Jesus has been dealing with the very real and common-to-life issues of religious hypocrisy (all wrapped up in image and not caring as much about substance), inheritance (all wrapped up in things and accumulation, and not caring as much about substance), and worry (all wrapped up in the cares of life and not caring as much about SUBSTANCE!). Image, things, and attitudes all need to be focused on one thing and in one direction: the Master. Since we don’t know when the end of the road is, we should just always be on the exciting cusp: It doesn’t matter when He comes, because I’m always doing what I should be doing. He can’t possibly catch me at a down moment or an off day. In my head is not the dread of being caught, but the excitement of seeing the one I love. When I’ve been away from my honey for awhile, I launch myself into her arms and hold her like there’s no tomorrow. That’s the sense here. When the master finally comes, they run to the door, throw it open, scream with excitement, grab him and pull him in. It’ll be a day of reckless celebration.
The Master, in his delight to be united with his friends, will ask with his bright eyes, “Did you get everything ready for the party?” In the sense of the story, he’s asking if the baking is done, the house decorated, the invitations sent out with follow-up calls made, and the games planned. In the sense of real life, he’ll ask if you’ve been faithful, if you’ve lived as a witness, if you’ve obeyed him out of love, if you’ve made disciples, and if you’ve used the gifts you were given to edify the body of Christ. And if so, the text spills over a radical element of surprise, and an unexpected turnaround: the master will take the role of servant. When he comes home, instead of expecting to be waited on, he serves those who have been faithful. Wow—what kind of master does this? The one who is so grateful to find servants who have been faithful and diligent while he was gone that he switches places with them. Imagine that. What a master who would treat his servants that way!
v. 38: “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak.” Referring back to the hypocrisy and image teaching: What counts is that their faithfulness isn’t a show, or occasional, but real and consistent. It’s like the driver who only slows down when he sees a cop vs. the driver who is always responsible and doesn’t have to worry about what might be around the corner, because he’s a good driver and is alert and paying attention. When it’s real, there’s nothing to worry about and nothing to fear.
V. 39: “But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.” The watchful eye is both to celebrate with the good and to guard against the bad. Life is not just about waiting and being ready for the good, but also about protecting ourselves from people and forces that would be harmful to us and for us. Nobody sits around and lets their home and possessions be plundered. We guard what is ours. And yet we do this all the time with our characters and our morals. We let various influences plunder our personhood and don’t stop it.
Peter’s always the first to speak. He’s the guy who enters a room mouth first: “Um, is this for everybody, or is it just for this group?” Instead of answering their questions, he launches into another parable. Since the parable is about managers, he is letting them know that the parable is for them, and for everyone, but they are the ones who will manage the telling of it. They are the gatekeepers, so to speak, in charge of making sure the other servants know about getting ready and staying preparing. They have leadership responsibility in the kingdom. Again, as we always find in Scripture, God does not often directly communicate to the masses, except through his Word. When the Lord wanted to speak to Israel, he told Moses, and Moses was to tell them. Or he told the king. Or, more often, he told a prophet. Jesus told his apostles, and commissioned them to tell the church. Later God communicated through chosen leaders. it’s the way the Lord works.
43: “It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.” We’re all accountable, but leaders, teachers (James 3.1; Titus 2.7), and parents (Mt. 18.6) more so. Even though we are not saved by works, it matters how we live. Works matter. It matters that we do what the Lord has given us to do, and that we do it faithfully. We are accountable, and there will be a day of reckoning.
44: “Truly, I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.” Remember Joseph in Genesis? He was a faithful servant, and Potiphar put him in charge of all his possessions (Gn. 39.48). Lots of people want to know what we will do in heaven. A verse like this, and many others, combined with the illustration of Joseph, show us that we will have lives just as we do here. We will work, play, and worship as we do here. We will have responsibilities. Do we ever get tired of life here? Not under usual circumstances, and certainly not under good ones. So also there.
Then the story turns, because there IS another side of the coin: What if you mess up? We are always responsible and accountable for our own actions. We always have a choice as to how we will act. In this case, even with the blessing of the Master, being trusted by him and given responsibility, it is still possible to complete mess up and choose to do the wrong things. The input does not guarantee the output.
V. 46: “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.” Egads! Wow, what a change. I guess this is far more serious business than we make it out to be, and it’s very consistent with all of Scripture. This goes along with Jer. 18.1-12 (esp. 9-10). Despite God’s blessing and favor, despite his gifts and delegation, if you blow
Then Jesus says what I’ve told you before: there are degrees of punishment in hell. God is not unfair, but he is just. Other texts that teach this same truth:
Mt. 11.23-24 – “more tolerable”
Mt. 23.14 – “greater condemnation”
Rev. 20.13 – “each in proportion to his works”
Lk. 12.47-48 – “beaten with few blows or more blows”
But check out v. 48: “But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.” Sins of ignorance are treated differently than sins by intention. God will be perfectly fair with all. And that’s what I’d expect if He is truly just.