The Parable of the Talents: Disproving a Marxist Interpretation
The biblical passage Matthew 25:14-30 describes a man, the master, who went on a journey and entrusted talents to his three servants. Upon the master’s return, the two servants who made good use of the talents given to them were richly rewarded while the third servant who failed to use the talent given to him was condemned to severe punishment.
The Christian Calling: The Accepted Interpretation
The accepted and correct interpretation states that the master in the parable is a figure of God.
“In this parable the main message is the need to respond to grace by making a genuine effort right through one’s life. All the gifts of nature and grace which God has given us should yield a profit. It does not matter how many gifts were received; what matters is our generosity in putting them to good use. A person’s Christian calling should not lie hidden and barren; it should be outgoing, apostolic, and self-sacrificial.”1
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
The index of the Catechism of the Catholic Church points to four paragraphs in relation to the theme of “talents.”
1880 A society is a group of persons bound together organically by a principle of unity that goes beyond each one of them. As an assembly that is at once visible and spiritual, a society endures through time: it gathers up the past and prepares for the future. By means of society, each man is established as an "heir" and receives certain "talents" that enrich his identity and whose fruits he must develop. He rightly owes loyalty to the communities of which he is part and respect to those in authority who have charge of the common good.
1936 On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others. Differences appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits derived from social commerce, and the distribution of wealth. The "talents" are not distributed equally.
1937 These differences belong to God's plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular "talents" share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures:
I distribute the virtues quite diversely; I do not give all of them to each person, but some to one, some to others. . . . I shall give principally charity to one; justice to another; humility to this one, a living faith to that one. . . . And so I have given many gifts and graces, both spiritual and temporal, with such diversity that I have not given everything to one single person, so that you may be constrained to practice charity towards one another. . . . I have willed that one should need another and that all should be my ministers in distributing the graces and gifts they have received from me.
2429 Everyone has the right of economic initiative; everyone should make legitimate use of his talents to contribute to the abundance that will benefit all and to harvest the just fruits of his labor. He should seek to observe regulations issued by legitimate authority for the sake of the common good.
An Erroneous and Misguided Marxist Interpretation
An erroneous and misguided interpretation states that the master is a cruel businessman who takes away from the poor and gives to the rich. This will be shown to be highly incorrect shortly.
An Objection to the Erroneous Marxist Interpretation: The Parables in the Synoptics
In the Synoptic Gospels, the word “master”2 is consistently used in the parables as a figure of God. This is not a circular argument when one considers that Luke and Mark, in similar if not almost identical parables, use the word in the same sense. This is not even to mention that in the Synoptic Gospels, the word “Master” is used to refer to Our Lord Himself.
An Objection to the Erroneous Marxist Interpretation: Matthew 18:23-35
Matthew 18:23-35 starts out with Our Lord teaching that “the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants.” The parable goes on to teach about forgiveness. It is remarkable that the Gospel uses the common conception, at the time of the Evangelist’s writing, of a king and his servants, to draw out the Gospel message of forgiving one’s fellow servant. This technique is similar to the one used in The Parable of the Talents to teach about the meaning of being a good and faithful servant.
An Objection to the Erroneous Marxist Interpretation: Context of Matthew 25:14-30
Matthew 24-25 is the “eschatological discourse,”3 dealing “with Jesus’ prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world.”4 The “prophecies (24:1-36) are followed by teaching about the vigilance required of a Christian (24:37-25:30). Our Lord illustrates his teaching by three parables – that of the unjust servant (24:45-51), that of the ten virgins (25:1-13), and the parable of the talents (25:14-30). The eschatological discourse ends with teaching on the Last Judgment, where Jesus himself will be the judge (25:31-46).”5
The Eschatological Discourse is followed by the account of The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 26-28).
The master in Matthew 25:14-30 is a figure of God. The Parable of the Talents teaches the reader on what a good and faithful servant should do with the talents given to him by God.
The Christian has the obligation to promote justice and to use God-given talents in achieving it. Real justice demands that human activities be imbued with the theological virtue of charity which is pure love of God. To understand this, the Christian does not need to resort to convoluted, incorrectly reasoned, and erroneous interpretations of Sacred Scriptures. A purely materialistic interpretation causes the Gospel to lose much, if not all, of its basic message which goes beyond the realm of worldly affairs.
Many more objections can be raised to point out the error of the Marxist interpretation of the Parable of the Talents. Only a very small number of them have been raised here.
1. University of Navarre, Faculty of Theology, The Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, Reader’s Edition, 2nd ed., The Navarre Bible (Princeton, NJ: Scepter Publishers, Inc., 2008), 189-190.
2. Stephen J. Hartdegen, ed., Nelson’s Complete Concordance of the New American Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers, 1977), s.v. “master.”
3. The Navarre Bible, 47.