The word translated to "talents" here (in NIV 1984) and in most other Biblical versions, including the King James and the New King James - comes from the Greek word τάλαντον (talanton). This word means, according to the lexicon: "the scale of a balance, a balance, a pair of scales;" "that which is weighed, a talent;" "a weight varying in different places and times" and "a sum of money weighing a talent and varying in different states and according to the changes in the laws regulating currency."
The NIV 2011 translators have thus modified the translation of this Greek word from "talents" to "bags of gold"
While translating the word τάλαντον (talanton) to "talents" is curious and even understandable, translating it to "bags of gold" goes to the further extreme. Certainly Jesus did not literally say "bags of gold." In what situation would servants be given "bags of gold" by their master?
This matters not, however, because Jesus was not teaching about money here. He was teaching about ones relationship with the Supreme Being.
The master in the story symbolizes the Supreme Being, and the different servants of the master symbolize God's children - each of us - created by God to be his loving servants. But because love requires freedom, the Supreme Being also gave each of us the freedom to love Him or not.
This freedom is being symbolized in the parable by the fact that the master gave the talents to his servants and then went away, giving them the freedom to invest those talents any way they wished.
The "talents" given by the master symbolize our unique relationship with God - expressed by our individual abilities to provide service to God. The more "talents" the servant was given, the greater the ability to express their service. Thus, the "talent" in Jesus' parable relates to the level of service to God a person can render, as well as the level of their loving relationship with God.
Just as the talents were given out to the servants by the master, everything we possess in the physical world, along with our relationship with the Supreme Being - has been given to us. We own nothing.
How do we know we own nothing? Because when our body dies, everything we once thought we owned is taken away from us: Poof - it is gone in a flash.
Ownership requires control. A person who cannot control something is not the owner of that something.
And because we lose everything we thought we owned in the physical world, we cannot claim ownership over it.
Thus the things that we are given in this physical world are on loan to us. We may be allowed to use them for awhile, but we cannot control them. They will be taken from us at some point so we much admit that we don't own them because we cannot control them.
To claim ownership over something on loan to us might be compared to borrowing a library book and then claiming we own the book. If we did that, the library could theoretically label us a thief - trying to claim the library book as out own.
But this is besides the point, because Jesus is not speaking of material things here. He is using the concept of talents as symbolizes a greater gift - exchanging a loving relationship with the Supreme Being.
The reason this is important is because Jesus is not concerned with the physical body and the temporary names and forms of this world. This is confirmed by statements such as:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." (Matt. 10:28)Jesus wasn't concerned about the future of the physical body of his students, or his own for that matter. The body is temporary and all those things connected with the body will be lost at the time of death. But we take with us our relationship with the Supreme Being. That is because our relationship with the Supreme Being is outside the confines of time and space. It is a spiritual relationship. And because we are spiritual, this is what we can take away from this lifetime - assuming we develop it.
Each of us is given the opportunity to re-develop our personal relationship with God at some point during our lives. Those who do not utilize and develop this relationship are being compared to the servant who buried his talent in the ground. This is interesting, as those who refuse to develop their relationship with God are in fact, burying that opportunity so not only will they not use it, but neither can anyone else.
The servant who used his talents to gain more talents symbolizes a person who utilizes what they are given to develop their relationship with the Supreme Being.
Notice here that in Jesus' story, there is no difference in the response the master gives to the servant relative to the amount of talents they earned back. The master is pleased regardless of how much. This symbolizes the fact that God is not petty. Any progress towards increasing our affection and love for Him is appreciated, and any sincere service rendered for Him is appreciated without regard to the amount or volume.
The Supreme Being simply wants our love. He is the most beautiful and gracious person. He is our lovable best friend, our constant companion, and the one person we can always rely upon. To remember this through our lives, and to build upon this fact will bring us closer and closer to Him. This is the meaning of Jesus' statement: "For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance."
Those of us who ignore this message, and refuse to accept Jesus' teachings and God's call to bring us back to Him, are unfortunately destined to continue suffering in this physical world. Should we "bury" the jewels of knowledge given to us by Jesus, we are faced with continued loneliness and physical suffering as we try to enjoy the physical world within different physical bodies - including those of rats, insects, wolves, snakes and so on. Living within these types of physical bodies are being described as "there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" because every physical body is borne of fear, pain and suffering.
Jesus wants us to re-develop our loving relationship with God so we can return to our home in the spiritual realm. This is where we belong, and this is why he instructed us:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-40)
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Book of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)