. The Real Christ...
The parables several times speak of the relationship between our Master and ourselves. They do so in somewhat unreal and arresting terms. It would’ve made everyone think when the Lord spoke of how a master handed over a total of eight talents to His servants and told them to use them as best they could. This was, humanly speaking, a huge and unreal risk for a master to take. He so trusted those servants! And so much has the Lord delegated to each of us, entrusting us with the Gospel. And we can imagine His joy when they lived up to the trust He placed in them. We can also imagine them walking away from their meeting with Him, wondering why ever He had entrusted so much to them, feeling nervous, praying for strength to act responsibly and zealously. Think about how large were the talents given to the workers (Mt. 25:14-30). The talent was worth 6,000 denarii, i.e. 20 years’ wages for the workers in the parable of the labourers (Mt. 10:1-16). This is a huge and unrealistic amount to give to a servant to have responsibility for! But this is the huge responsibility which passes to us in having been called to the Gospel. Likewise, what human Owner of a vineyard who give out his vineyard to other tenants, after the first lot had proven so wicked, and killed not only His servants but His beloved Son? But this speaks of God’s amazing desire to keep on delegating His affairs to frail mortals.
The Lord was addressed as ‘Rabbi’ and to some extent acted like one. It was the well known duty of a rabbi’s pupils to serve their teacher and do menial chores for him; the Jewish writings of the time and the Mishnah are full of references to this. Yet the Lord treated His ‘servants’ radically differently- His behaviour at the Last Supper was just the opposite (Lk. 22:26). And He even taught that He, the Lord of all, would be so happy that His servants were waiting for Him that He would “come forth and serve them” (Lk. 12:37). He was a most unusual “Lord and Master”, one who served His servants, and whose death for them was His ultimate act of service. The Lord speaks of how we are not so much slaves, as friends of His, who are obedient to His commands (Jn. 15:15). To the Lord’s first hearers, a slave was defined by his or her obedience to the master’s commands. The Lord says that His followers are His friends, who do His commandments- but they’re not slaves. He seems to be saying that they were indeed His slaves- but a new kind of slave, a slave who whilst being obedient to the Master, was also His personal friend. It’s lovely how the Lord speaks of such well known ideas like slavery, and shows how in the humdrum of ordinary life, He gives an altogether higher value to them. It’s like in the imagery of sheep. This unreal shepherd not only dies for the sheep but gives them eternal life, making them eternal sheep (Jn. 10:28). We’d understand it more comfortably if He spoke of giving His life for people, and then them living for ever. But He speaks of giving eternal life to a sheep, who wouldn’t have a clue what that really entailed. But that’s just how it is with us, who by grace are receiving an eternal Kingdom, the wonderful implications of which are beyond our appreciation, due to the intrinsic limitations of who we are as sheep.
The Father has given us huge freewill and an amazing amount of self determination. Divine delegation is one of His great characteristics as a Father. It would have been highly unusual for any father to agree to liquidate part of the family estate ahead of time, just so as to give in to the will of a wayward son who totally rejected him. And yet the father did this; he liquidated part of the family inheritance to give it to a son who wanted to openly quit the family. This is how much the Father is willing to give us the essential desires of our own hearts, how much He is willing to allow us to go our own way, so that we may serve Him of our own freewill.
In the culture of the orient, it was not usual for a person to keep money in a cloth. Their culture was to trade and barter with what they had. That a man should just bury such a talent was therefore unreal for the original hearers. The point of this unreality is surely that spiritual laziness is so bad. It was better to have traded and lost through genuine mistakes, through naievity, through the betrayal and deception of others, than to simply do nothing. I fear, really fear, that our Christian culture has bred for many of us a ‘do nothing’ culture- which is exactly what this element of unreality is warning against. We can delegate responsibility to church committees, to others, to our leaders; or we can do nothing out of fear, fear of making a mistake, fear of taking a risk, fear of what other brethren may think of us… all the time denying this principle of Divine delegation. And it might be added that the ‘do nothing’ man of the parable emphasized that the talent or money was not his; he returned to his Lord what was his [“thy talent”]. In order to trade it, or even to put it in the bank and get interest, he had to take personal ownership of it. And this he failed to do. And it is just this that we are being asked to do by our Lord- that His truth, all that He has given us, is in a sense ours now, to be used on our initiative, for His glory and service. Indeed, the reward of the faithful will be to be given more of their Lord’s riches in the Kingdom, with which likewise to use their initiative in order to bring Him glory. We are left to think how the story might have gone on- the faithful were given more talents and they go away and do, in the Kingdom age, what they did in this life- using what they were given for His glory and service, on their own initiative.
The parable of the widow who keeps nagging the free-wheeling judge is again rather humanly unlikely. Would such a tough guy really pay attention to the repeated requests of the woman? But although he considers himself independent of both God and men, he ends up being controlled by the widow. This reflects the immense power which there is in human prayer, and God’s willingness to respond if we are importunate enough.
Duncan Heaster has written over 20 books, some of which contain material relevant to The Real Christ. And there is a host of other relevant material...