In our previous article, we considered the earlier sections of this parable, dealing with responsibility and rebellion. Now, we will consider the events that follow the return of the king.
Despite the citizens’ rejection, the nobleman returns ‘having received the kingdom’. Although we might have expected the punishment of the rebels to be his first priority, he begins by reviewing his servants. From the ten, we get a sample of three. Two of these have a substantial profit to report. The first receives a commendation (which, by implication, is shared by the second) - ‘Well, thou good servant … thou hast been faithful in a very little’ -and both are given responsibility commensurate with the profit that they have produced.
The scene here pictures the review of our service at the Judgement Seat of Christ, which will precede His return to establish His kingdom and destroy His enemies. The key criterion of this judgement is faithfulness in handling ‘a very little’. That expression reminds us that what has been entrusted to us now is minute in comparison to what lies before us. If we cannot be trusted with the little, how can we expect greater responsibility? And greater there certainly is. Here the reward of the servants is responsibility in the kingdom, what 2 Peter chapter 1 verse 11 describes as an abundant entrance into the kingdom. The title of Mervyn Paul’s classic book sums it up just about as well as possible - our time here is ‘training for reigning’ and our stewardship of the temporal resources of this world will qualify - or disqualify - us for the management of a far greater stewardship as we reign with Christ.
Then the third servant is summoned. He is described as ho heteros, the other [of a different sort], and so he proves to be. He has no profit to report, and not even any activity, for he had stored his pound away in his napkin, a word for the sweat napkin used by the labourer. The word translated ‘laid up’ is used of our eternal inheritance, Col. 1. 5; 2 Tim. 4. 8. That that is untouched is a glorious truth; that the resources given to trade with should be so is reprehensible.
Equally reprehensible is the servant’s excuse for his failure. He has been paralyzed by the idea that his master is an austere or stern man, impossible to please, a predatory profiteer. Based on the wider parable, this view is demonstrably false - nothing in the king’s interactions with the faithful servants suggests this character. The king’s response, ‘Out of thine own mouth’, does not suggest that he is agreeing with the servant’s assessment, but rather highlights the unsatisfactory nature of the servant’s excuse - if he really believed his master to be so harsh and so mercenary, then he could easily have banked the pound, thus ensuring an increase as well as guaranteeing its security more effectively than simply concealing it. ‘Wicked servant’ is a strong condemnation, but that is the master’s assessment of this unfaithful servant.
The master’s analysis reveals that there was no satisfactory explanation for the servant’s failure. He has misunderstood the character of his master, the solemnity of his stewardship, and the scale of the consequences that hinged upon his faithfulness. Unlike the failing servant in Matthew’s Gospel, he is not cast into judgement but is stripped of what he had been given.
We often find ourselves where this servant stood. When we fail in our stewardship, we are at a loss to provide an explanation that will satisfy us, still less one that will satisfy Christ. The reality is that there is no explanation that we could offer, nothing that could explain or mitigate our failure. In light of all we know to be true, faithlessness is folly, and the thought of standing as this servant did, trying to explain to Christ why it is that we have failed to occupy with what He has given us should strike terror to our souls. Like this servant, we do not fear the outer darkness and the gnashing of teeth - no matter what our failures, it is well with our souls. But our place and responsibility in the kingdom, our capacity to serve and to glorify Christ can be eternally compromised by our faithlessness and folly.
One final strand of the narrative remains to be resolved - the fate of those citizens who rejected their rightful king. They are in a different category from the ‘wicked servant’; they are described as ‘mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them’. Their enmity lay in their rebellious will. Their judgement is total, and tersely described. Such, in a coming day, will be the fate of those who oppose themselves to the One who ‘must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet’, 1 Cor. 15. 25. God’s judgement is slow but sure -His mills grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small.
Having addressed the disciples’ misunderstanding about what going to Jerusalem would entail, the Saviour went, not to the crown, but to the cross; He went in order to go, by death, resurrection, and ascension, into a far country. He is presently there and has received the kingdom. His return is sure, the unfolding of God’s purpose can be neither diverted nor delayed. But in the time between, it is ours to ‘occupy till [He] come’, to labour for His profit and in His interests, appreciating that the day will soon be here when we must give an account of our stewardship.
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