Minas and Talents.
The parable of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27) and the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) are similar and also different. One of the differences is the amount of money entrusted to the servants. The word for “talent” in Matthew’s parable does indeed refer to money (see v. 27), not skills or abilities. It is a unit of weight that designated value. The NIV (2011) attempts to clarify this by translating “talents” as “bags of gold” (Matthew 25:15), although the word “money” in v. 27 actually means silver. A talent of silver was quite valuable, equal to about 20 years wages. In contrast “mina” (Luke 19:13; pronounced MY-nuh) is an English word that also refers to an ancient unit of weight and was worth about 1/60 of a talent (or 3 months wages). So the man entrusted different amounts of money to his servants in the two parables.
In both parables, however, the servants were expected to put their master’s money to use, and in both they had to give an account for what they did. In both, two of the servants used their master’s money well and the third did not. The two faithful servants are rewarded in both parables, though the reward is stated slightly differently (share your master’s happiness versus take charge of cities). In both parables the “wicked” servant’s treasure is taken from him and given to the one who had the most money entrusted to him. Matthew states the fate of the wicked servant graphically (13:30).
So there are clearly similarities and differences in the parables. We might think of them as two separate parables or two versions of the same, but they both clearly teach that we are servants and are stewards of valuable things belonging to our Master. He wants us to put these things to good use, we will give an account for how we have done so, and we will be rewarded or punished accordingly.
Since the parables do not specify what valuables the Master has entrusted to us, we must determine the kinds of things we are stewards of. Money seems an obvious example in light of the meaning of “mina” and “talent” and the references to stewardship elsewhere. Even though “talent” is a unit of money in the parable, in application it seems likely we should include the spiritual gifts that have been entrusted to us. The gospel itself is also a valuable treasure that has been entrusted to us for use and safe keeping (Galatians 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:11). The principles of faithful stewardship seem to apply to most everything God has given us.
There is more teaching than this, and it is found in some special information Luke provides, which is the major difference between the two parables. First, Luke tells us directly that the purpose of the parable is to address people’s mistaken notion that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once (Luke 19:11). The way the parable does this is by showing us that there will be a considerable period of stewardship before the man returns as king (v. 13).
Second, though the parable of the talents tells us that the man was going on a journey (Matthew 25:14, 15, 19), Luke’s parable tells us the specific purpose of the journey, namely, to have himself appointed king (Luke 19:12). Literally the verse says he went to “receive a kingdom,” but the NIV translation gives the right sense. We know this from Luke 19:14—the people’s understanding of what it meant for the man to receive a kingdom was that he would be their king. These statements are important for helping us understand what kingdom means in Scripture. For the man to receive a kingdom meant that he would be king. Kingdom is about kingship.
Historical events enlighten the phrase “went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom” (Luke 19:12). In 40 BC (some 70 years before Jesus told this parable) the leader later known as Herod the Great made a long journey from Judea to Rome and, unexpectedly, the Emperor appointed him to be king of Judea and surrounding countries. Herod returned with authority to be king, and he established his kingdom in fact through politics, marriage, and fighting. After Herod’s death around 4 BC (some 30 years before Jesus told this parable), his son Archelaus also made the long journey to Rome, only in his case he was hoping and expecting to “receive kingship.” Certain Jews, however, including some of his own family members, sent a delegation to Rome to oppose his kingship. This historical event is remarkable in light of Luke 19:14. In spite of the opposition, however, Archelaus was appointed, though he received the lesser title of “ethnarch” (ruler over an ethnic group) instead of king.
In case you’re not consciously connecting the dots, Jesus, who came to earth as a servant the first time, is the man who went on a journey for a long time and was appointed king. His death, resurrection, and ascension revealed his true identity, and through these events God made him both “Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Don’t forget Christ means “anointed one.” The Old Testament background for the word is that of a prophet pouring olive oil on someone’s head when they became king, thus designating them as “the Lord’s anointed.” This extra information in the parable of the minas tells us clearly that kingdom is all about kingship and that Jesus is the King of the Kingdom of God.
As in the parable, one day Jesus will return, this time not as a servant but in glory (Matthew 16:27; 24:30; 25:31). As King, he will judge the world. A third piece of information unique to Luke’s parable is that the King’s judgment will include both his own servants (Luke 19:15-26) as well as his enemies (19:27; cf. 1 Peter 4:17). Though judgment was often over-emphasized in a previous generation of the church, today we seem to emphasize it less than Scripture. In both Matthew’s parable of the talents and Luke’s parable of the minas, the basis for the judgment of the King’s servants is their stewardship of his valuable possessions.
Taken together these two parables do indeed help us understand what the kingdom is like (cf. Matthew 25:1, 14):
- They show that kingdom is about kingship. It is about Christ reigning over us as King.
- They show that considerable time would pass before the King returns to establish his kingdom fully.
- They show that our King has entrusted valuable things to us, his servants, and that he wants us to use them faithfully in his service.
- They show that we will give an account for our stewardship and that we will be rewarded or punished accordingly.
- They show that those who reject Christ as king will be destroyed at the end.
Is there an aspect of the teaching about the kingdom in these parables that you need to give more attention to? Which one? What would be the appropriate response for you to that teaching in your heart or life?