James, and John were very successful, while the remaining eight, such as Philip, made a considerable contribution. But Judas Iscariot hid what Jesus gave him and ended up losing everything. While the apostle Paul was not necessarily the replacement for Judas Iscariot, he turned out the be the most successful of them all.
Verse 18: “But the servant who got one bag of money went away and dug a hole in the ground. Then he hid his master’s money in the hole.”
As we can see in our Lord’s parable, there’s always someone in the crowd who thinks they know better than the person in charge. In this case, a person who decided to leave things the way they were when they were put in charge. Unfortunately, there have been pastors who’ve accepted the duty of leading a church, and in the ensuing years of their tenure never made any positive changes? If any modifications were made, it was to lessen their work load and area of responsibility. As Solomon exhorted, “Someone who does careless work is as bad as someone who destroys things.”4
Not only that, but we find another description of such people who refuse to take on more than the minimal amount of responsibility, “A person who is lazy and wants to stay home says, ‘What if there is a lion out there? Really, there might be a lion in the street?’ Like a door on its hinges, a lazy man turns back and forth on his bed. Lazy people are too lazy to lift the food from their plate to their mouth. Lazy people think they are seven times smarter than the people who really have good sense.”5 Jesus had no interest in such people being put in charge as caretakers of His mission to expand God’s kingdom. So, He goes on to describe what happens when people are made accountable for the responsibility given them, no matter how big or how small.
Verse 19: “After a long time, the master came back home. He asked the servants what they did with his money.”
It is important to notice, that Jesus stated the master came home “after a long time.” This may have been a clear message not only to His disciples but also to all His followers in the ensuing centuries and generations. It was recorded, that after His ascension back into heaven many who followed Him thought that He would return in their lifetime. But the price He paid on the cross was way too high for His mission to end prematurely until all who hear the Good News of salvation are given the opportunity to believe and be saved. In fact, with more and more people joining the human family on earth each day, it is imperative that we concentrate on getting the word out and leave the timing of His return in the hands of the Father.
Another thing to make note of is that as soon as this master returned he called into account all those to whom he had given responsibility and authority to make his estate grow and expand. There was no great feast or lengthy celebration, giving each servant time to get things lined up and in order. In fact, taken in the context of what He said about the arrival of the groom in the previous parable, there is every possibility that the master showed up suddenly and unannounced. So, whatever was left undone could not be done in the short interval between his arrival and calling his servants in to account for their actions.
Early church scholars give their opinions on what they see in this day of reckoning. Origen writes: “Notice that the servants did not go to the master so they might be judged and receive their just rewards. Rather, the master came to them in due course. After a long time, he came and settled accounts with them on everything they had done, compensating them for the gains of their good works and the losses of their sins. Settling ‘accounts’ and scrutinizing everything, he dealt with each one individually. It behooves us, then, as those who by sinning have done evil and by doing good reaped a profit, to guard our hearts. In this way, when our Master comes to settle accounts with us, we may not be found to have done evil, even through idle words.”6
Chrysostom offers this thought in one of his sermons on this text: “To me, Jesus seems to say these things as a suggestion of the resurrection. But here it is no more a vineyard and husbandmen but all farmers. For it is not to rulers only or to Jews but to all that He addresses this discourse. And those who bring a return to Him confess frankly, both what is their own and what is their Master’s. And the one says, ‘Lord, you gave me five talents,’ and the other says, ‘two,’ indicating that from him they received the source of their gain, and they are very thankful and reckon all to him.”7
And Bishop Gregory preached this: “The Lord who dispensed the talents returns to demand an account because He who now generously bestows spiritual gifts may at the judgment inquire searchingly into what was achieved; He may take into account what everyone has received and add up the gain we bring back from his gifts.”8 This is an excellent way of looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit that He bestows on those whom He sees fit for service.9
So, there is no doubt, that from the earliest of times the church understood that one day all believers would stand individually before the Lord to give an account of what they did with the talent, gifts, and power He gave them through the Holy Spirit to advance His kingdom by spreading the good news of salvation to those who are lost, and maintaining the faith of those who believe. It will be made known at that time how much of what He gave them they used to promote themselves, and how much they used to promote and expand the kingdom of God.
Verses 20-23: “The servant who got five bags brought that amount and five more bags of money to the master. The servant said, ‘Master, you trusted me to care for five bags of money. So I used them to earn five more.’ The master answered, ‘You did right. You are a good servant who can be trusted. You did well with that small amount of money. So I will let you care for much greater things. Come and share my happiness with me.’ “Then the servant who got two bags of money came to the master. The servant said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of money to care for. So I used your two bags to earn two more.’ The master answered, ‘You did right. You are a good servant who can be trusted. You did well with a small amount of money. So I will let you care for much greater things. Come and share my joy with me.’”
The disciples are now hearing about how those given responsibilities and authority in the kingdom will be held accountable to see who was faithful in carrying it out as a labor of love. We find this same principle in the story how King Hezekiah handled his obligations, “So King Hezekiah did those good things in all Judah. He did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. He had success in every work he began—the service of God’s Temple and in obeying the law and commands, and in following his God. Hezekiah did all these things with all his heart.”10
Jewish tradition tells us that it was not unusual for masters to applaud their servants on a job well done. We find the following in their writings: “Rabbi Jose said: If he was a good servant, they can say over him, O for a good and faithful individual, who worked for their living!”11 As we can see from the parable, carrying out one’s responsibility is important. It is not what brings pleasure to oneself that counts, but what pleases the One who holds eternal life in His hands. So we can see that if a believer is given the charge to win their neighbor to Christ, they will not be judged wrongly for not winning the whole city.
1 Luke 12:48; cf. Mt. 13:12
2 I Kings 18:3-4
3 Cf. II Kings 4:8-10; Job 29:7-17; Proverbs 3:9; Ecclesiastes 11:1-8
4 Proverbs 18:9
5 Ibid. 25:13-16
6 Origen: Commentary on Matthew, 66
7 Chrysostom: Matthew, Homily 78.2
8 Gregory the Great: Forty Gospel Homilies, 9.1
9 1 Corinthians 12:11
10 II Chronicles 31:20-21
11 Babylonian Talmud, op. cit Seder Zera’im, Masekhet Beracoth, folio 16b