The Parable of the Religious Slave – Lenten Season 2021
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14-30 NIV).
The Parable of the Religious Slave
When I think about repentance, I am always aware of that parable about the talents found in Matthew 25. I call it the Parable of the Religious Slave and you will see why in a moment. Do you remember the story?
The Master gives ten talents to one person and he makes ten talents more. Well done. He gives five talents to someone else and she makes five more. Good job. But then he gives one talent to the third servant who buries it in the ground and, when the Master returns from his long journey, this third servant gives it back to him. But the Master is angry.
Why do you think the Master got angry?
Sure the worthless servant did not produce any profit or fruit from his talent. That’s obvious. But I don’t think that is what really made the Master angry. Look closer at what that servant says about his Master, the excuses he gives, the mentality he has behind the scenes…
“Then the man who had received one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you'” (Matthew 25:24,25 NIV).
Well, I would have been angry too. It’s not about the talent, you see. It was about the relationship. The worthless servant had the gall to call him ‘Master’ but he was not a bondservant, serving his Master with joy. He was a slave, an unwilling servant who served reluctantly, angrily and with resentment. Of course the Master was upset.
A bondservant is a slave that has been set free by his Master but chooses to remain and continue to serve his Master freely, out of love. A slave is simply doing his duty, reluctantly, and with resentment. The distinction is not always that clear in the Bible since the Greek word for slave can be translated either way. In Romans 1:1, Paul calls himself a “bondservant” of Jesus Christ (in one translation) but in other places, he calls himself a “slave.” Still, it isn’t a question of translations but of reality. The point is the relationship between the servant and his master.
The worthless servant called his Master a “hard man.” He figured that his Master was getting his profits in an “unethical” manner by having his servants do his work for him. “Harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed” (vs. 24b NIV). Why should he work for his Master’s benefit? What right does his Master have to demand a profit from him?
What an attitude.
It doesn’t even make sense. That is the whole point of being a servant, after all, that you do what is in the best interests of your Master. That he gets profit through your efforts, fruit from your work. That’s what makes him the Master and you the servant. It defines the economic relationship between the two parties in life – and in the parable.
Can you imagine getting angry with your boss at work, or even better, the owner of the company you work for and you said something similar to him? “I know you pay my wages, which allows me to put food on the table for my family and a roof over my head (and maybe even two weeks of holidays and a 52 inch TV on the wall). But I still don’t think it’s fair that you make all the profit, when I do all the work.”
Excuse me? How does that make any sense?
The slave had food on his plate and a roof over his head. There is nothing here to indicate that the Master was brutal or dishonest or treated his servants violently (which was often the case). There was no reason for fear or for anger.
If it was just a question of profits or ability, that is easily solved. If you don’t know what to do with the talent and you are confused about how to make a profit (but you still want to please your Master), then get some help or give it to someone else and let them do something with it. The Master in the parable said, “You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers” (vs. 27a NIV) at the very least. The fact that you didn’t even do that indicates that your heart is not in the right place and there is a problem with the relationship.
Jesus is using a parable and talking about servants but, really, he is talking about us, his children, who, like servants have a job to do in this life. And we will be held accountable for that job whether we are servants or children.
Yes, even though it is first of all about the relationship and not about profits, that doesn’t mean that the profits were not important. Sure it is a parable, but the context points out clearly that Jesus was talking about the Word of God given to the people of Israel. It was God’s investment in his people for the salvation of the world. The fruit he is talking about here are the souls that need to be saved. This is important work we are doing. There is a redemptive emergency that God is dealing with. This isn’t about money but about saving lives for eternity.
But then comes the final bit of truth. This is the nail that closes the coffin on this worthless servant for good. “I was afraid” he said. That’s why I did what I did.
That’s what the relationship was based on. Fear. And fear is a burden that can destroy you and destroy your relationships. The apostle John tells us that “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:18 NIV).
If a woman fears her husband, there is no love. If a child fears his father, it will destroy the relationship. Obviously. So what is wrong with this worthless servant? He is afraid because he does not love his Master. He was into religion but not into the relationship. We have lots of people like that in our churches and it is a dangerous place to be.
Eternal Consequences – Heaven and Hell
If you enter into eternity without a relationship with Jesus as your substitute, based on the cross, you will face God with fear in your heart. God doesn’t need to send you to Hell. You will flee from His presence and hide in the bushes (and fires) of hell for all eternity full of regret and fearful of punishment so much so that you will “grind your teeth” in dismay (Luke 13:28).
If you enter into the presence of God in fear, you will be lost for all eternity.
If you enter into His presence in love, with Jesus as your advocate and the Holy Spirit as your eternal companion, you will be received with great joy and celebration.
It is an issue determined in this world but with eternal consequences. Fear can only be transformed into love in this world where God’s presence and glory is muted and there is space for the work and ministry of Christ and the Holy Spirit to save mankind from his own folly. It starts at the foot of the cross and spans a lifetime of repentance and progressive sanctification until the day we face God for ourselves.
Yes, fear is a dangerous thing but the “religious slave” isn’t even wise enough to be fearful until it is too late and the true relationship (or lack thereof) with his Master is revealed for all to see.
And what happened to him? The Master gave the worthless servant exactly what he wanted. Freedom from his unwilling slavery to God. He was free to go. He was free to leave the presence of his Master and go outside, into the darkness. But in case the worthless servant was starting to regret his harshness, realizing that he had made the greatest mistake of his life, it was too late and the Master would have none of it. He was thrown out of the Master’s presence.
The Master said, “Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30 NIV). The worthless servant got what he wanted even though he discovered that what he wanted was not what he expected. Not by a long shot. This is not an issue to be taken lightly or ignored until it is too late. Point taken.
Fear cannot be turned into love when there is a fear of punishment. Repentance cannot be an act of love if it is riddled with guilt and shame. It was too late for regrets or even repentance for the worthless servant, the religious slave. Repentance is the privilege of the living not the dead. It is the response of love not fear. It is the lifestyle of faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love (I Corinthians 13:13).
That is the lesson the worthless servant never learnt and he paid dearly for it. That is the lesson, the discovery, of our repentance – that we want to please Him, that we are willing to give up our small ambitions, our petty desires, to find our identity, our purpose, and our significance in being a willing bondservant to the One who died to give us true freedom as children of God.
It is strange after all, and totally unexpected from the world’s point of view, that we would be willing to give up this life to spend an eternity with God. Those are not just words but truth. That truth is discovered in our willingness to repent and bear the fruits of that repentance. Our repentance, then, becomes our testimony, our witness, to those around us. That we have been changed. For their salvation.
Fear is slavery. Love is freedom. “The one who fears is not made perfect in love,” John tells us (I John 4:18b NIV). Did you see that? We are to be “made perfect in love.” That is a progressive “relational” perfection and it happens in the process of repentance.
Relationship creates morality. Morality does not create relationship. Relational “perfection” promotes moral growth. Moral growth and behavioral change is the result of a loving relationship with God. Exchange your perfectionism for a willingness to be “made perfect in love” and repentance will become easy and light instead of a burden.
Without love for God, we enter into heaven unprepared. Not that we can create that love ourselves or force our wayward emotions to focus on what pleases God. It doesn’t work in human relationships and it certainly doesn’t work with God.
It is a discovery. Like faith. And hope. The love is there (a gift of our regeneration and a result of the presence of the Holy Spirit) but we need to discover it, nurture it, celebrate it. We need to replace our idols of desire and our fortresses of fear with the love of God already present in our hearts. The more we do, the more we will trust Him, surrender to Him and hope in His providential care to take us from glory to glory and therefore, more power will be ours to deal with our temptations and trials in the context of our life ministry.
So how does this parable apply to us?
We have also been given talents, gifts and resources to further the Kingdom of God on earth. Yes, we need to lead lives of repentance that are not hostile to the things of God (Romans 8:7) but rather embrace His will and surrender to it daily. But all of this in the context of ministry. We have work to do that goes beyond ourselves. What is beneficial for the ministry is the question, not just what is easy for me to do for myself and my own comfort. When you change your perspective, things actually get easier, not harder.
Are you a worthless servant who is doing things out of fear?
Then you need to go back to the beginning and learn the fundamental lessons of the cross all over again. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
How do you know that you are doing things out of fear and not out of love?
Legalism and perfectionism on the one hand and spiritual laziness on the other. Those are both rooted in fear. A pox on both your houses. The Holy Spirit will reveal your heart to you in the process of sanctification. That is the point of it all. To discover your fears and your desires but, most of all, to discover how you deal with them. That is the discovery that will tell you whether your relationship with the Master is based on fear or love.
So now you have to decide.
Is He a hard taskmaster or is His burden easy and light? The answer makes all the difference between whether you are an unwilling slave or a willing bondservant. And the difference between those two begins in full surrender with a full and happy heart. And that is sure to give you rest.
The Desert Warrior
Lord, I want your peace. I do not want to be a religious slave. This parable of the religious slave is talking about me (at least sometimes). On the one hand, I don’t want to come to you empty-handed. On the other hand, I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that my efforts affect my relationship with you. The difference is gratitude and love. I know that there is lots of work to do but you will guide me through it all. I trust you. I surrender all. Thank you for being a gentle Master who cares for my soul. (Go on, talk to him….he’s waiting for you….
In your name I pray. Amen.