Matthew 26:47-75 – Jesus Condemned to Death and Peter’s Denial

The story continues with Jesus Arrest. Judas arrives with “a large crowd armed with swords and clubs,” and signals his betrayal of Jesus with the famous kiss. Then as he’s being seized, one of the disciples (John tells us it’s impetuous Peter) takes his sword and trying to do something ends up cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus tells him to stop with these famous words: “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” He says he could stop this with legions of angels any time he wants, but the Scripture that predicts all that’s about to happen must be fulfilled. With this Scripture reference, Matthew is again telling his Jewish audience that Jesus is the fulfillment of everything they’ve been waiting for. To emphasize the point even more, Jesus tells the crowd arresting him, “this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled. Matthew adds, “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled”—Not so brave now.

Jesus is taken to Caiaphas the high priest, and a gathering of the religious professionals he has so offended these last few years is waiting to condemn him. Matthew tells us that Peter had followed Jesus “at a distance,” to see what’s going to happen. Hadn’t Peter said just hours before that he’d die for Jesus if he had to? Betrayal and other bad things happen when we think we have it in our own power to do great things. Jesus tells us in John that apart from him “we can do nothing.” Zip, zero, nada.

Witnesses come before the proceeding to tell lies about Jesus as they look for some pretext to condemn him to death. In Israel false prophets must die, but the problem is that Israel’s leaders haven’t always been able to discern the false from the true prophets. But they won’t need any pretext; just the truth. To fulfill what Isaiah says in the great chapter 53 that points to these unfolding events:

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.

To all the insults and lies, Matthew says, “But Jesus remained silent.” Then he seals his fate when the high priest asks the most obvious of questions. All of Israel has been waiting for Messiah 400 years, and Jesus has spent several years now claiming he is that one. The problem is not only that he claims to be the long-awaited Messiah, but to be divine as well, to be equal with God (in the high priest’s phrase, “the Son of God.”). His reply:

64 “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

In his accusers eyes he is speaking blasphemy; he is worthy of death. The irony, of course, is that this is the truth, and one day they and everyone else who has ever lived will know and confess it. But all Jesus gets now is beaten and spit in his face.

The chapter ends with Peter denying a perfect biblical three times that he even knows Jesus. We forget how astounding it is that the leader of this new religion (which isn’t new), and the early Church, is shown to be an utter coward in a writing used to build this movement. Wouldn’t it be more likely, if it were a made-up fable, to show the movement’s leaders in an heroic light? Do human being naturally like to make themselves look bad? Won’t they in fact do everything in their power to make themselves look good? Including lying? You don’t lie to show how terrible you are, do you? This really happened.

To add insult to injury, Matthew tells us that the first two times Peter is accused as being “with Jesus,” it’s by a young servant girl. Big burly fisherman Peter couldn’t even stand up to a young girl. Then as Peter cries out, “I don’t know the man!” Matthew says, as if to rub it in, “Immediately a rooster crowed.” Peter remembered Jesus’ prediction, “And he went outside and wept bitterly.” Pure pathos. Imagine people asking Peter about this as he was ministering in the early Church. The great, amazing, almost unbelievable thing about Christianity is that knowledge of our greatest weaknesses is our greatest strength! The last thing we want as followers of Jesus is some false confidence in our own abilities to “pull it off.” We never have to pretend we’re something we’re not, or put on some affectation that we’re really better than we are. Our boast is in him alone, in his sufficiency to save us from ourselves and our sin to the end, and forever.

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Matthew 26:31-46 – Gethsemane: Jesus Submits His Sorrow to the Will of the Father

Jesus finishes the last supper with his disciples by telling them that they will all “fall away on account of” him, and he quotes Zech. 13 about a shepherd being struck and the sheep scattering. The context of the last few chapter of Zechariah are powerfully Messianic, especially related to being cleansed from sin, and Jesus is the fulfillment of “on that day.” Everything predicted in the Old Testament about the salvation of God’s people is coming to it’s climax, and Jesus is stating that in no uncertain terms. We’re familiar with Peter’s denial that he will betray Jesus, that he would flee like a coward, but all of them deny that they will and turn out to be cowards too. Peter, however, was the first one to speak up, and forcefully, so Jesus says that before the sun even comes up, he will disown him not once, but three times! The criterion of embarrassing moments continue.

The story moves to Gethsemane, where Jesus asks Peter, James, and John to keep watch with him while he prays. What Jesus prays doesn’t surprise us because we’re so familiar with the story, but it is something we wouldn’t expect. The whole of Jesus’ life has lead to this moment, but he doesn’t want to go through with it. In fact he says that his “soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” As I’ve mentioned so many times in Matthew (same is true with the rest of the gospels), thinking apologetically, a lot of what we read wouldn’t be made up if it didn’t really happen; these are actual historical events. The hero of the story, especially after everything he has said and done, wanting to back out at the last minute does not read like fiction. In fact, Jesus pleads with his Father three times that “this cup be taken from him.” It’s impossible for us to comprehend what taking on the sins of the world meant to the second person of the Triune God.

This showing of apparent weakness was one of the primary reasons Friedrich Nietzsche hated Christianity. His philosophy of nihilism had no room for weakness, but Nietzsche was wrong. Fear is never necessarily weakness. It only becomes weakness when it dominates our course of action. For Jesus the preeminent orientation of his existence was the will of the Father, and he would submit to it, as he says three times, regardless of the cost, his very life. Our prayers should always end like his, that our Father’s will be done.

Something that stands out about this unexpected scenario is that it highlights how there is nothing easy about Christianity. That a horrific instrument of torture is at the center of our faith should tell us that, but we forget this so easily, so we have to be reminded. Matthew highlights the struggle that is our faith when Jesus goes back to the three after his first prayer and finds them sleeping. He asks Peter rhetorically, ““Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” Then Jesus tells them:

41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The Christian life is like a fish that must continually swim upstream. If we don’t “watch and pray,” the current will take us back to the weakness inherent in our flesh. As I’ve heard it put, the gravitational pull of sin continually weighs on us, and we must push back against it, fight the fall if you will, and that takes constant effort and prayer.

When Jesus comes back to the men after his third time, and finds them still sleeping, he says it’s time to wake up, his betrayal is at hand. Their world, and ours, will never be the same.

Matthew 26:14 – The Lord’s Supper: Salvation Made Actual

Matthew 26 continues after Jesus is anointed at Bethany and before the Lord’s supper with a few verses about Judas’ betrayal of Jesus to the chief priests. It’s a stark portrayal with no commentary whatsoever, painting a greedy Judas as he asks them, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” Then he’s given the famous 30 pieces of silver, which is a prophecy from the Old Testament. As we’ll see, he’ll soon regret it.

Then we come to the last meal Jesus would have with his disciples. Jesus says that his “appointed time is near,” and that they should go to a certain man’s house in the city to prepare for the Passover. I can imagine the disciples talking among themselves, speculating as to what this “appointed time” meant. Since they were so clueless when everything went down, they obviously had no idea. They still likely had the conquering Davidic idea of the Messiah despite Jesus telling them over and over he was going to die. Maybe he dies in a great battle or something, they might have thought. Not quite.

First, to set the mood, Jesus says that one of them, one of the 12, will betray him. It’s a strangely awkward scene, with all of them declaring that they aren’t the one. When Judas says, “Surely, not I, Rabbi,” Jesus tells him, oh yes, it is you. In fact, he’d already done it, but I wonder, was this said out loud in front of everyone? In a quite corner where no one could hear. Maybe we’ll know one day, but now all we can do is speculate. Whatever the case, Jesus says it will be woeful for the one who betrays, “the Son of Man.” It’s a Messianic betrayal, as Jesus said it must happen, but it would have been better for that man never to have been born. As we see throughout Scripture, God always uses secondary means, i.e., human beings, to accomplish his ends, for good or ill. This instance was for ill that would turn out for our eternal good.

Then Jesus throws his disciples for yet another loop when he declares that the bread they are eating “is” his body. What? Bread, his body? What does that even mean? How can the thing Jesus is holding in his hands, and is about to be consumed by him, “be” his body? One of the (many) reasons I am not a Catholic is that clearly the bread (and wine) and Jesus are two distinctly different entities. The bread didn’t stop being bread when Jesus declared it “his” body. There is some kind of spiritual and symbolic meaning to the bread, but Jesus never explains exactly what that is. Of the bread, Jesus says that “when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples . . .”, the breaking points to the breaking of his body for us.

Then he takes the cup and tells them to drink of it because, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Notice it is poured out for many, not all, and for a specific purpose. I think it is practically blasphemous to say that Jesus only came to make salvation possible for everyone, and actual for only those who accept the offer. The blood Jesus will pour out actually forgives sin! We can count on it because it is specifically for us, his people, his elect as he called us in chapter 24 three times. It is why the eternal second person of the Trinity came to earth and was given the name Jesus because he would most assuredly “save his people from their sins.” Not make it possible! We don’t become his people because we choose him, but because he chose us! Or to take from John 3, we can’t be born again by our choosing. Nobody chooses to be born, and we can be confident that Jesus uses his metaphors very carefully. 

Another reason Arminians and semi-Pelagians are wrong is because of the word Jesus uses here, covenant, or in some manuscripts new covenant. In the ancient world, a covenant was a binding agreement between two parties, and in redemptive history God is the initiator and the one who fulfills his covenant with man. We see that communicated most powerfully in Genesis 15. Jesus’ death on the cross is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises. Sin was actually paid for, and forgiven, on the cross, a transaction made.

It is impossible for us to imagine the utter strangeness of this scenario when it happened. A word that I think perfectly captures how the disciples must have responded is nonplussed (surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react). The Passover had always referred back to when the Lord saved the Israelites from his judgment against the Egyptians. Now the Lord will no longer pass over sin, but finally deal with it, and all its consequences in the person of his son, his body broken for us, his blood shed for us. The good news, God himself saved us from his own justice.

 

Matthew 26:1-13 – Jesus Anointed at Bethany: Women in Jesus’ Life

Now we come to the recounting of the last couple days of Jesus’ life in the longest chapter in Matthew. It starts with him predicting his death yet again, and his enemies plotting for a way to kill him. But they can’t be too obvious about it because they’re afraid of a riot. Despite all their efforts, they have not been able to discredit Jesus before the people.

Next, Matthew inserts a story that according to John 12 happened six days before the Passover, and just prior to his triumphal entry. If you didn’t know this you’d think it was just prior to the Passover and his arrest, but Matthew doesn’t say when it happened. He just introduces it by saying, “While Jesus was in Bethany . . .” This little village was just outside of Jerusalem, and the home of his friend Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead, and his sisters Martha and Mary. He always stayed there when he went to Jerusalem.

He was at the home of someone called “Simon the Leper.” Simon was a very common name then, and since there were no last names people had to be differentiated in some way (the study of names in the Bible is a fascinating one in itself). This Simon may have been healed by Jesus himself because he certainly wasn’t a leper anymore. While there “a woman,” whom we know from John was Mary, pours very expensive perfume on Jesus’ head that he says is to prepare him for his burial. We don’t know why Matthew doesn’t identify her, other than it’s not important who she is for the purpose of his telling of the story, but it is to John in his telling.

Then we come to another criterion of embarrassment moment. The disciples completely miss what’s really happening:

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Indignant is a strong word, and Jesus’ reply implies that they were giving the woman a hard time. Like many people who come to the Bible, and the stories of Jesus, they don’t realize that everything is about Jesus. It’s not about the poor. Or us. Or morality. Or religious observance. It’s about Jesus! Everything is relatively important, but only one thing, or person, is ultimately important, and that he came to save us from the guilt, penalty, and ultimate consequences of our sin.

We’ve just gone through the parable of the sheep and the goats in chapter 25, where Jesus seems to make service to the needy the key to our eternal destiny. But Jesus is saying here, in effect, don’t absolutize poverty. In fact he says, “The poor you will always have with you . . .” Progressives in America in their hubris actually thought through government policies we could eradicate poverty from the human condition. One of our presidents even declared a “war on poverty.” But we will always have poor people because fallen human nature cannot be changed. Yes, service to the needy is a fundamental part of the Church’s mission, but when it looses site that Christianity is all about Jesus, and our relationship to a holy God through him, it distorts the faith and inevitably becomes another thing.

You may remember a story told by Luke of another time Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Martha and Mary. There Martha is busy about preparations that had to be made for her guests, but Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” Again we see that Mary gets that it’s all about Jesus, so her anointing him with oil this time doesn’t surprise us. Skeptics tell us that the Bible is a misogynistic book, as is the Christianity that springs from it, but in fact the New Testament, and especially the gospels, show us a revolutionary treatment of women for the time. They come off looking intelligent, heroic,  and faithful, while the men often come off as feckless and self-centered. Mary was the only one in this story who realized that, as Jesus says, “you will not always have me.” And he predicts:

13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

And indeed it has.

 

Matthew 25:31-46 – The Eternal Nature of Sheep and Goats

In my last post I argued that this passage is not primarily about service to the poor and needy, and that it must be understood in the context of Jesus’ entire message since he entered Jerusalem. In fact, it’s meaning can can only be fully understood in light of the entirety of redemptive history. He starts with how this history will end:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Jesus is referring to himself in the third person, and every Jew listening and reading knows the backdrop for his words is Daniel 7. Nowhere else in early Jewish literature is a last judgment found, and in Daniel it is clearly Messianic and related to a kingdom to come that will “wage war against the saints.” Think about this parable in light of these words:

21 As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom.

Those who think this parable is all about the poor and needy completely ignore the context of Jesus’ words demanded by his introduction to the parable. They also ignore the history of the Church from the stoning of Steven to the persecution under Diocletian almost 300 years later. Read Eusebius like I mentioned in my last post, and his narrative of the persecution Christians endured under various emperors, and you’ll see how much a parable like the sheep and the goats would have meant to them. They could go to their deaths knowing ultimate justice will be done.

Jesus then again refers to himself in the third person, but this time as “the King.” I’m not sure why, but he tells the sheep these very important words that the people who focus on service miss:

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

It is the indicative (the blessing of his Father) that Jesus says leads to the sheep serving others as if they were serving Jesus himself. Jesus doesn’t say since you serve others, the Father will bless you. Contrast this with what he says, chillingly, about the goats:

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Again, it is an indicative (you who are cursed) that leads goats to not serve others as if they were Jesus himself. So not only do these people who use this passage to guilt others into service miss the point because they take it out of context, they also completely ignore that the service that leads to eternal life or punishment flows out of the state of their relationship to the Father. And it’s black or white, blessed or cursed. And remember in Matthew 24 that Jesus called his chosen ones the “elect” three times, and that he will gather them “from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” when “The Son of Man” comes “on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” We know from all of Scripture that God chooses whom he will save not because of who they are or what they have done, but in spite of it. That’s why Paul tells us we’re saved by grace, which is un-merited favor, so that no one may boast.

This biblical fact emphasized over and over again contradicts any claim that the blessing or curse depends on the service. Jesus could be implying that the sheep and the goats are blessed or cursed because of what they did, “For I was hungry . . . ” The only way you could come to that conclusion, though, is if you ignore the rest of Scripture. As James tells us, faith without deeds is dead, and wherever there is true faith (trust in God’s provision of righteousness) works will follow.

As I’ve been arguing, Jesus isn’t saying the the most important work is service to the poor and needy. Every work loving God and neighbor is just as important as every other. You can find the most selfless person pouring out their lives day and night for the needy, and having pride in their service and going to eternal punishment with the goats. Or doing this and ignoring the needs of their family. We ought never to absolutize one of a few aspects of the Christian life. Rather, it’s the state of one’s heart and relationship to a holy God that is the issue, saved or not, reconciled or not, peace established through faith, or not. Who we are vis-a-vis God, our ontology, will inevitably be reflected in what we do; it cannot be helped.

Jesus ends this parable, and his Olivet Discourse, with these sobering words:

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

There is no way around these words. They are too blunt, too absolute. If we accept any words of Jesus, we must accept these as well. It’s unpleasant to contemplate, to say the least. Maybe not for the worst, most vile and evil people, but there are some very fine and honorable people who do not follow Jesus. It’s something I’d rather not think about, but when I do I always go back to the character of God, and these words of Moses prior to his death just short of the Promised Land (Deut. 32):

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
    Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
    and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
    upright and just is he.

 

Matthew 25:31-46 – The Importance of Context in Understanding Sheep and Goats

If there was any doubt about what Jesus thinks about heaven and hell, and the eternal nature of the human soul, his parable of the sheep and the goats puts that to rest. It is also an extremely uncomfortable parable because Jesus seems to be basing the separation of the sheep and the goats upon service to the poor and needy and prisoners. You do these things, you’re in, you don’t, your out. When reading the commentaries it’s amazing to read how many people think that because Jesus’ words are so stark they trump all other words in the Bible. Put another way, because Jesus says these things, and that heaven and hell seem to ride on it, then everything else in Scripture is subordinated to these words.

One commentator even goes so far as to name his website Jesus Words Only, and concludes that we’re only to use those words to understand the Christian life, as if the whole of the Bible is not God’s (i.e., Jesus’) word. That would make the Church’s understanding of the biblical canon (what is the authoritative, God-breathed words of Scripture) for the last 2000 years wrong. I’ll side with the Church over those who thinks Jesus’ words in the gospels (which are not his actual words because he spoke in Aramaic) are the only words of God relevant for us.

Which brings up, for me, the second most important biblical hermeneutic: we must let Scripture interpret Scripture. That’s why I get nervous when anyone teaches that any verse or series of verses or passage is more important and authoritative than any other. But the most important biblical hermeneutic, the one that informs and trumps all others is spoken of by Jesus himself in Luke 24 as he is rebuking a couple disciples on the road to Emmaus:

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

A little later in the same chapter Jesus suddenly appears among the disciples, freaking them out, as they are discussing what happened on the road, and he reiterates the same hermeneutic:

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

So one thing we do know for sure about this parable is that it’s not about us! In fact what I notice about those who make what Jesus says here the sin qua non of the Christian life, is that they rip the passage out of it’s context. As if all Jesus was saying was, hey, you go serve the poor or you’re going to hell! If we’re not spending every night in a soup kitchen we’re goats!

But what about what Paul says in 2 Thess. 3:10: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” That person could turn out to be poor and needy, and Paul says, let him starve. There is much more to those in need than the need itself. And life in the ancient world before industrial capitalism exploded into human history in the 19th century was very different in terms of the number of truly needy people. I would argue that capitalism is much better at getting people out of poverty than charity or government programs. And an obsession about material needs always tends to externalize the gospel, just as happened in the early 20th century, ending up giving us a liberal Christianity that ended up rejecting Christianity itself.

This is not to say that helping the poor and needy, or visiting prisoners, isn’t important. It’s a theme in the Old Testament, and a feature of life among God’s people, but this passage is not about that. To say it is means that everything that came before has nothing to do with this parable, but that goes against everything Matthew is trying to accomplish in his gospel, which is proving that Jesus is he Messiah. In just the previous chapter Jesus gave a long discourse on the “signs of the end of the age,” and remember he started that by saying:  “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” And his disciples reply:  “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Then Jesus goes right into parables about keeping watch because we do not know “the day or the hour,” and finishes with this one about sheep and goats. Further, all of Jesus’ teaching since his triumphal entry into Jerusalem is in the context of his battle with the Jewish religious leaders. Finally, one phrase Jesus uses clarifies that this is not about the poor and needy in general. He says twice, once to the sheep, and once to the goats, that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me.” These are Jesus’ followers who are undergoing persecution from his enemies, especially in the run up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but also in the first three hundred years of the Church when persecution was a fairly common occurrence.

These words of Jesus must have been deeply meaningful for his people during those times. I’m currently reading Eusebius-The Church History, and about the brutal persecution of the Church under Diocletian (d. 311). It’s horrific to read about the sadistic tortured followers of Jesus endured, and for those who suffered and those who comforted them, that Jesus will return one day to set things right, and justice will be done.

Since I didn’t get to any of the actual text, I’ll do that in my next post.

Matthew 25:1-30 – Virgins and Talents Teach Us to “Keep Watch”

Matthew 25 recounts the last of Jesus’ parables before his suffering and death. The theme of each builds on what he taught in the previous chapter about his (second) coming, and not knowing the day or the hour. We are to live our entire lives faithfully on watch for his coming. That means we do not live a taken-for-granted life, or a life in which temporal, mundane concerns consume us. We are to live in light of eternity so that we don’t fall into the trap of turning good things into ultimate things (idolatry). Our perspective should be informed by what these parables are about, the “kingdom of heaven.”

The first is about ten virgins waiting for the bridegroom to come. This was an ancient middle eastern custom where the bride waited for the final step in the marriage process, along with her young female friends, for the bridegroom to come and consummate the marriage. Five are wise and take jars of oil to make sure their lamps don’t go out in case the bridegroom takes his time in coming, and five are foolish because they assume they’ll have enough. One commentator saw the oil symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and oil did play an important role in the Old Testament in God’s relationship to his people, but maybe the meaning is more simple than that.

Maybe the ending gives us a clue. The foolish virgins had to run off to buy oil when the bridegroom finally showed up, but the five wise ones were invited into the banquet, and Jesus says: “And the door was shut.” We’ve noticed that Jesus is pretty black and white, either you’re in or out, either you’re for him or not, either you’re a follower or not (as we’ll see). There is no wishy-washy middle when it comes to Jesus of Nazareth. When the foolish ones return with their oil and knock on the door, Jesus as the bridegroom says, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.” So we need to “keep watch because we don’t know the day or the hour.” Knowing Jesus is “keeping watch,” and he’s given us his word, our Bible, that we might do that. More important, though, is him knowing us in Christ.

The next parable tells us that watching is not passive, that it requires the active investment of our lives into something. It’s called the parable of the talents (a form of money) because a man goes on a journey and gives talents to three of his servants to watch over his property while he is gone. Jesus said he did this, “each according to his ability.” The men who got five and two talents invested it, and doubled the money, while the servant who got one buried it in the ground. Thus the phrase, don’t bury your talents, meaning you don’t do anything with them. When the man returns he’s not happy with the lazy man, not only because he didn’t do anything with his talent, but because he was motivated by a lack of trust in the character of his master. In fact, he says he was “afraid” so hid his talent.

What this man forgets is that if his master had not given him the talent he wouldn’t have had anything in the first place. A realization that everything we have comes from our master, God, is motivation to do something with it. Nothing is ultimately “ours” so we are responsible to be good stewards with whatever it is we have, what God has given us. Jesus concludes this parable with these counter intuitive (what’s new) and sobering (what’s also new) words:

29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

We naturally think that those who have lots should have that taken away from them and given to those who don’t have much, or they should want to give those things away. Typically we see this in material terms, but it doesn’t just have to be those.

The point again, as I said about the previous parable, is that we are not to live a taken-for-granted life. We are to be, in modern terms, proactive, to be about multiplying whatever it is, big or little, God has given us. And every single thing we have, be they talents as we understand the word, or wealth and material possessions, or health or friends or family, or time, all of it has been given to us to use and multiply, that we might live a life of “investing” and not hording or burying. In other words, the life of God in Christ, the kingdom life, is fecund, which means “producing or capable of producing an abundance of offspring or new growth; fertile.” And this is all the more important because of its contrast. We live in a fallen world, in which gravity and time and decay all slowly but surely take their toll. We are to live our lives fighting against the fall, of pushing back against the forces that sin long ago unleashed.

Finally, Jesus remind us, as he’s done over and over, that there are eternal consequences to life, and that that life without him will be horrifically painful. Nobody else in all of the Bible, in all of redemptive history, speaks to these consequences, or hell, as much as Jesus does. We ought to pay attention. Even though it’s very unpopular to speak of hell in our enlightened 21st century secular West, we ought to remind those who refuse to submit to and follow Jesus that it exists, and will be their destiny if they refuse to submit to Jesus’ claim on their lives.