Parable of the Talents: what did the third servant do wrong?

Parable of the Talents

Parable of the Talents (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reflections on Matthew 25:14-20

I remember sitting through church as a kid when the Parable of the Talents was read and discussed. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what the third servant (the one given only 1 talent) had done wrong. The master left, he gave the servants some money to keep, and the third servant hid it so he wouldn’t lose it. Of course, as a kid I didn’t really understand about investments, so I would have had no idea how to double my investments (still don’t). I thought the third servant did okay–he kept the money safe and had it when the master returned. So what did he do that was so wrong?

1. The master had the expectation that the servants would invest his money, but the third servant didn’t.

Matthew 25:27 “Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”

I remember thinking, how was the third servant supposed to know that if the master didn’t tell him? What I realize as an adult who has gone out and worked in the real world, when the boss (master) leaves, he expects his business to continue as usual. Anyone running a business would want it to grow and earn money. Servants #1 and #2 understood that and were able to earn money for their master in his absence. It should have been clear to servant #3 as well. In fact, when the master found out servant #3 didn’t make any money, he called him a “wicked, lazy servant” (Matthew 25:26, NIV).

2. Not only did the third servant fail to invest the money, he hid it.

Louis A. Barbieri, Jr. from the Moody Bible Institute suggests that the servant hid the money in case the master didn’t return because he wanted it for himself. If servant #3 put it in the bank or invested it, everyone would have known it was the master’s money and he wouldn’t have been able to keep it. So the servant’s motivations were likely evil.

3. When confronted about his actions, the third servant tried to blame the master.

“Master, he said, I know that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground.” Matthew 25:24-25, NIV

According to Thomas Constable (his commentaries are incredibly and completely free on the web:, the servant was basically saying that the master would cheat him if he made money and punish him if he lost it, so he decided to hide it to keep it safe. Instead of answering the servant’s allegations, the master simply points out that if he were really that type of master, the servant should have put it in the bank where it could earn a little bit of interest and be safe.

But this parable isn’t about money, per se. It’s about anything God has given us–money, talents, opportunities. We’re not supposed to hide them away or use them for selfish gain, we’re supposed to use them for our Master’s benefit. That is His expectation. And He will be coming back to check and see how we did.

So was it just me that had a problem with this story as a kid? Are there others that you found confusing?


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