Your talents are not your only talents.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable contrasting two faithful servants with a slothful servant. Before departing on a journey, a wealthy master divides his monetary assets among these three servants. The first two invest the assets and receive profit for the master, but the third buries the money given him. Upon returning, the master rewards the faithful servants and casts the slothful servant into outer darkness.
In Matthew’s version of this parable, Jesus uses the Greek word talanton to describe the amount of money given to each servant. Our English word talent descends from this Greek word, but we cannot simply read the modern English meaning of talent into talanton. Talanton does not indicate special skills or natural giftedness. To Matthew’s readers, the word simply meant a standard of weight or an amount of money roughly equivalent to 6,000 denarii (One talent was equivalent to about twenty-years’ wages for the average laborer!).
So, every time I hear someone read the modern meaning of talents into the monetary talents of Matthew 25 I cringe. “If you can play the guitar,” the preacher says, “then do it for Jesus.” Who can argue with that? However, when we limit the symbolism of the talents in the parable to our natural skills we also limit the meaning of the parable.
To understand, let’s start by asking what is the main point of the parable? As we wait for King Jesus to return, we should invest all that God has given us for the kingdom of Christ. Hasn’t God given us much more than our talents? In fact, he has given us everything. “Every good and every perfect gift is from above” (Jas 1:17 ESV).
Jesus tells this parable toward the conclusion of a discourse warning about the end of this earthly kingdom and his imminent return (24:1-25:46). As in birth pains, suffering characterizes these last days prior to the return of Christ (24:4-14). Yet, in the midst of this present suffering, the saints find plentiful opportunities to demonstrate the love of Christ to “the least of these” (25:31-40).
On the basis of this context, I believe that the talents of the parable can also represent our suffering. In 2 Corinthians, Paul blesses the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (1:3-4). Our loving, sovereign God comforts us in the midst of affliction. The paths of righteousness run through the valley of the shadow of death that we might find comfort in the Shepherd’s rod and staff (Ps 23). But as Paul’s doxology in 2 Corinthians indicates, God comforts us that we might also comfort others.
As we patiently endure suffering, we must utilize our own experiences to love and comfort others. If we don’t invest our sufferings in this way, we will selfishly hide them from others, burying them away from the sight of anyone else. Yet, when the King returns, he will reward those who humbly gave their afflicted lives for others, just as he gave himself for us.