Do, or do not! There is no “try”! Yoda - The Empire Strikes Back
A guy can only do what a guy can do — but he can do at least that much! Jim Black — business aphorism
It is most unlikely that you have ever come across the word “parable” except in the context of the teaching of Jesus.
In Sunday School I learned that a parable was an earthly story with an heavenly meaning. Jesus used parables extensively in his teaching. So much so, that his disciples confronted him about it on one occasion:
His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables, For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand. Matthew 13:10-13 NLT
In explaining about the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus was up against centuries of dogmatic teaching, entrenched ideas and layer upon layer of religious interpretation, commentary and speculation. He was well aware that those who were not open to his teaching were doomed to be confused and befuddled as they tried to reconcile the simplicity of his message with the byzantine formulae they had been taught to rely on. But for ordinary people without the baggage of formal religious training, these stories gave them a more accurate understanding of God’s purposes than the speculation of a thousand Rabbis!
Many of the stories are easy to understand and have happy endings: the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the Good Samaritan.
Others illustrate enduring principles drawn from an agrarian way of life: sheep and goats, wheat and weeds, sowing seed and harvesting.
But some of them defy conventional ideas of “fairness” to emphasize the sovereignty of God in His Kingdom. For example, paying a worker who was hired for the last day of harvesting the same as a worker who had started on the first day of harvesting seems “unfair” from our perspective, but it perfectly fair from God’s perspective!
The 25th Chapter of Matthew collects several of these “problematic” parables, all of which reference a “deadline” before which there is opportunity to do the right thing, and after which excuses for non-performance fall on deaf ears.
Consider this one:
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.
“The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.
“After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’
“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
“The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’
“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
“Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’
“But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’
“Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Matthew 25:14-30 NLT
Notice that the servants were given levels of responsibilities “in proportion to their abilities”.
I find it very comforting that when God gives me responsibility, by definition He believes it is within my capabilities. For me to argue otherwise is prideful, disrespectful to God, and wrong!
Notice also that the master’s expectation was that the capabilities would be exercised — the amount of profit is never questioned, only that effort was put in to grow the resource entrusted to the servant. Effort is the key here, excuses do not enter the calculation.
Notice that the reward for growing the capability is more responsibility — in essence this is promotion to a higher level of trust overseeing even more resources. The King James translation gives us the memorable, “Well done!…enter into the joy of the Lord”, but I really like the translation above that has the master saying “let’s celebrate together!” Party Time!
I’m sure we’d all have loved the parable to end there, but of course it doesn’t. There comes a reckoning.
The useless servant is exactly that! He has not even tried to use the resources he was given, instead he hopes he can rely on excuses.
Notice that the punishment is to have the responsibilities taken away and given to someone with proven capability to handle them. Not only that, but he is taken off the list of servants to whom responsibilities can be given and never gets to join the party! Weeping and gnashing of teeth, indeed!
My father used to say that being a Christian was like going on the opposite direction on a moving sidewalk. Standing still is equivalent to going backward! We are all swimming against the downward tide of this world. We have all been given varying gifts, talents and abilities. The problematic parables tell us that the only way to be shut out of the party is to do nothing.
So, engage the talents you have!
Grow or die!
Onward christian soldiers!
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black
P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at https://salvationarmyconcordca.org/chronicle/