I’ve been sitting on this parable for over a week (or longer…). The last one (“The Ten Virgins”) seemed to speak about having an active sense of preparedness. What I liked was something that I understood from the “IVP Hard Sayings” commentary, that the foolish virgins’ error was something they could learn from and at the next wedding feast they had the possibility of acting on what they’d learned the last time. This parable doesn’t offer such a concluding consolation. That really bothered me. More than that, it seemed like the message of this parable was that if one didn’t DO than one would lose ones place in the kingdom. How can that be? How can one be a servant of the Lord and then be thrown out because they didn’t DO something? What happened to grace or even learning from ones errors? Getting tossed out “where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” hardly sounds like a “an opportunity” to learn from ones mistakes.
I consulted several commentaries including the legendary Matthew Henry’s.I have a remnant memory from my days as a religious studies and biblical studies major that said that, unless the speaker explains the symbolism behind the parts of a parable, then the focus should remain on the point of the story. In the parable about the ten virgins Matthew Henry wanted to find a spiritual message in every component of the story. I’m under no such illusion that there is a “deeper” lever to the story, except to stick to the point of the story. Alas, that was seemed like little help because I still got stuck on the notion (from MH) that one could get thrown out of the Kingdom of Heaven for failure to perform.
I reflected on the point of the previous parable, which was not about learning from ones errors but about preparedness to the point of action. There’s no knowing whether Jesus shared the two parables in sequential order, but clearly Matthew saw enough of a connection to put them together. So if the first was about preparedness to the point of action, then this one dug underneath the preparedness and exposed the belief that then led to preparedness to the point of action. That is, the first two servants believed and acted based on that belief and their belief was not dependent on direct observation by the master but was active even though their master was not present. Their actions were motivated by what they believed. And even the third servant acted based on what he believed, unfortunately for that servant he did not do what his master wanted him to do, and thus suffered the consequence. Okay, “action based on one’s beliefs, even in the absence of the inforcement of the one in charge.” This is not about grace. In some ways this is about the visible fruits or actions that come from what is in ones heart.
There’s also something in here about the Master knowing the character of his servants and thus tasking them based on their capacities and skills. For me, it’s been a long-standing motivation that one serves based on what the Lord has given his servants. Our culture elevates those in front, especially when it has something to do with music and performance, as if it were all from the performer that they have the voice or musical skills that they demonstrate. But I believe that we do because we have been given and to do less than our best or to strive to do less than our best disrespects the Creator who originally gives such gifts to His children.
For nearly a third of my life I was the third servant who hid the gift I’d been given in a hole in the ground because I was disgruntaled and felt disconnected from the Master. That changed because I got a second chance and saw just a glimpse of what real love means. Alas, I still struggle daily with the gap between the wonders of knowing my Master’s touch in my life and being just another guy trying to get through the day, trying to screw up as little as possible, trying to embrace my imperfect humanity and trust that my Master has something better for me than I what I seem to scrape together from day to day. In the end I know that I need to do better because I’ve already been given so much. JBB 10/12/2006