Lesson: Parable of the Ten Minas vs. Parable of the Talents

Luke 19:11-26  &  Matt.  25:14-30

There are two parables found in Matthew and Luke that seem very similar but with some interesting differences -- the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-26) and the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30).  Most often they are studied separately.  When they are studied side-by-side, however, the differences reveal something I believe to be the Christian meaning of life.  Here are the key differences:

Details to be compared \ Passage
Luke 19: 11-26
(Parable of the Ten Minas)
Matthew 25: 14-30
(Parable of the Talents)
No. of servants receiving the initial funds 10 3
No. of servants returned & evaluated 3 3
Amount given Same -- 1 Different -- 5, 3, 1
Unit of initial funds Mina Talent
Equivalent wages 3 months 15 years
Relative ratio of value 1 mina 1 talent = 60 minas
Returns made by the two faithful servants Different -- 10x & 5x Same percentage -- 100%
Rewards Different -- rule 10 or 5 cities exact same praises & rewards
Faithful servants get to keep initial funds No (read v.24 carefully) Yes (read v.28 carefully)

The first crucial difference is the number of servants who received the initial funds.  Luke 19 has ten servants while Matthew 25 has just three.  "Ten" symbolizes completeness in the Bible, and so "ten servants" could be interpreted as "everybody" or "all persons."

In Luke, only three of the ten came back to see the master when they were requested.  So seven servants ignored the master's instructions.

In Luke, all servants were given a relatively small amount of funds -- roughly three months of wages.  Clearly the funds were used as a test of faithfulness instead of being serious investments by the master.  In Matthew, the entrusted amounts were huge.  In the case of the servant who got five talents, that's 300 minas or roughly 75 years of wages!  Clearly the amounts in Matthew were for serious investments.

In Luke, the two faithful servants made ten and five times the original amount of one mina each, and their rewards were exactly proportional to their rate of return -- rule over ten and five cities, respectively.  In Matthew, the two servants both made exactly 100% returns and they received the same exact praises from the master.  So it's clear that the master evaluated them based on their returns relative to the original amounts (in percentage terms) and not on the absolute amounts earned.

Finally, a set of details that is often overlooked actually provides the most crucial comparison between the two parables.  In Luke, the faithful servants were given the amounts they made but not the original mina which was still there when they met the master (v. 16 -- "your mina has earned ten more" and v. 24 -- "… give it to the one who has ten minas" [the ten earned only, not eleven which would be the ten earned plus the one original mina]).  In Matthew, however, the two faithful servants were given the original amounts entrusted to them (v. 19 -- "… you entrusted me with five talents… I have earned five more." And v. 28 -- "take the talent from (the third servant) and give it to the one who has the ten talents." [five original plus five earned talents]).  Considering that the servants in Luke were given very small amounts and the two faithful servants got to rule over cities, it is very peculiar that the master did not give them the original minas.  This key difference is critical in understanding the two parables.

What are the minas and the talents given to the servants?  Why were the two faithful servants in Matthew allowed to retain the original talents, but the two faithful servants in Luke not given the two original minas?  Could it be the initial funds in the two parables are actually referring to two completely different things?

What is something that every person gets the same amount and do not get to keep once he meets the master?  What is something that different persons can have different amounts but get to keep even after meeting the master?  Most people believe "meeting the master" refers to the judgment before God, which happens after our physical death.  So the question becomes, "What's something that everyone has the same amount and cannot keep after he dies, and what's something that people have different amounts of but get to keep after death?"

The first answer is very easy -- one's earthly life!  By definitely, one's earthly life is gone once he is dead.  The second answer could be one's talents (i.e., experiences, skills, and abilities; not the unit of funds as is in the Matthew parable).  Since we retain our knowledge after death, we naturally retail our skills after death.  This matches the message in the Matthew parable.

So this is what I believe to be the Christian meaning of life per the comparative study of the two parables:
1.    Our earthly lives, which are transitory, are actually a test of our faithfulness.
2.    Our skills, which are eternal, can further be gained during our earthly lives and used in the afterlife.
3.    Our roles in the afterlife are determined by how we use our lives and our skills.

Some other interesting findings are also noteworthy.  First of all, the master told the third servants that they could have left their funds with bankers and earned some interest.  Bankers are people who use money to make more money, just like the two faithful servants, and thus they offer a simple way to generate at least some small amounts of return.  So at the very least, a Christian can give his resources to others who are working for the Kingdom of God.  Not all Christians are meant to be preachers and missionaries, but they could donate time and money so those "bankers" who are good at generating returns can make some more money that can be returned to the master.  That is the least a Christian can do -- support other Christians who are actively spreading the Word and doing God's will.

Second, unlike the seven servants who did not come back to the master to report on what they did (presumably they didn't do anything with their minas), the third servant in Luke had the guts to come back even though he had nothing to show.  Why is that?  What does the third servant symbolize?  Could the third servant symbolize Christians who profess to follow God but do not put their lives to "good use," but still think God will reward them for just being "Christian?"  In the Luke parable, the master did not explicitly judge the seven servants who did not come back, but explicitly judged the one who came back.  People who profess to be Christians but fail to do work for the Kingdom of God will be judged harshly by the master.

It is not clear what happened to the other seven servants.  Are they the "enemies" that were killed in v. 27?  Or are the enemies actually the residents of the distant land and not the other servants?  At least the third servant was cast outside and not killed.  The parable is vague on this point because the center of attention is meant to be on Christians, not unbelievers.

And what do we actually do after we die?  There's a hint in the Luke parable -- "rule over cities."  Could we become spiritual beings (i.e., "angels") that serve other beings in other planets?  We may never know until that day comes...

This lesson was developed by George Huang.  Got a question or want to publish this lesson?  E-mail me.

Originally developed: 11/1/2003

Last updated: 6/9/2012