We often think of the parable of the pounds and the parable of the talents to be talking about our abilities or skills, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there was something more to it that I had been missing.  Somehow it just seemed too easy an explanation, and it didn’t seem to fit a number of parts of the parables.

We don’t often get to examine these parables together, so it might helps us to read them together to see differences and similarities.

Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30)
Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:11-27)
14 ¶For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country,
11 And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.
 12 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.
 15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
 16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
 17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
 18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.
14 But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.
19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
15 And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.
 20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
 21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
 16 Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.
 17 And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.

22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
 23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
 18 And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds.
 19 And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities.

24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
 20 And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin:
 21 For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.

 26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant,
thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

 22 And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant.
Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow:
 27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers,
and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
 23 Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank,
that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?

28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

24 And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.
 25 (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.)
 29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance:
but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
 26 For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given;
and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.
30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
27 But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

Some ways that the talents/pounds don’t seem to fit the usual interpretation of abilities is in the following points:
--In the parable of the pounds, the servants are given the pounds equally and the citizens of the place (who don’t want the lord to rule over them) are given nothing.  Can we really say that only citizens of the kingdom of God are given skills and no one else?  You might say, “Well then, it could be spiritual gifts.”  Okay.  I will grant that.  We’ll see where it takes us.
--In both parables, the lord gives his servants these sums of money to do business with and increase.  The servants do not have any notion that the money belongs to them.  I could be wrong, but I don’t really get the feeling that they get to keep this money at the end either; it goes back to the lord’s possession.  Yet don’t we expect to keep the skills and abilities and spiritual gifts we’ve gained in eternity?  Yes, we do.  So I don’t know that skills is the best fit for an interpretation.
--The slothful servant gives the excuse that he thought the lord was a hard man.  It doesn’t make sense that thinking the Lord is strict and austere would prevent someone from developing their talents or even spiritual gifts.
--The slothful servant gives the excuse that he thought the lord reaped where he hadn’t sowed, so was afraid to venture use of the sum given.  This doesn’t make sense in the context of talents and gifts because just about everyoneknows that you don’t increase your skills (or even your spiritual gifts) without practicing them. 

Something I like about the parable of the pounds is it shows there was a definite reward for faithfulness proportional to the gain made.  The faithful servants were given cities to rule over, whereas in the parable of the talents they were told they would be rulers over many things (indefinite) and invited to “enter thou into the joy of thy lord,” which sounds lovely only if you know what that joy is…. and I don’t think we really do.  At worst, the invitation to enter the joy of the lord sounds empty and dismissive.  And if the parables only talk about abilities and skills, then it is hard to conceive that there might be joy to anticipate beyond the joy of mastery we feel in the process of development here in mortality. 

We might ask ourselves some questions about these parables to see if we might learn more clearly what they represent.

Where is the greatest emphasis put in these stories?  Less is said on how the servants gained greater profit, but on the judgment process.  So somehow there is something about the judgment process that Jesus really wants us to understand.

But to understand the judgment, we still have to ask about the talents and pounds.  What is it that Jesus really wants us to increase?  It can’t really be money because elsewhere Jesus comes down really hard on the rich.  It is something that belongs to Jesus although He gives it to others to take care of.  It is something that can be traded with and gained.  It is something that can be hid, something that can be handed over to others in an organization for their labor to increase.  It is something that Jesus is very pleased when it increases, whether it increases a lot or a little.  It also has to be something the trading of which scares some people and makes them think that its gain comes magically, almost without effort, yet which other people put their whole efforts into increasing.  Quite a riddle, yes?

I begin to think that this parable is talking about missionary work. 

Think about it--what would Jesus consider more valuable than the worth of a soul?  Don’t our souls and salvation really belong to Him?  And what more important work can we do while He is away than to trade doctrine and win more souls to Christ?  And won’t we be excited to tell Him when He returns that we were able to gather more souls for Him? 

We see then why the Lord invites His faithful servants to “enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” 

15 And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
16 And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me! (D&C 18:15-16)

The Lord is joyous when He sees those to whom He delegated responsibility gain converts for the kingdom.  Those servants who help convert then get to see the people they taught go out and teach others, so they experience the same joy the Lord does.  It is the joy of seeing the work take on a life of its own and bring greater success to the cause of Christ.

Now, what about the servant who hid his talent?  How do his excuses fit into the interpretation of doing missionary work?

“thou art an hard man”/”thou art an austere man” – This servant thought the doctrine of Christ would make everyone think Christ was too strict in His requirements.  And the servant thought this because deep down he himself thought his master was too strict.

“thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow”/”gathering where thou hast not strawed” – The servant really had no idea how the lord’s business was done.  It looked like magic to him.  In terms of missionary work, to those of us ignorant of how to do it successfully, it similarly looks like magic.  Where do all those converts come from?  When conversions happen easily they really look like magic!  When they happen with great difficulty, they seem totally impossible!  (I confess that this has often been my view of it, so clearly I have to repent..)

“I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: low, there thou hast that is thine.” – When the servant doesn’t know how the real business is run, it is really scary to try anything.  It is easier to just do nothing.  Likewise, in missionary work, if you don’t know how it is best done, it is scary to talk to people about the church.  It is easier to just say nothing and focus on just staying faithful.

The lord castigates the servant for not even doing something as simple as putting the money in the bank so that interest could be earned on it.  What might be the equivalent in terms of missionary work?  Probably temple work.  If you can’t bear to do missionary work, at the very least spend lots of time in the temple so that you can have a part in the salvation of the dead, who are being taught the gospel in the spirit world!  It may also be the equivalent of partnering with someone else to do missionary work, so the burden isn’t totally on you. 

That the lord takes away the talent/pound of the slothful servant should remind us how important to our own salvation it is to stand as witnesses of Christ.  We are told elsewhere that if we are ashamed to confess Him before men, He will be ashamed of us, and those who try to save their lives will lose it.  The business of sharing the gospel is necessary for keeping our own salvation.

In the parable of the talents, the slothful servant is called “unprofitable,” which implies that the other servants were actually profitable to their lord.  This is unexpected since in other places we are told that we are all unprofitable servants.  I think it is safe to say that in terms of missionary work, we canbe profitable servants if we bring at least one other soul to Christ besides our own while laboring all our days. 

So how does the idea of profiting by trade fit with doing missionary work?  The servants actually don’t trade their salvation to get converts; instead they display the benefits and offer it to others, like a vendor at an open market. 

In the parable of the talents, the servants are given differing amounts, and the faithful servants double their capital, while in the parable of the pounds, all the servants are given the same amount and they increase it by differing percentages.  What are we to make of the differences between the parables in the initial amounts that the servants are given?  It may be that the parable of the talents with the differing initial amounts further expresses callings of teaching and leadership in the church, with responsibility given for the salvation of other souls.  It is also possible that having two parables with this difference better shows us that the amounts we start with don’t matter as much as what we do with them.  Just think, if we only had the parable of the talents, we might be inclined to think that the slothful servant thought that he couldn’t do anything because he was given so little to begin with.  But with the parable of the pounds in which all the servants start with the same amount, we see that in some respect, the amount we start with is sufficient to do great things. 

Also, without both the parable of the talents and the parable of the pounds, we wouldn’t get to see the full picture of the Lord’s fairness in judgment.  In the parable of the talents we see that even if people who start out at different levels but still make a profit at the same percentage, they are treated equal to each other because the effort was the same.  In the parable of the pounds, we see that of people who start out at the same level, if one gains more than another, his reward is greater.

Continue reading at the original source →