One servant, two paths (part 2)
Jesus is telling a parable to His disciples, explaining to them that they should be prepared for His return. Within the story, Jesus explicitly states there are great rewards for the disciples who are found doing the work He gave them. However, you may need to brace yourself for how Jesus’ parable describes His followers who, upon His return, have neglected their responsibilities.
The Lord said: “Who then is the faithful and sensible manager his master will put in charge of his household servants to give them their allotted food at the proper time? That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded.
Like we saw last time, it would make little sense for Jesus to refer to someone who has not placed their faith in Him as both faithful and sensible, or to put that person in a position of responsibility over those in the master’s household. After his promotion, this faithful and sensible manager now has a choice as to how he will handle his new responsibilities; and if he continues to be faithful, then Jesus will reward him.
But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female slaves, and to eat and drink and get drunk, that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.
Notice that the slave still believes the master will return…however, the master is taking longer than the slave expected, so he figures “I’ve got some time before he returns” and begins to act selfishly, mistreating those under his care, becoming lax in his responsibilities and watchfulness. If he becomes distracted by his own selfish impulses, then the master’s return is sure to catch him by surprise…and it won’t be a pleasant meeting.
…that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unfaithful. And that slave who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it will be severely beaten. But the one who did not know and did things deserving of blows will be beaten lightly. Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.
Jesus uses strong words in this story in order to make a strong point. The phrases will cut him to pieces and be severely beaten shouldn’t be taken literally…any more than our own phrases regarding severe discipline: “I’m going to tan your hide.” or “She cut me down to size.” But Jesus is serious, nonetheless. When He retells this parable to the disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus describes the master’s return like this:
He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
It would be easy to try and dismiss this slave as an example of someone who wasn’t “truly saved” or someone who didn’t “really believe” in Jesus as their Savior; however, what we’ve observed in the text doesn’t allow that interpretation. The servant accepts the master’s authority and believes in his return. He is faithful and is given additional responsibilities in the household. However, while his master is gone, he becomes lazy and selfish, likely assuming that he can clean up any mess he makes before master gets back. Ultimately, though, a lousy servant is still a servant.
Our own experience bears this out. It is unfortunate, but we all know of stories or have attended churches where those in charge have misused, or even abused, their authority. Did the leaders physically beat their congregation? Likely not, but there are plenty of other types of mistreatment church members have experienced – manipulation, gossip, embezzlement, affairs, among others. It’s sad, frustrating, and just plain wrong that a believer would treat a fellow believer like this.
But how shall we describe this derelict servant? What words would you use? Jesus calls him a ‘wicked slave’ (Matthew 24:48), and says “that slave who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it” will face a severe punishment when He returns.
On one hand, we can take comfort in this, knowing that Jesus will deal with those who have selfishly misused their authority and mistreated their fellow believers. The wrongs committed within the church family will be rectified and brought to justice, they will not be sweep under rug of eternity.
On the other hand…this parable makes us do a gut-check. How are we handling our responsibilities within God’s family? Are we in danger of becoming lazy, selfish, or even wicked?
I know we don’t live perfect lives. There is a difference between ‘living for God and messing up’ and ‘living for ourselves and messing around’. God knows the difference, and He knows where you are. In humility, though, we recognize that even the strongest are tempted to drift away. Let’s walk in a healthy, reverent fear of the Lord, and do all that we can to make sure we are among those whose master finds them working when he comes [so that we] will be rewarded.