© June 29, 2018 | Schulter Etyang
I still maintain that the Bible is not about us but about Jesus and his work for us. Failing to do so makes reading the Bible a dangerous endeavour. Whenever we superimpose ourselves on the Bible, two things happen; pride or apathy. When we read the Bible and discover that we have attained to its ideals, it produces in us pride. Ask the Pharisees, Sadducees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day. When we read the Bible, on the other hand, and discover that we have failed to attain to its ideals, it produces in us apathy or indifference.
Which leads me to this parable in Matthew 25:14-28 about the man who left his workers with some money. This particular parable has been used to enforce an ROI (Return on Investment) thought that has been of great disservice to the storyteller and its hearers. We have made this parable about us and not about Jesus.
Here’s the parable; an unnamed man left his servants with some money. He gave to each servant based on their ability. What ability? We can only surmise. We really don’t know. All we know is that they had some abilities.
This man went on a long journey, then came back and asked his servants to give an account of what they had done with the money. One by one they told the man what they had done with the money and were rewarded accordingly. The last guy, however, didn’t do anything with his money. He, instead, buried the money and gave it back to the man. His reason? His boss was an unfair man who did not deserve anything. The boss was angry and threw the man into hell.
Context matters. Who is Jesus speaking to? Jesus is speaking specifically to the nation of Israel, which was under the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses operated on this premise; if you did well, you would be blessed. If you didn’t do well, you would be cursed. It was based on your performance or lack of it. Jesus’ ministry was under the Law. (Galatians 4:4 NKJV) Jesus used the story to explain to his people that they had been given “talents” (Romans 9:4 NLT) to work with and their reward was based on what they did with those talents. They either got a commendation or were thrown into hell based on their performance or lack of it. If they did well, more was given to them. If they performed badly, even what they had was taken from them and worse, thrown into hell.
If we insert ourselves into the surface reading of this story, we will believe that Jesus approves of us for using our gifts and talents and rebukes the lazy among us. The message, therefore, becomes work harder, work your talents, do more, and when you do, you will be rewarded with more. Jenny and I, according to the Enneagram test are reformers. Reformers are visionaries, we change the world, and we get things done. When we read such a story, a resounding yes echoes through our psyche, like Jesus, we got this, bring it on.
But for people whose personality type is the laid-back type, take it easy, stroll through life, they get the brunt of the parable. They get the afterburn of Jesus’ words, “Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
But if we look at this story through the eyes of grace, the story takes a whole new meaning
First, we are not servants but sons. Under the Law, the Jewish nation were servants. But under grace, we are sons. (Galatians 4:5-6 NKJV)
Second, servants receive only money for which they have to reinvest. Sons receive their father’s full inheritance. (Galatians 4:7 NKJV)
Third, in the New Covenant, God wrestles control from our hands into his own hands. Jesus kept the Law perfectly for us and his perfect performance was credited to our account. (Matthew 5:17 NKJV) Jesus became the two men who worked their talents and instead of him receiving the commendation from his father, his commendation was given to us. Jesus, also, became the man who went and hid his talent on the ground. He took the punishment meant for this useless man on himself. (Galatians 3:13-14 NKJV) He bore the penalty for this man’s failure. And furthermore, he takes his perfect performance and gives to this lazy and useless servant.
This I believe is how we should look at this parable. When the nation of Israel failed to “work” the talents, a greater one – Jesus, stepped in, worked the talents, and distributed equally to all (Jews and gentiles) the rewards and suffered the punishment for our disobedience.
I know that I’ve missed too many opportunities to “work” my gifts and talents. I have regrets. But every time these regrets try to run me down, I point them to Jesus. I point them to what Jesus has done for me – his perfect record and his punishment for my own failures.
Non-Christian, it is possible that you have this sense that being a Christian is predicated on how hard you work, spiritually. It’s even implied that the lazy servant is you the non-Christian – that God gave you talents and gifts when you were born and because you didn’t work at them, he will throw you into hell. If Christianity came across to you like a religion where you have to work hard to stay in, then here’s the true definition of a Christian.
A true Christian says, “I am not a Christian because of anything I did or do but because of what Jesus has done for me. He obeyed the Law of God perfectly for me and took the punishment for my disobedience. His perfect obedience was rewarded and those rewards were credited to my account. He also bore the penalty for my disobedience and now I walk away scot free with benefits credited to my account. And I live my Christian life based on this truth. That’s what makes a Christian.
I am not a Christian because of anything I did or do but because of what Jesus has done for me
What if we believed this to be true about the Christian faith? What if Christians really lived as if they’ve earned rewards but not because they did anything special? What if our swagger is not in what we do for God but what God has done for us in Christ?
What if your regrets melted away because you allowed this truth about Jesus and his perfect performance on your behalf to take root in your soul? What if you really believed it?
That’s what grace looks like