The Parable of the Talents… feel guilty?

We are all familiar with Jesus parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14-30. A man gives ten talents to one person, five to another and one to the third person. The persons with ten and five talents invest theirs and reap returns causing the master to say “well done thou good and faithful servant.” The last person buries theirs in the ground and gets a tongue lashing and then is cast into darkness.

At first glance this parable appears to be a teaching on what will happen to those who don’t invest the gifts God has given them, who waste resources, or who don’t work really hard for the kingdom.

But is that really what Jesus had in mind? Was He really teaching that if you don’t work really hard at it you will be tossed aside? Is He teaching that if you aren’t faithful to work furiously to invest what He has given you that He will reject you?

Many pastors and teachers have used this parable as a stick to beat people over the head about a wide range of topics from giving to obedience to working for the kingdom. And while it is not wrong to give, be obedient and to work for the kingdom of God, I don’t think that is the central teaching of this text.

Jesus is meek and lowly of heart. His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matt 11:30). He is gracious and His ministry was about anything but works.

In fact His harshest words were for those working at it really hard.

Those who not only worked at it really hard, but ridiculed those who didn’t work at it as hard. Those who not only worked at it really hard, ridiculed those who didn’t work at it as hard, but didn’t do so hot with it themselves at the same time as ridiculing others. The Pharisees worked harder at it than anyone else. They made the big “kingdom investments” of the day. And Jesus called them snakes and worse (Matt 23 – read it sometime).

So is it correct to say that Jesus will cast people aside who don’t work really hard at it, or could there be more to this parable than we’ve all been taught?

In order to understand what is going on here, you have to remember that Jesus is saying this to a generation of people who lived under the harsh demands of the law. Demands made even harsher by Pharisees and religious leaders who added to the law to where no one could keep it. There were thousands of little things added to the law of Moses – and the law of Moses itself couldn’t be perfectly kept. These people were oppressed. And Jesus of course, came to set the oppressed free (John 8:32). So, does it make sense that He would teach oppressed people that were working hard to keep the law that they should work harder at it?

I don’t think so.

You see this parable says more about the Pharisees than it does about the people they oppressed. This parable was incredibly offensive to the religious leaders. The servants with the ten and the five talents were the Pharisees and religious leaders. And what they were doing was represented by the master’s treatment of the person who buried the talent. The person who buried the talent did so because he was scared. The people in Jesus time were scared too. Scared of the Pharisees and scared of God because they thought God was like the Pharisees.

Jesus was teaching:

1.  It is impossible to serve a hard master and do anything but dig holes to protect your stuff (Matt 25:24-25)

The servant in this parable who buried the talent, “perceived” the master to be a hard master. The fact was the master was not a hard master. What is your perception of Jesus? Do you think Him to be a hard master?

2. It is impossible to dig holes and dance with Jesus at the same time (Matt 25:25)

You can’t dance the dance of grace with Jesus when you are spending all of your time looking at your feet. In order to dance the dance of grace with Jesus you must look at Him, not your dancing ability.

3. It is impossible to to live a full life loving Jesus above all else without risk (Matt 25:27)

When you know you are forgiven, and you know you are loved and will be loved even if you screw up, you will be free to risk. If you are scared to trust Jesus you will be sacred of everything else too.

So, though we should be obedient and make investments in the kingdom and we should work hard to spread the kingdom, we must look at our perception of Jesus and our motivation. Are we doing what we do out of fear? Are we doing what we do out of joy?

Where are you in this area today?

Fast Track to Executive Pharisee

Want to become a Pharisee in record time?

Here’s how:

  • Make up a lot of rules outside of those in Scripture.
  • Push yourself very hard to keep the rules you made up.
  • Ridicule yourself when you don’t keep your rules.
  • Become proud when you do keep your rules.
  • Impose the rules you have invented on others – do this often.
  • Shame and manipulate others into keeping your rules.
  • Make fun of those who fail to keep your rules.
  • Develop the right method of serving God.
  • Rebuke others who do not use your method of serving God.
  • Appoint yourself judge over other people in every area of their lives.
  • Use your judgeship to pronounce sentence on others for failure to keep your rules or use your methods.
  • Get angry with people who have different rules than yours.
  • Exclude people with different rules from being part of your posse (or serving in your ministry or church).
  • Make the rule breakers feel guilty every chance you get.
  • Pat yourself on the back for policing and enforcing the rules.
  • And finally:

    Fool yourself into believing you are doing all of the above ‘for the sake of the purity of the church’.

    And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17

    Hope for Recovering Pharisees

    Colossians 2:16-23

    So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.

    Don’t tolerate people who try to run your life, ordering you to bow and scrape, insisting that you join their obsession with angels and that you seek out visions. They’re a lot of hot air, that’s all they are. They’re completely out of touch with the source of life, Christ, who puts us together in one piece, whose very breath and blood flow through us. He is the Head and we are the body. We can grow up healthy in God only as he nourishes us.

    So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.

    Ok To Judge? It Depends…

    Matthew 7 begins with a stern warning from Jesus about making judgements.

    It reads:

    “Judge not that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matt 7:1-2)

    Now on face value this appears to be a commandment forbidding all judgment of others. I know in my own experience countless people have thrown this text up at me whenever I have made a judgment about the behavior of another person. It seems to me to be a universally used text against even forming an opinion about whether something or someone is good or evil.

    But is this really what Jesus had in mind?

    I think not.

    Consider Matthew 18:15-20 where Jesus lays down the method for Church Discipline. He says that when your brother sins against you, confront that person. Well, how can you confront someone unless you’ve made a judgment about what they’ve done? You can’t confront sin without identifying it and to identify it, you must make a judgment.

    So, since Jesus is implying the need to make judgments in Matthew 18, then is it really wrong to judge? Jesus would not instruct us against making judgments in Matthew 7 and then say it is ok to do so in Matthew 18. Right?

    So what is Jesus really saying here in Matthew 7?

    Well, the passage is not making a case against judgment per se. It is, rather, making a case against judgment which is condemning.

    Keep in mind that Jesus was addressing a crowd which contained many Pharisees and other religious leaders of the day. These religious leaders did little else but condemn the behavior of others.

    Note also, the passage speaks about being hypocritical (v. 5) and about being cognizant of your own faults first (vv. 3-4).

    Rather than a command not to judge, Jesus is merely saying that we should always do so in a way that:

    • recognizes our own sin and
    • is restorative rather than destructive.

    In other words, we should remember what Paul told the Galatians when we judge others:

    “Brothers if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself lest you too be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1)

    Welcome!

    Welcome to my blog! Thanks for visiting.

    I have been contemplating starting this blog since last August, and a special deal at my hosting company made it a reality.

    Let me give you a little more information about me. I am a recovering Pharisee. Pharisees were a group of religious leaders that were around when Jesus was on earth. They were very religious, but they didn’t know God. The kept all the rules and even made rules up as they went along. They were hypocrites and generally looked down on all those less pure than they perceived themselves to be. And they perceived themselves to be very pure and righteous. Meaning the pretty much looked down on everyone around them.

    Growing up I was the older brother in the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). I was the one who was good and kept all the rules. This meant that I never got into much trouble, but it also meant that I never had a fundamental understanding of grace. I believed Christianity was all about being good, nice, and keeping the rules – just like the Pharisees.

    To see what Jesus thought about the Pharisees, simply read Matthew 23.

    By God’s gracious intervention, He brought people and events into my life that taught me that Christianity was not about religion but about relationship. Ever since then I have been on a journey to leave behind the prisons I was in and begin to walk under God’s grace. I have come to know God now as my Father who is crazy about me.

    My interests include (aside from Theology and Christianity), photography, writing, history (my major in college), tinkering with computers and other technology, reading, and, finally, studying about productivity. If you know what GTD is, I was GTD early on in 2002 when David Allen’s book was still in hardcover. (If you don’t know what GTD is, check it out on Wikipedia).

    This blog will be where I will write about all things of interest to me. Stay tuned.