In Matthew 25, the gospel writer records the parable of the Talents. I want to draw our attention to the third servant who was given one talent, or as this version sets it up, one bag of silver. This servant buried his bag in the earth and, upon his master’s return, the servant presents the bag to his master. Here is how the text reads:
25:24 “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. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’
26 “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, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’
There are two things I want to point out to you from this passage. First, the servant knew his master well and knew that his master not only was successful in his work, but expected a certain level of success in the work of all his servants. Second, the servant acted in fear. He admits to being afraid.
The first servant presented his ten bags of silver with the statement, “You gave me five bags to invest…” thus the servant knew the purpose of the master and used his wisdom to invest the small amount he had been given.
The second servant presented his four bags of silver with the statement, “You gave me two bags to invest…” thus the servant knew the purpose of the master and used his wisdom to invest the small amount he had been given.
The third servant claims that he was afraid that he would lose the money. So often Christians choose to not invest—they choose to protect what the Master has given them. Do you know someone who claims to know God but is afraid that the work they might do might not be what God wants? Their fear prevents them from building the Kingdom of God. The Master calls this inaction “wicked” and not “faithful” as some may think.
Why? Well, because we need to trust that if God, our master, provides us with a part of his wealth, then we are to use that wealth to continue God’s investment in our world. To not participate in God’s investment is to not trust that God knew what he was doing when He put a portion of His wealth into our care. We can act within God purpose, or we can choose inaction because of fear. We can be faithful in God’s purpose, or we can be wicked in our inaction. James, another biblical writer, would say faith without WORKS is dead…and we need to take that to heart, get it through our heads, and then move our hands to action—investing in this world as Jesus did.
I was reading in Exodus 21 and came across a passage that made a lot of sense to me. The problem is that I rarely see it practiced and rightly so, because we have a different law than the one in the text. However, listen to what it says and see if we can’t learn a thing or two from this law:
18 “Now suppose two men quarrel, and one hits the other with a stone or fist, and the injured person does not die but is confined to bed. 19 If he is later able to walk outside again, even with a crutch, the assailant will not be punished but must compensate his victim for lost wages and provide for his full recovery.
I think the biggest thing that sticks out to me is that the one who injures the other is responsible for the care and compensation of the other. This law isn’t just about paying some money and walking away, and it is not only addressing having some sort of guilty conscience. These two men, although they were quarreling, are part of the same community and the sharing of life continues to happen even after the fight calms down.
I think my first response after injuring someone would be to walk away and forget them. They obviously deserved what they received and I would figure out a way to justify my behavior. We don’t continue in community, but seek to cut off communion with others and often seek another community to join (perhaps because we are more mobile than our ancient friends). How convenient that is for us, but for our ancient friends there was no such options.
I often wonder if God, who wholeheartedly believes and practices reconciliation, holds us responsible for the people we injure even if we try to ignore our action, or them. Does God see our broken relationships as normal or as opportunities for restoration? Does God want us to get to a safe place in another community or to take responsibility for what we have done even if it costs us something? Does God hold us accountable for righting our wrongs? So, suppose two people quarrel and you injure the other person…what should you do to be right in the eyes of our God?
In Matthew 23, Jesus is face-to-face with the Pharisees again and I want to focus on how he challenges them in this passage:
16 “Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’ 17 Blind fools! Which is more important—the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding. 19 How blind! For which is more important—the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
A fundamental mistake that the Pharisees made, and that we make is viewing the gift, or the precious metal, as paramount instead of the relationship that gives it substance. The Pharisees had turned their relationship with God into a system to be controlled, and in so doing they had placed value on gold, gifts, and stuff…they were the first wholehearted materialistic culture!
However, I think we need to heed the warning of Christ because we put stock in the price of an engagement ring instead of the relationship it represents. We like to be given gifts, have things paid for, and all of these things are never more important than the people who surround us, love us, and are connected to us. This is true in our faith walk as well. We should never place anything over our God who makes all possible—because it was God’s efforts to pursue us that allowed grace to be poured out in the first place.
Jesus calls the Pharisees “blind guides,” and warns them of the “sorrow that awaits.” If our relationship with God is primarily focused on the gold and gifts and not the one who makes our lives sacred…then the same can be said of us. Let’s pray that we are guides who know where we are going and that what awaits is a joyful reunion!
If my last post failed to make the argument it needed to make, then you only have to continue reading in Chapter 21 of Matthew for it to become extremely clear. Jesus continues to confront the religious leaders, telling them a couple of stories. The first story is about two sons, the first son tells his father that he would not work in the vineyard and then does go to work and the second one tells his father that he would go out and work in the vineyard but does not do it. Jesus asks which son obeyed—and the correct answer is the first son. Then Jesus tells another story about a landowner that leased out the farm to workers. The farmer sent representatives to collect his share but the workers would not give it to them, the workers hurt the representatives. So, the landowner sent his son to collect his share and the workers killed the son. Jesus asks those listening what they would expect the father to do to the workers? Obviously, the landowner would seek the most devastating vengeance.
Jesus then tells them this: “43 I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. 44 Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.”
The leaders got the message, and they wanted to arrest Jesus but were held back from their plan due to their fear of the crowds who thought highly of him.
James isn’t the only New Testament writer that claims faith without works is dead. Faith is found in the fruit it produces. Paul would attribute good fruit to the working of the Holy Spirit within us. John would talk about our love of God moving us into a deeper devotion through service to other people. I think it is entirely appropriate to hear the teaching of Jesus as a test of God’s patience with people who claim to be His, but fail to live His will. Thus they fail in their witness to the people around them. Let us be people who pursue God and produce the proper fruit, so that we may hold onto the Kingdom of God!
In Matthew 21 we read about Jesus wanting some fruit from a fig tree. The Bible reports that Jesus is hungry, and in reaction to the tree not having ripe fruit, Jesus curses the tree which causes it to wither and die. The disciples take notice of the withered tree. They ask Jesus how the tree died so quickly, and in response to their question, Jesus provides a lesson about faith:
21 “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. 22 You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.”
This a great teaching about faith, but it is not a teaching without context. Matthew has repeatedly talked about “fruit” as a metaphor for what a person produces in their life. We know the proverbial statement that it is "by their fruit you will know them." And while this can be true of individuals, it can also be true of institutions and communities. Jesus is returning from Jerusalem when he gets angry at the tree, and Jesus will return to Jerusalem shortly to cleanse the Temple.
His message about faith is that real and authentic faith will triumph over the old ways of religion. The fig tree represents a Jewish leadership and system that does not bear fruit that is sweet to Jesus’ taste—therefore it must wither and go away. The “mountain” that is to be moved could be the Temple mound itself and everything that it has become—not what God wanted it to be, but an obstacle that stands in the way of persons coming to know the Lord.
The tree and the mountain are symbols of a lack or trust in God, a glorification of self and system, and a perversion within the purity of relationship with God. Jesus asks his disciples to pray for anything, and with faith it will be received. Given the context, maybe we should pray for the end of fruitless religion even in Christian circles, and the revitalization of faith that seeks the impossible because we are connected to the God who accomplishes the impossible.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.