Friday, August 29, 2014

Your Questions Please! Part Four

YOUR QUESTIONS PLEASE!             #4                    8/24/2014

Jesus said, ‘When someone has been given much, much will be required in return;
and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.’

This passage haunts me.

Do we know when we have returned as much as Jesus requires, or have we entrusted as much as He required?

Do most religions read this passage and act on it?

When thinking about any saying of our Lord from the Gospels, or indeed any biblical saying, it is important to pay attention to the context; that is, the situation in which Jesus’ words are found.

Peter asks if the parable about keeping watch for the coming judgment (Luke 12:35-40) applies to everyone or just for the apostles. Jesus answers with another parable, that of the faithful and wise manager (Luke 12:42-48):
And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you,he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master's will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
The meaning of the parable seems to be that the apostles (the twelve disciples whom Jesus chose to be his nearest disciples and who were sent out after the resurrection to preach in Jesus’ name), because they have given this honor, are also given much more responsibility and will be held accountable. They are given a position of authority over the Church. They therefore are to be diligent in doing the work of ministry among the people. However, if they focuson the delay of the final judgment (which, of course, continues to our own day) they might be tempted to abuse their positions of power for their own personal benefit.

One might think of those who have used their positions in ministry to enrich themselves financially; to draw others into adulterous relationships with them, or to abuse children. Jesus seems to answer Peter’s question in the affirmative, saying that the judgment will be more severe on those who knew the master’s will than for those who did not know. Because the apostles have been given such great treasures, they are expected to use them well and will not be spared if they abuse them.

Of course, many of us have been given knowledge of God and many gifts of time, talent, and treasure to use for God’s kingdom, and we need not necessarily excuse ourselves from the parable’s thrust simply because we do not have an explicit position of authority in the Church. A similar message of responsibility is given by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46 in the parable of the sheep or the goats. A parishioner in my last congregation would ask me, ‘How do I know if I have passed Jesus by in disguise and have not done what is required?’ This seems to be a similar question to ‘Do we know whether we have done what was expected of us?’

This question can be ‘haunting,’ as you say. It is the kind of question that tortured Martin Luther, but he found grace in the Gospel. We have to hold this warning of judgment together with Jesus’ promise of forgiveness.

Jesus does not tell parables to make us feel guilty about the past and doubtful about whether God will forgive or accept us – that we might be haunted by the idea that it is too late for us. Jesus tells the parables to exhort and motivate us to make choices and adopt behaviors that glorify God. None of us will have used our gifts in the right way all the time, and none of us will use them perfectly in the future either. But by telling his parable, Jesus wants us to hear the Word so that we recommit ourselves each day to seek as best we can to be wise stewards of what God has given to us. He also may wish us to focus not on what others should be doing (the slaves who do not know what their master wanted and did what was wrong), but on what we who do know the Father’s will should be about.

So Jesus does not tell this parable to make us ruminate about our past, but to orient us toward the present and the future. He wants us to hear, and then to act!

Finally, you ask whether world religions follow this teaching. The specific teaching, about the responsibility of the apostles toward the Church, is unique to Christianity. But teaching about duty and acting properly toward God or the gods according to one’s station in life is found throughout world religions. Of course, individuals of whatever religion follow or do not follow their Scriptures to varying degrees.
Thank you for the question!
Pastor Frontz