Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Heart in Action--the Parable of the Talents

     This next parable is in an interesting place in Matthew.  In Chapter 24, the disciples ask Jesus what will happen at the end of the age.  He also comments that only His Father knows when these things will come to pass.  He talks then in a parable about the good servant who is in charge while his master is away, and is found to be doing good when the master returns.  He contrasts that with a wicked servant who acts irresponsibility and who will be punished when his master returns.
     Then Jesus goes on in Chapter 25 to talk of the virgins who await the bridegroom--some prepared and some unprepared.  The foolish ones miss the opportunity to enter the feast with the bridegroom when he finally appears.  The context still operating here is one of expectation and not growing weary in the waiting.
     Now comes our parable in Matthew 25:14-30.
     “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.  But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money."
     Let's set the stage.  The master must leave.  He has business elsewhere.  He doesn't just assume his servants will know what to do or how to proceed once he's gone.  He calls them together.  Yes, you could argue that they have been with him awhile (he trusts them with his money after all--that shows he knows them well enough) and that they should know how to operate without him around.  But calling them together goes deeper than that.
     He gives to each of them something of value.  He is saying to them, in essence, I have been with you long enough to know what your abilities are.  I know the level of your integrity.  I am showing my love and trust by giving you something of value...I am not simply asking you to keep the homestead running.  I am giving you oversight of my wealth and am trusting you to handle it with care and diligence.
     Wow.  The master is acting as if these servants are his partners, his peers, his equals.  He is entrusting them to handle his estate, to be engaged in his business as if it were their own. 
      Now, he distributes the wealth according "to his ability."  He knows each of his servants so well that he gives them what they can handle competently.  He knows their strengths and weaknesses and doesn't give them too much or too little.  So, each man receives a different amount.  The master isn't showing favoritism...he is showing concern.  He wants his servants to walk away with two things:  My master values me and he's knows I can do this. 
     Notice, Servant #1 goes "immediately" and multiplies the money's amount.  The master knew this servant's heart.  He knew he would be about his master's business in a heartbeat, making his master's money increase.  Not for greedy gain, but so the wealth can go further to benefit more people.  More money means more servants to hire and more land to be bought--the wealth poured into the community will benefit the community and Servant #1 knows this.  Servant #2 also goes "at once" and makes the money multiply.  He doesn't see the wealth of his master as something to be tucked under a mattress.  He sees the wealth of his master something to be actively used.  
     By investing it, the two servants are acting in love for their master--joyfully going out and getting down to business.  They didn't start whining about why #1 got more entrusted to him than #2.  They saw what they were given in the light of the master:  My master trusts  me to do good with his wealth and I will not let him down!  His love for me inspires me to do good, for he is good!
     Now on to Servant #3.   Uh-oh.  He didn't grab his bag of gold, happily entering the world to make his master proud of him.  He hides it in the ground.  Time goes on.  Does Servant #3 even remember where he buried it?  What is he doing all this time?  While #1 and #2 are out and about in their master's service, what is he doing?  Is he just hanging out?  Or after awhile, when his master didn't return, did he wander off, uninvolved and unconcerned?  Did he feel justified in his inactivity?  Wow--look at those two!  Running around as if our master is coming home any day now!  Right!  It's been YEARS since the master left and it doesn't look like he's coming back any time soon.  Maybe we misunderstood him.  Maybe he spoke falsely to us--he never intends to return.  Maybe we misunderstood him.  Maybe, he's not a good master--a good master would have returned by now.  How can I trust him?  Where are you?  I am not going to waste my time, running around for an untrustworthy master.  Bury the money, forget about it and carry on.  Works for me!
     “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
     “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
     “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
     “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’"
     The master DID return. Yes, it was a long time, but the trust that his servants had led to action--they trusted him to return, and they acted on that trust. 
     Not so with Servant #3: “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
     “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
     “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’"
     Look at the heart of Servant #3:  He believes his master has a hard heart and thus he distrusts his master's actions.  Others do the master's work and only the master reaps the benefits, seems to be this servant's assessment.  In other words:  Master, you are about you.  I thought it would be best to hide the money so that no one could steal it, but I really do not trust you...I trust myself.  I thought hiding it was a good move--aren't you proud of me?  See!  No one stole it at least.  Isn't that good enough?

      But isn't master's reaction a tad harsh?  No.  The master is saying Yes, I do have others do my work.  But, why do they do it?  They do it because they love and trust me.  Even if you weren't confident enough to engage in an active investment, at least what I gave you could have been entrusted to others.  But it is your heart with its lack of trust in me that is the problem.  You buried the money because your love for me is buried in the ground of disbelief.  You serve me with a heart that is far from me.  You have a heart of darkness and now you will leave my presence.  You never tried to get to know me, even while in my house.
     The parable here isn't just use what God gives you.  It's deeper than that.  Serve God because you love Him and are grateful that He has entrusted you with some kingdom work, however large or small it may be.  The real talent our Master is looking for is a heart that knows Him and will serve Him.  He wants a heart to love Him and to trust Him, until He returns.  And return He will.

Like more? 


Friday, January 17, 2014

Lights! Camera! BUSHEL?

    It is interesting that this parable of salt and light comes after the beautiful "Blessed are the..." part of the Sermon on the Mount.  The kingdom of God has characteristics of those who would be a part of it and those whose lives reflect that membership.  Notice that these are qualities of the heart, not religious duties to be performed.  God is concerned with our character and its development.  What is the ultimate goal of this character transformation?  In Romans 8:29 we read:  "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters."  Our character's not fully developed until we are like Jesus.  Pure and simple.
     So, how do we gain entrance into God's kingdom where His Son is our Mentor, Guide and Friend?
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,                Humbly knowing we need Him
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,                 Realizing how needy we truly are
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,                             Graciously receiving His provision
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger 
    and thirst for righteousness,                   Craving His life in us & earnestly seeking Him
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,                          Forgiving ourselves and forgiving others
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,                   New heart, new eyes
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,                  Desiring now all come to Him
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted 
     because of righteousness,                      Trials will come to His own as we go out     
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
     We become the bearers of the Good News:  freedom and forgiveness in Christ!  Some will welcome the message, others want to remain in the darkness.
      So, a new heart has a new mission:  to bear witness by our words and actions of the inner transformation that is occurring as Christ lives in us.  So, now Jesus drives His point home.  With our new mission, what will we be like?  First:
      “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot."
      Salt:  It preserves.  We will preserve His presence in the world through His touch and love those hearts that are decomposing from the rankness of sin.  Sin pollutes, salt preserves.  It also flavors:  "To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Col. 1:27)
     But, it also makes men thirsty and craving more.  It sustains the hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Salty foods drive us to finish the whole bag and that's the kind of craving we would like others to have when they see Christ in us.  

     “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
     The comparison changes, from salt to light, but the idea is the same.  Light illuminates--driving out darkness with a small but sure flame.  Light simply is...with the kingdom of God in our hearts, His light should be evident to everyone.  You can't hide the love of Jesus in a sincere heart...the light radiates out.  So, we can start with a small area--our house--and move out, lighting the world as we go.
     Any city, all aglow in the evening, is quite a sight.  The lights are there in the daytime, but the darkness provides contrast.  His light in us will provide quite the contrast with the darkness that is in the world.
     But a lighted city, in the darkness, also provides a destination.  When I walk down our mountain roads in the gathering evening dark, the lit up houses are a comfort.  My eyes naturally gravitate to them and they remind me that I am not alone.  I love the lights on my house:  they are an invitation to finish up my walk, and come home.  The light we shine is an invitation:  come, join the kingdom.  The God Who forgave and empowered me will forgive and empower you.  My light is His light--you will not praise me, but see Him and praise Him. 
     Ultimately, salt and light induce a craving, a desire to seek, find and embrace.  Salt makes us thirsty and light makes us long for home.  He waits for those who who are thirsty and long for home.  Those of us who know Him must live as to remind others that thirst can be quenched and Home is available.
     What if we don't use our salt?  It becomes useless.  What if we don't shine our light?  It goes out.
     Jesus said, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working." (John 5:17)  Can we, who know His work in our hearts, do anything less?

For more posts in my parable series, click here.

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