6/15/20 Update: This series has been turned into a small book and has its own dedicated website: http://meaning.ofchristian.life/ . Several companion documents to assist you are found there also. You can also now download the PDF version of the book using one of the two links here: for online reading or for printing on 8.5×11 paper. If you would like to purchase the printed book for $3, please go through the website.
There are two parables by Jesus – The Parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19:11-26 and the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 – that are truly unique among the parables of Jesus. They are obviously different in their details, and yet their similarities imply some sort of connection. Both are, in themselves, rich in meaning and are preached thousands of times each year. But when you compare them side-by-side and word-by-word, you get to discover much deeper meanings from the very minute details that you may miss through a typical reading of either parables. The hidden revelation from such a study of these two parables at the same time is nothing less than the biggest question for many Christians – what is the meaning of the Christian life?
Please try to discover the hidden revelation of these two parables by using the following resources.
(1) Scripture link (NIV, formatted to be side-by-side): Parables of Ten Minas and the Talents – English NIV text (Note: instead of the word “talents of gold,” the New International Version uses “bags of gold” instead. Either way, they represent huge sums of money in both ancient times and the modern age.)
Or you can print out the two parables from one of the many online Bibles and use them for your notetaking.
As you read, fill out the following table to the best of your abilities after you read through the two stories. You should proceed to the next page only after you have completed the table as much as you can. You can also use the following link to get a spreadsheet version of the comparison table.
(2) Comparison table: Comparison table of the 2 parables
Question \ Scripture
|No. of servants receiving initial funds||v.13||v.15|
|No. of servants who returned and got evaluated||v.16, 18, 20||v.20, 22, 24|
|The amounts of initial funds||v.13, 16||v.15
|Equivalent wages (note: some scriptures have different measurements)||
15, 30, 75 years
|Relative ratios of value (Matthew vs. Luke, Luke’s mina = 1)||
60x, 120x, 300x
|Returns made by the two faithful servants||
|Their funds compared to the initial funds (% or multiple)||v.16, 18, 20
|v.20, 22, 25
|Are the master’s rewards for the 2 faithful servants same or different?||v.17, 19||v.21, 23|
|How are the rewards for the 2 faithful servants different?||
|The total amount of funds in the hands of the servants at the time of Master’s evaluation||
v.16, 18, 20
v.20, 22, 25
|Do faithful servants get to keep initial funds?||
read v.24-25 carefully
read v.28 carefully
After you are done with your own study, you may have discovered many of the hidden treasures. But let’s go through them in the rest of this chapter so we don’t miss anything important here.
Who Are the Servants?
In the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:12-27), ten servants received money from the master, but only three returned to face the Master. In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), three servants received money from the master and all three had to face the Master.
It seems in the Parable of the Minas (Luke), returning to face the Master is a voluntary act. But in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew), it’s not voluntary perhaps due to the large sum of money involved.
It’s easy to speculate that the Master represents Jesus, and the servants who came back to face the judgment of the Master are Christians. This hypothesis will look even more substantiated once we get to the end of this Bible study.
How Much Money is Involved?
We need to understand one of the biggest differences in the two parables: the amount of money involved. A “mina” is about three months of wages back in those days. A “talent” of gold (or “a bag” or “1,000” in some translations) is about 15 years of wages, or 60 minas. So the servants in Luke received relatively small amounts of money to invest. The three servants in Matthew therefore received 15, 30, and 75 years of wages from the Master. Those are no insignificant amounts of money by any means.
Comparison of the Earnings by the Faithful Servants
In both parables, two of the three returning servants made money with the Master’s initial funds, but their returns are very different for a few important reasons. Remember, the differences between the two parables are the keys to understanding these two parables and the overall message.
In the Parable of the Minas (Luke), each servant was given a relatively small but same amount of money – one mina — and the two faithful servants made different amounts – ten minas and five minas. Their rewards were proportional to their earnings – ruling over ten and five cities, respectively.
In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew), the servants were given drastically different amounts of money – five talents, two talents, and one talent of gold – and the two faithful servants both doubled their monies. Their rewards were based on the rate of their return, which in this case were exactly the same – 100%. Their rewards were exactly the same. In fact, Jesus chose to use exactly same words so there is no ambiguity about the two servants being seen as equal in the Master’s eyes.
Therefore it’s clear that the Master measures the servants’ achievements in terms of proportions, not in absolute terms. Making money was never the Master’s main objective.
The Mystery of the Missing Minas
Due to the relatively small amount of money involved in the Parable of the Minas (Luke) and the fact that seven of the ten servants did not even return to face the Master, money would not seem to be a big issue in this parable. Yet one of the greatest mysteries of these two parables is in the amount of money that’s often overlooked.
In the Parable of the Minas (Luke), the first faithful servant made ten minas with the original mina given to him by the Master (v.16). So the first faithful servant should have eleven minas in his possession. In verses 24 and 25, however, it is said that he only has ten minas. So what happened to the missing mina? Could it be that one of the minas was returned to the Master because the very first mina from the Master was said to be the master’s (v. 16, 18, and 20). Yet in verse 24, the Master said the mina given to the last servant was the servant’s and then the Master took it away from him and gave it to the first faithful servant.
In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew), the accounting was much simpler. Both faithful servants got to keep the original monies and what they earned.
Therefore, it seems that the servants in the Parable of the Minas (Luke) could not keep the original, relatively small amounts of money (one mina per person) but were able to keep the monies they earned.
In contrast, servants got to keep both the original, huge yet uneven amounts of money and the monies they earned in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew).
The Anti-Poor Bias of Jesus?
In both parables, the Master took the original seed monies given to the servants who made nothing and gave them to the servants who made the most. He then made statements that sound very insensitive to the poor and less fortunate: “more will be given to those who have plenty and the ones that have the nothing will have theirs taken away.”
Unlocking the Mysteries, One by One
We discovered some really strange details in the two parables, and like many of Jesus’s parables, strange things are where the deepest meanings reside. The key to unlocking these mysteries are found in one of the aforementioned mysteries: what happened to the original minas in the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke). Presumably it was returned to the Master. That is a very small of money especially compared to the awards given by the Master – ruling over cities. So why did the Master want the original minas back? What are those original minas?
Everyone was given the same amount of money to start. Jesus took time to make that amount of money “one” of a particular unit for a reason. What is one thing that everyone has one of, and that the person cannot keep it? It’s very obvious – our earthly lives. Whether it’s long or short, rich or poor, healthy or afflicted, we all have one life and that’s it once it’s over.
The relatively small amount of money compared to the amounts in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew) seems to suggest that making money is not the main intention of the Master. Then what is the main intention of the Master if it’s not about making money?
Furthermore, even if the Master had suspicion about whether some servant would return or not, He gave them all the same amount of money. The Master may have known that some would do better than others, but He did not give them more money initially. Clearly making money is not the Master’s main intention.
The only logical explanation is that the original mina given each servant is just a test. It’s a fair test because everyone has the same starting point – one mina. It’s a test that has huge consequences, though. The rewards for success are described as “ruling over cities,” which are far greater than the original minas used in the tests. That is an important indicator of the comparison between our earthly lives and our afterlives / eternal lives. There’s really no comparison. That’s why Jesus de-emphasized our earthly possessions so often. He knew it’s not important and we should not allow our earthly concerns hinder our pursuit of what’s eternal.
Who are the ten servants in the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke)? The number ten is a symbol of completion in the Bible so perhaps “ten servants” represent all of mankind. Seven of them did not return to face the Master. The three who returned did so voluntarily. The three may represent Christians who choose to come back to the Master and face the judgment. When we become Christians, we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and that includes being evaluated by our Lord for what we have done with the lives we have been given. Too often ministers forget to mention this important component of our commitment to become a Christian and so many Christians have the wrong perception about salvation. Salvation from sin is free, but returning to face the Master to account for our lives is part of that package.
Interestingly, I researched a bit and found that Christians of all denominations account for about 30% of the world’s population. Coincidence? Maybe not…
If those monies in Luke represent our earthly lives and they were given out only as a test of our faithfulness, then what do the monies in Matthew represent? In Matthew 25:15, it says the amount of money given to each of the servants was based on the servant’s ability. The Master chose the amounts based on how much He believes the servants can handle. Then the servants were evaluated based on their relative rates of return, not absolute amounts. Furthermore, the servants were able to keep both the initial seed monies and the monies they made. So what do these monies represent?
Many English versions of the Bible actually give away the answer unintentionally. In English, the word “talent” is both a unit of weight and currency back in ancient Greek and Roman era and a word representing people’s natural aptitude and acquired skills. People were born with different intellectual and physical talents, into families with different socioeconomic backgrounds, into different parts of the world and with different opportunities. God evaluated us based on what was given to us, and so it’s a fair test also. But unlike our earthly lives represented in the Parable of the Ten Minas, we get to keep both the talents we were born with and the talents we accumulate while on Earth. The rewards given by the Master were abstract and reveal little about our afterlives and what happen to our talents, however. By allowing us to keep both our original and earned monies, we can assume that they will play a part in our afterlives.
The rewards given by the Master in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew) also implies that it was a test and training: “you have been faithful in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” (v. 21 & 23). We just do not have any idea on how much bigger the “many things” are relative to the “few things” in this parable. We do know the servants would be happy with their new assignments (v. 21 & 23).
The unfaithful servants in the two parables gave interesting excuses that are nearly identical but don’t quite make sense at the first glance (Luke 19:20 & Matthew 25:24). In both parables, the unproductive servants claimed that the Master “taking out what he did not put in, and reaping what he did not sow,” and somehow that’s the reason for their lack of initiative. Furthermore, in both parables, the Master confirmed their statements and claimed that the statement should be even greater motivation for them to do something with what were given to them. What does that statement really mean, and why do the Master and the servants have such divergent interpretations of that statement?
We already figured out that the monies in Luke represent our earthly lives and the monies in Matthew represent our gifts, talents, and experiences. God gives us these and wants us to use them well and bear fruits and grow. Some people, however, see these as their own and resent God’s call to use them for His purposes. They claim they will do more for God if God gives them more resources beyond what they are already given. Yet in God’s eyes, He has given enough and He wishes to judge His servants based on what they already have in their possession. Furthermore, Jesus seems to suggest that human initiatives matter a lot and people should not be passive in contributing to humanity and its domain. He wants to “take out” and “reap” something through His servants, and His servants need to use what He has given them already – their lives and their talents – to help “take out” and “reap” from the fertile soil of this world.
The two unfaithful servants complained that the Master demands to “take out” and “reap” without doing His part, and therefore they did not do anything. The Master basically said He wishes to “take out” and “reap” because He has already put into us what He wishes to put in, and it’s up to the servants to make use of the resources they already possess. If the servant uses the given resources wisely, the Master can choose to give him more, just as He gave the unused money to the most productive servant.
In both parables, the Master mentioned the use of the banks (or “money exchangers”) as perhaps the method of last resort for His servants to do something with their seed monies. What is a bank? A bank is where resources of people who do not know how to or cannot use their monies effectively (the “depositors”) are gathered and lent to those who can (the “borrowers”), and in exchange the depositors get a small portion of the gains made by the borrowers. In essence, the Master implies those servants who do not know how to use their lives and talents for Him can give a portion of their lives and talents to those who do, and in return they can get credited a bit for the works and results of those “doers.” That is the least someone can do with the life, talent, and resources given by God.
The implication of this idea of “lending” out one’s life, talent, and resources cannot be underestimated in this world where so many people have very specialized talents even within a church. A large and effective church requires many diverse talents to operate – from the preacher on the stage down to the custodians who make sure the toilets are not clogged. And they won’t have the financial resources to survive were it not for the hundreds of members who faithfully tithe each month. A medical missionary cannot help the needy if there were not supporters back home who donate money for medicine and organize efforts to get supplies to the frontlines. In short, every person can make a difference if they only try, and the least they can do is to support those who are working for God. There is no excuse for not doing something for God with what we have already been given.
Why did the Master give the monies from the unfaithful servants to the most productive servants? Probably because He does care about making the best use of the resources He has already granted. The results in the afterlife actually matter for Him. We are not quite sure what the work in the afterlife really is, but we can tell it is substantial and eternal, instead of the trivial and temporary nature of our earthly lives.
In short, these two parables, when studied together, suggest the following:
First, our earthly lives are trivial and are partly a test, but how we use our short, earthly lives determine what we will do in the much greater afterlife – at least initially. Just how small our earthly lives are compared to the afterlife? In Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke), Jesus calls our earth life “one mina” or three months of wages, while the eternal afterlife is “ruling over cities.” Frankly there’s no comparison.
Second, our time on Earth is also a training time for us to further develop the natural aptitude and talents God has given us. Our education, socioeconomic endowments, life experiences, and our wisdom all are the basis of God’s final evaluation of us when we stand before Him. We get to keep both what we were endowed with and what we learned, and presumably these talents will be used in our afterlives in our new assignments.
Third, there is no excuse not to do something for God. The concept of “lending” out our lives and talents means everyone can do something for God and get credit for the work done by oneself or a “borrower” of his talents.
Note that the Master said to the third servants, “You wicked and lazy servant.” “Lazy” is appropriate but “evil” may be too harsh in most people’s views. But why did the Master say that? Is he saying that when one does not use the God-given resources properly, he is doing the devil’s work? Why would the Master be so upset? He didn’t lose His money. Maybe He doesn’t care about the money. Instead, He cared what the servant did with the money.
Finally, the Master praised the two good servants using the phrase “good & faithful” rather than “smart & competent” which is what most bosses would say. That implies the Master cares more about the servants’ heart and motivations instead of their abilities and achievements.
Christians who understand and believe in these revelations should have a new perspective on life, and it should be life-changing.
Since our lives on Earth is also a time of training, it implies that God is our teacher and takes an active part in implanting in us valuable experiences and skills that we will use in these earthly lives and in our afterlives. The purpose of this crowd-sourced book is to gather some of the more intriguing lessons learned by Christians of all walks of life, and to share them with other Christians so they can perhaps learn some of these valuable lessons vicariously or help them get through difficult times with the right perspective.
Note: There are some details in these two parables that I did not discuss. What is the purpose of the Master’s trip in a foreign land? What does it really mean to “rule over cities?” Who are the enemies that he executed at the end? What happened to the seven servants in Luke that did not return to face the Master? What really happened to the servant who didn’t make any money? These details are clearly put there for a reason and I believe they are hinting at something, but I do not think they have a significant impact on this particular lesson which is focused on the meaning of the Christian life. They most likely deal with the fate of non-Christians, unproductive Christians, what real Christians do in the afterlife, etc. Our focus here is about what why we are born and what real Christians should do during our times on Earth. Our analysis here sufficiently answers those two questions.