As soon as the Zacchaeus incident happened, people, who knew very well about the signs of the coming Messiah, got overly excited that the time had come. After all, if a guy like Zach made an about face to do what he did, certainly the Kingdom of God was near. Jesus senses a teachable moment, and leads with a story.
A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and return. He called his servants and gave them all the same amount: about 3-month’s wages. “Put it to work,” he said. “I’ll be back, and I’ll check up on what you’ve done with what I gave you.” They all have the same amount, so no one is favored, and none is handicapped.
But his people—the ones he blessed—hated him and rebelled against him. Nonetheless, he was made king, returned, and called his servants to account. The first had turned his 3-month’s wages in almost 3 years of money. “Great job! You’ve been responsible in small things, I’ll give you greater responsibilities.” Shel Silverstein wrote a fun little poem:
So you haven’t got a drum, just beat your belly
So I haven’t got a horn—I’ll play my nose.
So we haven’t any cymbals—
We’ll just slap our hands together
And though there may be orchestras
That sounds a little better
With their fancy shiny instruments
That cost an awful lot—
Hey, we’re making music twice as good
By playing what we’ve got!
It is interesting that in the upside-downness of Jesus’ teaching, the highest reward for serving is ruling. It’s a picture of heaven. We’re not just going to be sitting around wondering, “What do you want to do now?” We’ll have lives, and we’ll do things much as we do now. We won’t be inactive, but involved in fulfilling and significant work.
The second guy has earned about a year-and-a-half of money from his 3-month’s money. He is praised just the same (after all, it’s not a contest). It’s not a system of what you can earn, but what you’ve done with what you were given. I like this quote by Helen Keller: “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” This guy gets charge over five cities. Just as the punishments fit the crimes, so the rewards fit the faithfulness. Always perfectly fair.
A third guy completes the story. It’s the “rule of three:” the example of three people gives us archetypes for all. This guy, however, didn’t even comply with the minimum requirements. He was given a lot, but didn’t do anything with it. Here’s another pertinent poem by Shel Silverstein:
My Dad gave me one dollar bill
‘Cause I’m his smartest son,
And I swapped it for two shiny quarters
‘Cause two is more than one!
And then I took the quarters
And traded them to Lou
For three dimes—I guess he don’t know
That three is more than two!
Just then, along came old blind Bates
And just ‘cause he can’t see
He gave me four nickels for my three dimes,
And four is more than three!
And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs
Down at the seed-feed store,
And the fool gave me five pennies for them,
And five is more than four!
And then I went and showed my dad,
And he got red in the cheeks
And closed his eyes and shook his head—
Too proud of me to speak!
Many people make poor use of all that God has given them. So many blessings—things they don’t even recognize—with no return to the One who gave it. Notice that God judges him not on God’s standard, but on the man’s own words. We’ve talked about it before: God doesn’t send people to hell so much as they send themselves there. There’s no excuse for their behavior except that that’s what they have chosen. God is certainly not to blame. He gives every opportunity, and many blessings, and if a person doesn’t use it, even omnipotence can’t help you.
Here’s a youtube video (10 minutes long if you have the time) that is a great video of this principle. I think you’ll find it worth the time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DXL9vIUbWg