The talent was not a coin but a weight, and so its value obviously depended on whether the coinage involved was copper, silver, or gold. The most common metal was silver. The original Greek word for "talent" is talantos, which refers to quantity. As Jesus uses it, a talent is not something we possess, but which He possesses and loans to His servants. In the parable, all talents belonged to the lord, who entrusted them to his servants for use in trade.
Spiritually, the talents represent the gift of the complete revelation of God as given in the Bible, including the knowledge of His plan of salvation and the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God. It also includes His spiritual gifts to the church, such as speaking and understanding languages, preaching, teaching, discernment, knowledge, and wisdom, among many others (Romans 11:29; 12:6-8; I Corinthians 12:1-11).
What we "trade" with while He is absent belongs to Him. Our natural abilities are comparatively insignificant and of little value, but God has given us spiritual wealth to use by investing it in supporting the work of God. These talents, then, are not a matter of things we own or of strengths we have, but are part of the grace of God, provided for the church's benefit.
God's gifts accomplish much more through some people than they do through others, as is seen in how much the lord bestows on each servant. Every true servant of Christ receives the Holy Spirit, but different servants receive differing amounts of spiritual understanding from God. We do not receive more from Him than we can understand and use. Because God's servants differ in aptitude, He accordingly bestows His gifts to each servant as He pleases (I Corinthians 12:11).
The lord knew the trading ability of his chosen servants, and he distributed his talents accordingly. Talent and ability are two different things. Talents are the spiritual gifts of the Master, while ability is power from our natural fitness and skill. A person may have great natural ability, yet no spiritual gifts. Natural ability, however, one of God's physical gifts, is often necessary for the reception of spiritual gifts. This was no reflection on the third servant because he only received one talent; he could not handle more. Each servant of Christ receives for his service all that he needs and can use (Romans 12:4-9; I Corinthians 12:4-30).
This parable teaches us several things. God gives people differing gifts. Work well done is rewarded with still more work to do. The person who uses his gifts will be given more, while the person who does not will lose even what he has. If a person uses a gift, he is increasingly able to do more with it, and a person who does not try is punished. The only way to keep a spiritual gift is to use it in the service of God and one another.