Jesus taught about a man who divvies up his wealth to his servants and leaves for a time. Upon his return, the master asks for an accounting of his three servants’ effort and productivity to find that some had handled what they were given faithfully and had multiplied what was given them. Meanwhile one of the servants was so concerned for himself that he focused solely on keeping what the master had given him; he did nothing to improve upon what was given him. Those who did as the master had expected with his giving were promised that they would be rewarded and given more, while the one who feared was told that he would be punished and the master would take back what was his.
The name of the currency that the master gave happens to be translated as ‘talents.’ A ‘talent’ then, in this sense, is a weight measurement much like a gram, kilogram, or pound. Precious metals were measured out according to this system of measurement, shaped into discs or coins, and used then as currency. It wasn’t until over ten centuries after the death and victory of Christ, did ‘talent’ become something used figuratively to describe valuable aptitudes, gifts, or abilities.
To really glean what the parable means then, I think it is important to interpret it from the context of what it meant when Christ spoke it more than in the context of our current use of language. As soon as a person does make that effort, however, it changes the whole meaning; it leaves us asking “what is it that the Lord really values?” “What portion of God’s precious giving did He give to me?” “What is it that he wants me to create with what He has given me?”
This shift in our understanding of scripture – of Jesus’ words – will shift what we want to focus on in our lives. Instead of exchanging everything that God gives us to multiply our ability to sing, dance, draw, to be seen, to entertain, or to impress, we might redirect our efforts to things of godly value and eternal significance. Hopefully, if we can let go of our “cares of the world,” we’ll find joy, relief, and peace in such an unburdening ourselves of things that “cannot satisfy” and freedom in the things that really do satisfy.
If someone were to live their lives passionately applying completely new and different meanings to Christ’s teaching, they might create another foolish servant for this parable. That servant would be the one who exchanged all of what the Lord gave them for fine apparel and unnecessary adornments of every kind with the expectation that the Lord would somehow be pleased with what they had purchased. That servant could end up returning to His presence only to find themselves disappointed in their expectations – having spent too much of God’s valuable gifts to them only for those things that are of ‘little worth.’
So, I think it is important to recognize that not every talent is immensely valuable and there is a lot of spiritual value in things that might not impress anyone. Christ himself had no “form or comeliness” or “beauty that [man] should desire him,” but somehow he grew “in favor with God and man.” He had spiritual talent, gifts, and purpose – true worth. He was given a fullness and through Him we should seek first and foremost what He has; He is searching for heirs.