The Slothful Slave

Matthew 25:14-30

For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves, and entrusted his possessions to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away and dug in the ground, and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. And the one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me; see, I have gained five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.’ The one also who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted to me two talents; see, I have gained two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed. ‘Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’ For to everyone who has shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“Each according to his own ability.” Did Karl Marx rip off Jesus? Of course he did, the man was incapable of coming up with his own ideas but had the help of Friedrich Engels who ripped off Hegel who ripped off Aristotle, all of them twisting, distorting and contorting the works of the other, taking things out of context. Which brings us back to today’s text which I believe is taken out of context by more than just Marx.

By the way, I may have embellished a little bit about Marx, I have read and posses The Communist Manifesto, I suggest reading it if you have not, it’s a total bore and poorly constructed but it does display the follies of communism. I was never so thoroughly against communism until I read that book promoting it. I am sure that some things are lost in translation but still, read it, with a grain of salt, and see the spectacular failure that communism is destined to be. Some things sound good on paper but this is the exception. Nevertheless, this world is flooded with ideas from men, and many of them claim to be supported by the Bible. Again, today’s text is another example of how men take things out of context.

Without much further ado about nothing; “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves, and entrusted his possessions to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.” Is Jesus the man about to go on a “journey?” Consider what the slothful slave said about the man; “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, and I was afraid.” Is this really a representetive of Jesus? It is, but I show this and question it so that we will remember that this is a parable, not to be taken to literal extremes. Jesus is (not literally) the Master who is going on a journey and the three slaves are representetive of whom? Again, not literally but figuratively, the slaves represent certain people–who are these people? To find the answer, we have to remember the scene, setting, scenario, source and the subject.

Despite what we have been taught about the Olivet Discourse, we are rarely taught or told that it continues into Matthew 25 and that it is Jesus speaking to the 12, alone, according to the context and aspirations of Matthew. “And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’” The setting and scene has not changed. Jesus is still speaking to his disciples in private, about his coming and the end of the age. Jesus is the man going away for a time, the length of which is said to be long but the length of time is not the focus. Clearly the long journey was not longer than the slaves lived, if one wants to go that route. That is, don’t let anyone tell you that Jesus said that he would be gone for a long time, based on this context because he returns well within the lifetime of the slaves. 

The proverbial Master, leaves the metaphorical slaves with his own money. This would happen in that culture, it was not unheard of, we simply have some cross-cultural contamination. Nevertheless, we overcome our cultural differences by simply letting the parable unfold and see it for the metaphor made, keeping it in its proper context. That is of the Lord bestowing different amounts of “money,” to his metaphorical slaves for them to keep his business going.

The one who was given five, makes another five by the time that his master returned. The same is true with the one who was entrusted with two, he makes another two, doubling the amount given to him. To these two slaves, the master replied, “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.”

However, the slave that was only entrusted with little, for reasons made obvious in the context, hid it out of fear of his master. This makes no sense, or does it? How one interprets this parable is based on their preconceived​ notions and presuppositions. We must remember that this parable is intrinsically interwoven into the context of the Olivet Discourse and directly follows the parable of the foolish five, who forgot oil and went to get oil at the exact wrong time. And this parable of the foolish five follows the parable of the sensible slave, which follows the parable of the fig tree, which follows the abomination of desolation, which follows the false christs, which follows the the foretelling of the temple toppling, which follows the six or seven woes to the Pharisees.

Who are the slaves? Most pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers would simply say that these slaves are any and all followers of Christ. Problem; theologically speaking, even in parable form with incredible literary license, it can’t be. No true servant of God claims that he is a hard man nor will be cast into “the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The apostle John, in his Gospel, goes to great lengths to show that the true disciple of Christ is unable to be “snatched from” his hand and “the Father’s hand.” We approach this parable from the wrong angle looking through the wrong lens. 

This is why I write. This is why we use the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, where; Context is King, Author’s Aspirations to his Audience are Apex, Genree is the General, Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens and Dividing Rightly the Word of Truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. Unless we are learning for ourselves, we only know what we have been taught.

Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, teach that this parable is applicable to all followers of Jesus, either they use the talents God gave them, taking risks, or they are like the slothful slave and don’t take risks with the talent God gave them. While we certainly can learn from this parable, that’s theologically troublesome–it sounds like works to me. Not that the disciple doesn’t work, but certainly not to attain eternal security or to make one righteous. Part of the CAGED method is to Explore Examples–Vitamin E. But before we do, consider the description of the slothful slave. “You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.”

Paul writes to the Church in Corinth; “Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.”

Work is expected and will be judged by fire. However I don’t want to dwell on this point because we are considering the context of Matthew 24 and 25, which I believe have little, to nothing, to do with the works of the christian. Because as a christian​, part of that is works. I could be wrong and my missives may be made of straw and will be burned up with fire on the day of judgement. But again, that is not what this context says. It says, “You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed.” Search the Scriptures and you will never find Jesus saying that to one of his true disciples.

Consider the context! I doubt that I will ever tire from writing that. And more and more as I listen to many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, I also hear them saying it. Problem; some do not practice what they preach. They​ will consider the immediate context but rarely do they consider the greater context. Matthew, the book, is one of the greatest examples, but especially Matthew 23-25.

And that is where we find ourselves, swimming, nearly drowning in the context of Jesus answering the disciples’ questions; “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Don’t miss this; Jesus is still answering the disciples’questions in this parable. We also must remember all that Jesus has said previously in this context. Again, how one views the Olivet Discourse will influence their interpretation of this parable.

Who are the the three slaves? Who is the slothful slave–the “wicked, lazy, slave? It simply can’t be a christian. Also, it is apparent that it isn’t an atheist either. Consider the context, he speaks with the Master. Let’s zoom in, with the correct, contextual lens, at the wicked slave.

We see that from the beginning, the Slothful Slave was entrusted with less; “and to another, one, each according to his own ability.” We also notice; “he who received the one talent went away and dug in the ground, and hid his master’s money.” This slave, that was entrusted with little, didn’t do like the other slaves but dug a hole, hiding the money. Therefore, it could not be invested in anyway, it was hidden from everyone, buried out of sight and out of mind. We are also told the reason that the Slothful Slave did this; “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours.” The Slothful Slave feared the master, but his fear was misguided. His fear was not reverence for who the master was but fear of his practices. He feared the Master who gathered where he scattered no seed. This is a huge clue as to who the Slothful Slave represents. Because the Master is about to send out his faithful followers to reap that which they did not sow. We must also consider our Old Testament tutor.

Isaiah 65, “I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ To a nation which did not call on My name.”

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer, the Slothful Slave is the scribes and Sadducees and Pharisees. The faithful slaves are the prophets and the disciples, based upon the context of Matthew 24 and 25 and the sublime string.

I should stop here, resting on the context of Matthew 24 and 25 and the parable of Jesus concerning the wicked, lazy, slothful slave. Clearly the context points to the Pharisees, Saudducees, scribes and all of apostate Israel as the Slothful Slave. Nevertheless, there are those in the current majority who claim that new nation of Israel is the apple of God’s eye. Just today on a radio promotion of a particular program the claim was made that the return of Israel as a nation was the greatest miracle of all time. Problem; God created the universe out of nothing and makes sinners into saints. Hyperbole aside, it’s a poor choice of words. It was also said that we as christians need to support Israel. Problem; Matthew has strenuously stated that Jesus is the true Israel and he has judged Israel by her works.

I have been to Israel, on the anniversary of her independence nonetheless. I love the country of Israel and would be more willing to live there. It’s the one outpost of freedom in a war-torn, oppressed area. People have rights in Israel which are non existent in that region. As far as the nations on the earth, all things considered, Israel is in the top ten in my book. Nevertheless, Jesus is the way. Without Jesus, Israel is no different than any other nation on earth.

Matthew 24 and 25 is about the end of the Law or the fulfillment thereof, and the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus and the outpouring of his Spirit. It doesn’t mean that the disciples of Jesus aren’t to take risks with their God given abilities but that is not the primary message in this particular parable. “Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.” We have to see all of the metaphorical Master’s meanings and the best way to do this is to take the context as it was written and intended, letting Scripture interpret Scripture and not do what the Pharisees and Karl Marx did, ripping verses out of context and “teaching​ as doctrine the precepts of men.”

Again, Anti-Semitism is completely against the Scriptures, Paul writes; “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

But just as there is no call for Anti-Semitism, we must also acknowledge that Jesus alone is the way. Pray for the peace of Israel but more importantly pray for their salvation through their Messiah, who just so happens to be the Messiah to the whole world.

Paul, the former Pharisee, also writes concerning Israel; “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

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