We Must Increase What We Have Been Given

In the Book of Matthew, we are told of the parable of the talents. Three servants are left sums of money (talents) by their master. The first, who the master believed was most able, doubled his five talents into ten. The second was given two and used it to earn two more. The third was more cautious and less ambitious, and simply buried his in the ground. When the master came back, he was able to return the money, but he had not managed to produce anything from it. 

As you might expect, the master was quite pleased with the labors of his first two servants and rewarded them accordingly. But with the conservative and cautious one, he was quite upset. Why hadn’t he invested the money? Even the return from a banker would have been better than burying it. So he punished the servant and uttered, in the process, two of the most famous sentences in the Bible

“For to all 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. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The lesson that scholars and priests have taken ever since: That we are obligated to make use of the gifts we have been given by God, or by nature–whichever you prefer. It’s almost fitting that “talent” was the name for an amount of money because that’s what the parable is about: about using our talents in this life. 

Now here’s where this ties into Stoicism. Although we don’t know when the parable dates to, or whether it was even real, St. Matthew and Seneca were born around the same time and died roughly ten years apart. Jesus and Seneca were said to be born in the same year, and died in very similar circumstances. Of the three, Seneca was given the greatest gifts and talents. His father was quite wealthy. He was born with a brilliant mind. By all accounts, he worked very hard to make the most of these gifts, and multiplied them many times over. 

In short, he lived up not just to the lesson in the parable of talents, but to his own advice, as well. As he wrote in Letter XIV:

“We should play the part of the careful householder; we should increase what we have inherited.” 

Yes, we should. 

P.S. This was originally sent on July 11, 2019. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism. 

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