Many people have speculated that the talents and pounds (an amount of money) means actual talents (skills, abilities, etc.) However, in the context of the gospels, it appears that Jesus is talking about something else.
In the parables of the talents and pounds, Jesus concludes each parable with the statement: "To all those who have, more will be given...but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away." (Matthew 25:29; Luke 19:26)
Jesus makes this same statement in several other contexts as well, such as in:
In all of these contexts, the thing to be "had," that can be given or taken away, is essentially the same thing.
In Matthew 13:12, Jesus' disciples have just asked him why he speaks in parables.
Jesus says, "To you (disciples) it has been give to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that 'seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.'" (Matthew 13:11-13)
Thus, it is understanding and knowledge of the kingdom of heaven, and of God, that is the thing to be had in this context.
In Mark 4:25 and Luke 8:18, Jesus tells the Parable of the Lamp Under a Basket, and in this context the thing to be "had" is the same as it was in Jesus' explanation of the why he tells parables.
He concludes with, "Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away." (Luke 8:18)
Again, it is understanding and knowledge of the kingdom of God that is to be had, because we are urged to pay attention to how we listen.
Also in this context, Jesus has just told the Parable of the Sower which is about the "word of God" being a seed sown (again the idea of understanding God and his kingdom; and that "understanding" growing and producing fruit).
In essence, the thing to be "had" in the kingdom of God, according to these passages, is knowledge and understanding of God and what is expected of him.
If you know what God expects of you, and if you understand how He and His kingdom operates, then you can obey Him more effectively and be more aligned with His will.
In Luke 12:41-48, Jesus tells the Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants.
He concludes by saying, "That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating...From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded." (Luke 12:48)
Even though this statement has no relation directly with the parable of the pounds in Luke 19:12-27, it basically summarizes the situation.
"From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded." (Luke 12:48)
In the parable of the pounds, the servants know their master wants them to do business with the money they are given. Two of the servants understood, and obeyed their master, whereas one servant disobeyed his master.
Essentially, the theme Jesus is communicating about the kingdom of God in these contexts, is that:
As Luke 12:48 illustrates, much will be required and demanded of those who have understanding.
Specifically, in the Parable of the Talents and Pounds, the servants of the master are given the responsibility to work for their master while he is away. Those who accept that responsibility, and are fruitful by their actions, will be rewarded. Those who shun their responsibility, and are unfruitful, will be punished.
As seen in the Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants, the unfaithful servant is considered unfaithful because of his actions.
And the thing that they are given to work with (the talents and pounds) is knowledge and understanding of: God, his salvation through Jesus Christ, how his kingdom operates, and the other subjects that Jesus teaches in his parables and elsewhere.
Knowledge and understanding are a resource, just like money; and just like in this parable, the more wise we are with it, the more fruitful we can be.
For more information on this connection between our actions and salvation, read the Meaning of Repentance and Salvation.
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