Read Chapter VIII - Parables of the talents and the pounds of Usury A Scriptural‚ Ethical and Economic View , free online book, by Calvin Elliott, on

Our Lord mentions usury by name only in the parables of the talents and pounds. Mat:14-30; Luke 19:12-27. Usury is mentioned in these passages incidentally to meet the excuses of worthless servants, but in both as the unjust and oppressive act of a hard and dishonest man. These references to usury are in entire harmony with the expressions of David and Solomon, and of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

These servants in the parables were slaves, who owed their service to their master and for whom he was responsible.

The lesson in both parables is the necessity of faithfulness. The faithful servants are rewarded and the unfaithful punished in both. Yet there is a special lesson in each.

The parable of the talents shows that an equal reward shall be given all who are equally faithful, though the means and opportunities afforded one may far exceed those granted another. One was given five talents and another but two; one gained five and the other two, yet both equally faithful, are directed to enter into the joy of their lord.

The unfaithful servant brings his talent with an excuse, which is a charge against the character of his master, “I knew thee that thou art an hard man reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed,” “so there thou hast which is thine.”

The master in reply showed the inconsistency of the excuse by assuming that he bore the hard character charged upon him by his slave, “Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.” It is “interest” in the Revised Version.

This interview may be paraphrased as follows:

The unfaithful servant said: “I know the kind of a man you are. You are dishonest. You take what does not belong to you. You reap what other people sow, and you take up what others earn. I was afraid of you: Here is all that you gave me and all that belongs to you.”

The master said: “You are merely excusing yourself. You are a lazy faithless slave. If I am the hard man you say I am, taking what does not belong to me and gathering the sowings and earnings of others, you could have met that condition without trouble to yourself, by giving my money to the usurers and then at my coming I could have received my unjust gain. Your excuse is inconsistent, you condemn yourself. You are an indolent and worthless slave. Begone to your punishment.”

It is clearly implied that unearned increase, reaping and gathering without sowing, could be gained through the exchangers. If this was what was demanded, the servant could have secured this with no effort on his part. His charge against the master was a mere pretence to excuse his own want of personal faithfulness, and the master’s reply was fitted to this pretense.

This is in entire harmony with the opinion our Lord expressed of the exchangers when he called them thieves and drove them out of the temple. It would be wholly inconsistent for him to advise an honest and faithful servant to place any portion of the property in their hands. His advice can only come from the standpoint of a dishonest master such as his servant called him.

The parable of the pounds shows the degrees of faithfulness in those who have equal opportunities. With the same opportunities one may far surpass another, because more faithful to his trust, his reward is proportionately greater.

In this parable each servant received the same, but the gains and rewards differ. By diligence one gained ten pounds and is commended and given authority over ten cities. Another gained five pounds. He is also commended and given authority over five cities.

Another, who had given no service, came with his pound but without increase. This was a proof of his unfaithfulness. He endeavors to shield himself like the servant with the talent, by charging injustice and oppression on his master. “I feared thee because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layest not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.”

His master turned on him because his own reason was inconsistent with his conduct and a mere shield for his indolence and worthlessness. “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knowest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow. Wherefore gavest thou not my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury.”

This interview may also be paraphrased.

The unfaithful slave came and said: “Lord I have carefully kept all that thou gavest me. I knew that thou wast an exacting master, taking what did not belong to you and gathering what others sow.”

The master says: “Now stop right there and I will judge you by your own excuse out of your own mouth. You say you knew me to be exacting and dishonest, taking more than belonged to me. Now, knowing this, why did you not serve me by giving my money to the bank, and then at my coming you could have brought me my money with my unjust gain and that would have pleased a hard man like me, without effort on your part. You are only giving this as an excuse for your own unfaithfulness. You are a wicked slave.”

The master admits that he would be a hard man, if he reaped what another sowed, or took up what belonged to another, but assuming that this was his character, even this could have been met without trouble to the slave through the bank. This is a clear recognition of usury as unjust gain.

Exchangers were little more than the pawn-brokers of today and a bank was a pawn-shop where pledges were stored. The money loaned upon any pawn was much less than its full value. The increase of the loan soon made it more than the value of the pledge which was then forfeited, and the pawn was sold by the broker.

These parables are here dwelt upon, for they are so frequently misunderstood and misapplied. In a large volume on “Banking,” the writer found the words of the master quoted, “Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required my own with usury.” And they were quoted as a solemn direction of the divine Master to deposit money in the bank.

To quote from these parables in the defense of usury is as flagrant a perversion of the truth as the famous quotation to prove that Paul encouraged theft. “Let him that stole, steal.”

The lessons of these parables are in entire harmony with the law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets and Nehemiah. In these parables the usurer is presented as a hard man, exacting that which he has not earned and to which he has no right.

The teachings of the Master did not permit what had been forbidden in all the ages.