If you were to go to people who do not profess faith in Christ, if you were to approach a friend or coworker or even a family member who does not attend a church and ask them what they know about the Church, what sort of answers do you think you would get? What I am getting at is, what is the perception of the world with regard to the people of God? What do they really know about the Christian Church? I usually thought they assumed the same things I did about the Church. They do not know the people of course or perhaps all of our strange little habits, but they would know we are followers of Jesus Christ, we are a people of love and compassion, and that our first move is toward forgiveness and not judgment. Surely, this is what they must know about us, right? Well, not exactly. Several years ago, I read a book which was the result of a study by the Barna Institute on how the unchurched people view the churched people. The title of the book is “Unchristian,” for that is pretty much how the world views the Chrisitan Church, as unchristian. That is, we certainly do not practice what we preach, and the assumption is most preaching is not what Jesus taught in the first place, hence “unchristian.”
I do not know what we are to make of such claims, and certainly question if it matters all that much with regard to the life and practice of the Church. After all, I think changing what we do as part of a complex PR campaign is probably a terrible idea when we are dealing with the ancient faith. Yet, I am sure all of us have felt this perception in some way in our own lives. It happens regularly with me when I am talking to someone and, eventually, they ask what I do for a living. When they find out, they immediately will apologize for their foul language or the dirty joke they told, or they begin to justify why they do not go to church or have not been in a long while. Now, none of this comes from anything I said. I am sure I probably laughed at the joke, but it comes from an understanding of the Christian Church, that we are here primarily to offer judgment, to condemn, to call them out for their wrongdoing, so they try and get ahead of the inevitable chastisement which is sure to come. Of course, you have probably had something similar happen to you, perhaps not at the same level, but still an expectation of judgment, or its flip side, the accusation of self-righteousness.
At the very least we ought to be able to see how this is a mischaracterization of the Church, or more accurately, a mischaracterization of our God and His revelation of Himself in His Word. Is there judgment? Of course, there is. The commands and decrees of God do not shift and change with what is socially acceptable or whatever is currently the fashionable sin. His Law is the true measure of faithfulness. His Law holds all people accountable and condemns everyone to eternal death. That is the judgment of our God but is not the totality of His work. In fact, you can say this is not His primary work. The heart of the Church is not judgment but forgiveness. It is not to condemn and drive away, but to love and embrace. The primary work of our God is located on the cross, in the sacrifice made for your sin, in the justification which comes not by your deeds, but by the gift of faith alone.
So, in Matthew 25 Jesus continues a series of parables about the Kingdom of Heaven, parables that direct our hearts and minds towards the promised return of our Lord. He says the Kingdom of Heaven, “Will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.” The servants are called and entrusted with their master’s gifts. Mercifully, each one is given according to his ability.
As the master is gone, we immediately see there are two reactions to this gift. The first two servants take one course of action, and the third servant takes an entirely different angle. We are told the one given five talents trades with this great sum of money and, in fact, doubles it, making five more. Likewise, the one with two talents put it to work and made two more. When the master returns and goes to settle his accounts, his reaction to these first two servants is the same. It is, in fact, the words all servants of the Master long to hear when He comes again in glory. He says to each of them in turn, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Well done, good and faithful servant. Is that not what we all want to hear on the last day as we stand before the Throne and the Lamb? Well done, enter into the joy of your Master!
But the third servant does something quite different. He does not trade with the money. Actually, he does not do anything with what is entrusted to him. He goes and buries it in a field until the master returns. Then, he just gives it back, but his actions are not where we should focus. It is the “reason” for his actions which ought to hold our attention. When called before the master he says, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.” What he knew about his master, concerning his character and disposition is the issue. He did not know him rightly. He knew him only as the judge, simply as one to be feared, so he failed his master in every way.
The issue is not the money, how much they made, or how well they performed with what he gave them. The question is whether or not they trusted in who he was. As servants of the master, they are to know who it is they serve, who they follow, and so should you. You are called to live knowing that the compassion and mercy of your Master is the freedom to take what He has given you, the blessings, the talents, the skills, the many things which make up your life, and use them without fear. Your Master is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who is coming and will call you before Himself on the Last Day. And what do you know about Him? Do you know His perfection, His righteousness, His judgment against sin? Sure, but greater than that you know His love, His compassion. You understand how His whole work was not just to kill you in your sin but to bring forth life in His gifts, life in His death and resurrection. He gives Himself. The Master gives all He is so you will have eternal life.
This parable causes us to consider what we are doing as we await the coming of the Kingdom. It is to trust in the character of our God. The world outside the Church may very well see this as only a place of judgment and condemnation. They may think they know our Lord from a distance and, as a result, will never use the gifts He has given, never invest in the freedom of His compassion, and will, ultimately, never know the joy of the Master. But this is not you. You are given His gifts. You are called by the Gospel. The sacrifice of the Christ has been washed over your heads, placed into your mouths, and echoes in your ears. You are loved, you are forgiven, and so you are free to live not in fear and trembling but in confidence and joy as we await the coming Kingdom of Heaven.
On that day, when Jesus calls your name to appear before Him, perhaps you will say, “Look I tried to be faithful. I wanted to do good. But there are so many times I failed, so many times I acted out of my own selfish desire. There are so many I have hurt, so many more I have failed to help. You blessed me, but I squandered so much of it. Forgive me, O Lord, for I am a sinner.” And He will smile and say, “I know. You are forgiven. Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”