Inequality: John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett
sketch Britain's obsession with social class in 1966 on the
Frost Report. Photograph: BBC/PA/PA
… to each man according to his several ability … (Matthew 25:15)
This portion of Scripture comes from one of several “Kingdom Parables” spoken by Jesus and recorded by Matthew (Matthew 25:14-30). Although this parable has in view the coming kingdom of Christ, it offers a practical application to our pre-kingdom lives.
In the parable, Christ is portrayed as a man of considerable wealth, perhaps a landowner. Luke describes him as a “nobleman” (Luke19:12). At any rate, his servants address him as “Lord” (Matthew 25:20, 22, 24). The landowner is leaving for a long journey. Luke describes that the purpose for the journey is so that he may receive a kingdom (Luke 19:12), and it is not difficult to see that Jesus is foretelling His ascension into heaven to later return to claim His kingdom.
In Matthew’s account, the landowner has three servants. The Greek word translated as “servant” is doúlous and literally means “slave,” and in this case it would imply a slave who is a steward or manager of his master’s possessions as Joseph was in the house of Potiphar (Genesis 39). The landowner divided his wealth among the three servants giving different amounts to each. To the first he gave five talents, to the second two talents, and to the third one talent. One talent was about the equivalent of 6000 denarii, and a denarii was equivalent to one day’s wages. All things considered, even the smallest amount was a great sum of money; one talent would equal more than 16 years’ wages. But the lord gave “to each according to his several ability” (our text). “Several” in Greek is idíous meaning “own” or “self;” so, he distributed his wealth to each according to his individual ability.
Upon his return, the first two servants had doubled what their lord had given them, but the third did nothing with his and returned to his master only that which had been given to him initially. This displeased the master and he cast out the “unprofitable servant” (v. 30).
Excluding the eschatological aspect of this parable, the lesson for us is this: God gives each of us gifts. They are not all the same gifts or even the same amount of gifts (1 Corinthians 12). But whether our gifts be great or small, we are equally responsible to use our “several” gifts to profit the Kingdom. When Christ returns, He will call us to account, and we do not want to be counted as "unprofitable." Until then we must heed His words, “Occupy till He comes” (Luke 19:13).