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Munching on a Parable

By Linda Hoffman Kimball













The parable of the talents bugs me, so I have spent some time wrestling with it, chomping on it, working some useful meaning from it into my bones.

I like that that the wealthy man gives the same reward to both servants who actually do something productive with what he’s given them:
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.

Being a “ruler over many things” isn’t necessarily the future I want, but I just interpret that as “good stuff happens.” And I’m all over entering into the joy of the lord.

However, the poor third risk-averse guy recognizes that his boss has some markers of a personality disorder.

The servant knows the master is “hard.” (In fact the master admits he doesn’t have the most scrupulous business practices!) The boss doesn’t give him any instructions on what to do with the money; he just expects to collect it when he gets back. And heaven forbid the servant should lose the money in a venture gone wrong! So the servant does what he thinks safest to make sure nothing bad happens to it: he buries it. Can we really fault him?

Sure enough, the master returns and goes ballistic. Not only is the servant’s name Mud for not reading the master’s mind and earning some interest at least, but he’s cast into outer darkness.

Harsh, what?

I’m even more troubled by what I discover when I search for myself in this story. The truth is that I’m usually plagued by the fear that I’m not doing enough with what I’ve been given. I’m anxious that I won’t figure out the master’s mind about what to do with what I have. (And now I’m referring to the contemporary meaning of talents, not the ancient sum of money kind of talents; and I’m reading master as “Master”). I’m afraid that the Master is going to suss out my inner dumbness and whomp my backside for not recognizing just how much more I could have accomplished if I hadn’t been such a timid nincompoop.

(Where did I get such a skewed image of what the real Master is like? Hmm. Maybe from simplistic readings of multi-layered parables like this, from vast passages of the Old Testament, and from not asking enough questions?)

Wait a minute! Maybe I’m getting more out of this parable than I thought! The master – in his reasonable frame of mind – lauds those first two servants for being “good and faithful” and rewards them with abundance. Goodness. Faith. I think I’m on to something.

It’s the fretful, anxious, uptight servant whose mind is all focused on the possibility of calamity and loss who ends up with … calamity and loss.

I’m not saying that this resolves all my quibbles with the personality of the master portrayed in this story, but when I sit in this story, when I gnaw on its bones, I feel myself called to let go of my fears and experiment with the talents I’ve been given, have some fun, give ‘em a go! It’s not a comparison with the others around me who have five to my two or ten to my four. It’s a mind set of acceptance, gratitude, expansion, joy!

Abundant, what?

This is only an appetizer of what this story, what the scriptures, can reveal when I get in there and munch. I’ve got an appetite for more!

About Linda Hoffman Kimball

Linda Hoffman Kimball is an artist, writer, photographer, and poet who grew up as a faithful Christian near Chicago, & joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1971 while at Wellesley College near Boston. Early on she assumed that all Latter-day Saints were articulate, inquisitive, faithful, and socially engaged since her role models in the University wards in Cambridge, MA., were. Her husband says she is “fluent, but not native” in Mormon-ese. She is a founding member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

9 thoughts on “Munching on a Parable”

  1. I love this parable! I started out a shy, unconfident person, but its amazing how hard work can make you more capable. When I think of this parable it helps me step up and do the best I can even if I'm not good at something.
    The only thing that bothers me is that whenever it is discussed people start talking about musical talents, rather than the thousands of other talents like organizing, kindness, teaching, compassion, mentoring teenagers…..or in other words doing the Lord's work here on earth. In this parable the Lord is asking us all to step up and if we do our capabilities grow, but if we don't the Lord ends up finding someone else who will do his work and they will be blessed.
    As a mom to 4 kids, I love this parable. I want my children to realize when they are starting out with a lot (like money, like having the gospel, like their individual strengths) they need to put it on the alter to God, and when they think about their areas of weakness (like feeling awkward or feeling nervous or feeling lazy or feeling ugly/depressed, etc) that they are willing to give their widow's mite in that area anyway.

  2. I love looking at parables. It's always amazing how different people can get vastly different (and equally insightful)ideas from one parable. Elder Holland's recent conference talk about the Parable of the Vinyard was amazing and really inspired to me to take a closer look at parables, especially the ones that don't make a lot of sense to me.

    I like the Parable of the Talents because it reminds me not to compare my number of talents with other people. Thanks for your reminder to act with gratitude and joy!

  3. Thanks for your comments! I have always loved the meaning you write about, JKS and can testify to the wisdom of developing our abilities whatever they may be. I especially like how you point out that those abilities include kindness, compassion, etc. I have often thought that teachers of middle school have a place waiting for them in heaven for sure. And, Emily O, I also love how different insights can flow from the same story. (I'll have to read Elder Holland's vineyard talk again!) That's what I intended to do when I sat down to wrestle with this particular one. There was just something about the 3rd servant and the personality of the merchant that kept nagging at me, begging for further exploration.

    Thanks, Emily U and annegb, for the support!

  4. I love this parable! I think about it all the time! I like you're conclusion, though. I'm not sure I've thought about it with this parable, but I do believe that people get what they perceive.

  5. I've been pondering about the ideas of abundance and scarcity, and my goal for the year is to live my life with an attitude of abundance–appreciating and enjoying all the amazing things I have–rather than scarcity–focusing on what I lack, or making sure I get "what I deserve". This parable and your thoughts on it make me think that the third servant was living with an attitude of scarcity; he was so worried about losing what he had, he just wanted to bury it. The other two were living with an attitude of abundance, and took their gifts and used them to make more. The third servant was terrified of not measuring up, and in the end he didn't. He was trying so hard to keep hold of what he had that he ended up losing out in the end. I've also read the parables of the Laborers in the Vineyard and the Prodigal Son, thinking specifically about abundance vs scarcity. It seems like a theme in quite a few of Jesus' teachings–that there is enough for all of us. There are many mansions. We don't need to be worried about getting enough, or getting as much as someone, or missing out. There is enough and to spare.

  6. One of the things I noticed about this parable is that the two faithful servants took their talents and increased them by "usury" (which can mean, I believe, loaning them out with interest payments increasing their value–but which can also mean investing in something of worth).

    So I look at this parable as encouraging us to use our talents to help (invest in) others with their talents, so that we all are blessed. The unprofitable servant didn't use his talent to help anyone, and I think that's why he was punished.

    I believe the Lord has given us talents so that we can bless others, and as we do, our talents are increased and so are the talents of those whom we have blessed by sharing our talents with them.

  7. I love this parable too, and awhile I go I read a quote by Joseph Smith that totally changed how I saw this parable. According to Joseph Smith this parable isn't really about our "talents" or "abilities" per se but our willingness to accept the responsibilities that the Lord has for us on this earth– especially accepting children.

    n April of 1843, the Prophet told Benjamin F. Johnson “that he would preach a sermon that day for me, which I would understand, while the rest of the congregation would not comprehend his meaning. His subject was the ten talents spoken of by the Savior, ‘unto him that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundantly, but from that hath not (or will not receive) shall be taken away that which he hath, (or might have had.)’ Plainly giving me to understand that the talents represented… children as the principle of enlargement throughout the great future, to those who were heirs of Salvation” (Andrew F. Ehat, and Lyndon W. Cook, eds. The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph [Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Company, 1980], 2 April 1843 [2] Note, No. 9., p.269).

    Like all parables, it has several levels of meaning but reading the parable with those glasses on really changed it's meaning! Like the reader above it has really helped me embrace an attitude of abundance and LIFE– because God glories in life and the more we accept and are open to life on this earth the more we become like him!


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