Once upon a time, quite a long time ago, there was an extremely wealthy man who was a shrewd businessman and harsh master. He was described as someone who always made a profit no matter what role he played in the negotiation. He wasn’t unfair, but he was unsentimental, and in the rare occasion that he lost money in a deal, he came down hard on whoever dropped the ball, no matter who it was—a friend, an associate, a servant or a family member. The bottom line mattered to him. He worked hard, and expected everyone else to do the same. He was a fair man, having cheated no one. But no matter the deal, he always came away with more than he had invested.
He decided to get away for a while, but still wanted his wealth to expand in his absence. He thought about each of his servants, evaluating their abilities. Shortly before he planned to leave, he called his all of his servants together and made the announcement. A rumble of concern went through the group.
He said, “I have picked three of you to take care of the business while I’m gone.” The small crowd stepped back as no one wanted their name to be called. The master pretended not to notice and demanded that three of men step forward.
The first man was someone very talented and shrewd. The master had confidence in him, and gave him the largest amount to oversee—5 talents, which was a measurement used back in those days. The second man was also a hard worker, but the master wasn’t sure how well he would do, so he was given only two talents. The third servant was very conscientious, but a bit less experienced, so he was given one talent to care for in the master’ absence. And, without saying when he would return, the master left.
The three servants looked at each other, quite surprised at this turn of events. Then each went his own way with the money he had received. Those who weren’t picked were quite relieved.
The first servant took the five talents he was given and invested them. Even though there was no guarantee that all his projects would pay off, he moved ahead with confidence. He took some risks; not all of the endeavors had proven track-records. Some were new ventures looking for backers. But he trusted his instincts and made sure those he invested in kept their word. It was a lot of work, but most of the companies he worked with grew. More artisans were employed, more goods were manufactured and eventually those who worked hard benefited.
The second servant knew that the master was expecting him to take proper care of the two talents he had been given. He was a little nervous about what would happen to him if he lost any of his master’s funds. So, the second servant worked with smaller merchants and manufacturers, making sure to take minimal risks. His team was small, but enthusiastic and yielded a solid profit. He was very pleased with how well his investments turned out, and how many additional people he was able to employ.
But the third servant let his fear get the best of him. He’d seen the master displeased when a business deal had gone sour, and it wasn’t pretty. He knew his master held people accountable for any losses they incurred. The timid servant decided to play it safe. Instead of putting any effort into setting up business deals, he thought, “I’m going to protect this money.” He walked outside of town, to a great hiding place, dug a hole and buried the talent in the ground. “Perfect,” he smiled to himself. “I can take it easy while the others work, and avoid upsetting the old man at the same time.”
One day, out of the blue, the master returned. He called everyone together, wanting to find out how his wealth had been managed. All of the servants gathered around, a bit nervous to see what the master would say to the three he’d selected.
The first servant came forward and said, “I invested the five talents you gave me, and earned an additional five.” He handed the master ten talents.
“This is wonderful!” the master exclaimed. “Tonight, I am throwing a lavish party for my influential business associates and friends. I want them to meet you.” The servant was very surprised, and very happy.
But there was more good news. The master also said, “You have proven yourself to be trustworthy. I will give you a huge promotion, and you’ll be in charge of even more.” It was a great day for the first servant.
It was the second servant’s turn next. He said, “You gave me two talents, which I also invested. I made two more.” He gave his master a total of four talents. He wondered if the master would be as happy about his smaller profit.
“This is wonderful!” the master exclaimed. “I also want to invite you to the party I’m throwing tonight. I want my business associates and friends to meet you, too.” This servant was also very surprised, and very happy.
But there was more good news. The master also said, “You have proven yourself to be trustworthy. I will give you a huge promotion, and you’ll be in charge of even more.” It was a great day for the second servant.
The third servant stepped forward, saying, “Sir, you are known throughout the realm as a tough businessman, never wanting to take a loss on any investment. I didn’t want to risk losing any of your money, so I buried it.” He handed his master one talent.
“This is horrible!” the master exclaimed. “Yes, I am a tough businessman. But knowing that, you could have simply put the funds in a bank and I’d have gotten interest. Instead, you hid the money where it could do no good. No one benefitted from the potential investment! All because you are lazy, and unwilling to own up to your choices. And on top of that, you blame me for your lack of courage.”
The third servant realized he wasn’t going to get invited to the party, and started to turn away.
“No,” the master commanded. “This is not over. I trusted you, and gave you a rare opportunity. You wasted it. Not only that, but while you sat around, you ate my food, wore clothes I provided and lived in one of my houses. I want nothing to do with you.”
The master looked over to his body guards and said, “Throw this man off my estate.” The third servant was dragged out of the room.
The master took the talent that the third servant had returned to him and gave it to the first servant. As he did he explained, “Those who have, more will be given to the point of abundance. But those without, what little they have will be taken away.”