Two Ways of Seeing Judgment
Text: Matt. 25:14-30
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The end of the church year is very interesting. We have these readings that contain both urgency and calm in the face of the end of all things. There are these readings that contain Jesus’ words to His disciples and to those who have set themselves against Him and are plotting His death. We have lessons that stack one upon another, layering our understanding of what it is that Jesus will do when He returns in glory. It’s easy for us to subdivide these in our minds, partly because we hear them a week apart from each other. But when we combine them, we learn a lot of what our Lord will do when He returns at the end of all things—and it’s for our benefit and comfort that we learn these rich, layered lessons.
Last week, we were taught to always be ready, to always remember that the greatest thing we have to look forward to is the arrival of Jesus, the Bridegroom, to begin the wedding feast of Lamb in His kingdom that has no end. We were told to always be ready for His return, to keep our lamps full and always keep in mind that He’s coming back. This week the lesson is extended—not only to be prepared, but how to be prepared. And as he often does, Jesus uses a parable to teach us.
In this parable, the master of a house—a man of great wealth—is going away on a journey. He needs someone to watch his estate while he’s gone, so he does what was common then: he entrusts it to his servants. He divides his property between three of them. He gives the first servant 5 talents of gold or silver, which is a very considerable sum. A talent was 20 years’ worth of wages for an average worker back then. So the first servant is entrusted with a century’s worth of wages: over $10 million in today’s money by some estimates. This is a very generous trust to leave with his servant. Even those servants who were entrusted with less still have very generous amounts put under them. The second servant receives two talents, or 40 years’ wages; over $4 million. The third servant is given one talent, or 20 years’ wages: over $2 million.
Now because they didn’t know when the master of the house was coming back, the first two servants got right to work. They didn’t want to be caught flat-footed when their lord returned, so they were prepared. Now that aspect—the unexpected arrival of the master—is part of the lesson, but it’s what we learned last week with the wise and foolish virgins. But now Jesus is adding to the lesson with the parable today.
For there is another servant, the third one entrusted with one talent. He’s terrified of the master of the house. What if he makes a bad investment with his master’s wealth? He doesn’t trust that his master will be gracious, understanding, or compassionate. So he buries the money in the ground. He wipes the dirt from his hands and goes back to his regular life.
When the master of the house returns, he wants to see how his servants fared. The first one returns with double the amount entrusted to him, as does the second servant. But before we get swept away in details and bookkeeping, take a look at how both these servants speak: “Master, you delivered to me five talents…You delivered to me two talents…” What is it that they talk about first and foremost? Their master’s generosity. You delivered to me. You entrusted me with what is yours. It’s all from you; here, it’s all yours. They realize that for their master to give them such responsibility, to entrust such riches to them, He must have thought very highly of them. They then reflect that back, in the form of faith in their master, in his characteristics, his generosity, his joy. This set them free to take what He entrusted to them and boldly make use of it, for the building up of their master’s estate and name. Their faith in him stemmed from his faithfulness and generosity to them. So they are called good and faithful servants by their master—the operative word being faithful.
But not the third servant. Look at how he speaks to his lord. Rather than talking about how his master delivered anything to him, or how he was entrusted with wealth he could barely imagine, he instead has some very harsh things to say about his master. “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed.” He has no faith in his lord. He essentially calls him a thief. By saying he’s a hard man, he’s ignoring everything that his master has done for him and his fellow servants. So he does the only thing he can think to do. Because he’s afraid, he acts only to save his own hide. “I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.” He is a faithless servant. Or, as his lord says, he’s wicked and slothful. His wickedness came from his unfaith. He was frozen in fear and thus became slothful with all that his master gave him.
Christ is returning and there will be judgment. Our parable teaches us that you can look at it two ways. You can look at His return like the wicked faithless servant: that God is a strict taskmaster and recordkeeper, that He’s unmerciful, ungenerous, even unfair, so you do what you can to try to not be punished. But look at what that earns the wicked servant—he’s cast into the outer darkness. Be warned by this parable to not regard Christ’s return at the end in such a fear-paralyzed way.
Because you can also look at your Lord’s return like the first two servants. You can always see first and foremost the generosity of your Master. You can see how much He’s put into your hands, how much He’s entrusted you, how much joy He has when you rightly use all the gifts He’s handed over to you. You can look at Him in faith, seeing Him for the loving, giving, and gracious Lord that He is.
Chances are that depending on the day, you’ll go back and forth between these attitudes. That’s the trouble of living in a fallen world with a fallen human nature. But because your Master is generous, He’ll even forgive your ungenerous thoughts about Him, even the secret ones. He’ll call you back to His treasure house, this sanctuary, where He sets before you all that He’s entrusted you, all that He’s put right into your lap: His Word, His wisdom, His mercy, His forgiveness, His body and blood, His church made up of your fellow servants. He’ll open your eyes again to see all He’s given you, including Himself. So rejoice, sing about it, come to give thanks and praise to Him, and treasure these gifts, sharing them and using them freely, boldly, and joyfully. Come to His altar in thanksgiving for His generosity. Enter into the joy of your Master. In the name of Jesus, our generous Lord. Amen.