The parable of the talents, which Jesus gave to his disciples (Matthew 26:1), is recorded only in Matthew 25:14 - 30. The Lord spoke it on Sunday, April 2 in 30 A.D., three days before his death by crucifixion on Wednesday afternoon. It is preceded by the parable of the ten virgins (verses 1 to 13) and followed up by the Lord revealing how he will soon judge the nations (known as the separating of the sheep and goats, verses 31 to 46).
The primary purpose of the parable is to reveal certain aspects of God's Kingdom (Matthew 25:14).
The parable of the talents centers on a wealthy man embarking on a trip far from home. Before he leaves he entrusts each of his three servants with a sum of money (see Matthew 25:27) wisely based on their abilities and skills. The men are charged with increasing what they have been given while he is gone.
Talents, weighing roughly 75 U.S. pounds (34.3 kilograms), were a common weight used for large quantities of gold or silver. One servant was given five, another two, and the third just one talent of silver to increase. We know they were given silver and not gold since the word "money" in Matthew 25:18 is derived from the Greek argurion (Strong's #G694), a neuter term which means silver coins.
In this parable the master returns home and conducts a performance review to assess what was or was not achieved while he was gone. Both the person who received five talents and the one who received two were able, through persistent hard work, to double what they were given (Matthew 25:16 - 17). Both men were praised the same and both received identical rewards which amounted to additional responsibilities (verses 21 - 22) overseeing far greater riches (Luke 16:11).
The servant who received only one measure of silver, however, buried it in the ground. It may have been he hoped his master would not return so that he could feign the money was his (putting such a sum in a bank would identify it as belonging to his master, see Matthew 25:27). Although he did not lose the money indulging in sin (like the prodigal son), his lack of faith and unwillingness to carry out his master’s instructions earned him the assessment he was both wicked and lazy (verses 18, 24 - 27).
The master of the parable represents Jesus Christ. His going away on a long journey symbolizes his post-resurrection life in heaven. The three men represent people who, upon conversion, become servants (slaves) of God since their lives have been purchased through Jesus' sacrifice (1Corinthians 6:19 - 20, 7:23). The talents of the parable symbolizes the spiritual gift(s) God gives to each Christian and, to a lesser extent, the resources (time, money, etc.) believers possess.
God expects Christians to expand and build upon what they have received. He requires all believers to zealously use their skills and resources to spread His truth (Mark 16:15), serve His church (1Corthians 12), and do many other righteous works so that He may be glorified (Matthew 5:16).
The servant in the parable who rejected his master's orders, made excuses and hid the resources he received instead of increasing them was chastised and severely punished.
And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:30, HBFV).
Christians cannot afford to be lazy or take for granted the blessings and salvation made available to them. God is serious about wanting a return on the investment he makes on every individual that is called and chosen!
The parable of the talents is surprisingly encouraging because it reveals God judges fairly and equitably. Each converted individual will be rewarded based on what they produced with the gifts God gave them, the resources at their disposal, their own strengths and weaknesses, and so on. A person will be praised or condemned based on what they did or did not do with what they had to work with. This righteous way is diametrically opposite to the world's Satan-inspired competitive system where people are rewarded (or not) based on how they compare to others.