How Ready Will You Be
Peter Sarstedt sang a song in the early `70's which has become one of the anthems for that time in the memories and consciences of the `baby boomer' generation. It was a song about a beautiful young woman whose life was really a charade. She pretended to be rich and famous, mixing in all those right circles, being on first name terms with the great `shakers and makers', while her background was in the slums of a southern Italian city, where the singer knew her from. In his evocative French accent the singer brings out the theme of the song with the chorus,
But where do you go to, my lovely, When you're alone on your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you, I want to look inside your head...”
What are you like underneath? How would I find you when you're not pretending to others - when you're on your own, and you think no one's watching you? Or, in the increasingly used device of our times, what would a hidden camera - perhaps in that fly on the wall - reveal about you?
The Same Frame
Here the Lord draws together how the whole end-time scenario is meant to impact on His listeners. The story of `The Faithful & the Unfaithful Servant' brings home to us, in the way that only Jesus could do, the two possible responses when He returns. We learn here that His return will find us as we truly are - and what we truly are is found somewhere in this parable.
However much we may have been pretending our lives to be otherwise, what we truly are will be vividly shown on that Day. Interestingly, though, everyone is shown in Jesus' parable here to be essentially the same. Look at both these servants. They are both given the same thing to do; they are given what they need to do it; they are made accountable to ensure that it is done. The similarity continues, since it is clear they will be rewarded according to what they have done, and what they have done shows what's really on their hearts in doing it.
In teaching this, Jesus continues what He has already shown to be common to everyone. There are the signs of the times we all can see, specifically describing the fall of Jerusalem in the earlier verses but generally applicable right throughout His discourse so far. Together with those signs the Gospel has been proclaimed - as verse 14 declares that it will go to all the nations, and as the people of Noah's time knew, for instance, from the preaching of Noah (v37ff).
A Different Heart
Much as there may be some strong similarities between the two servants in Jesus' parable here, there is also the most telling difference: A difference that cannot be noticed off-hand from an outward view of these two, because this difference is found first of all in what can't be seen. But there is One who does see - it's the judgement of the Lord which exposes this. In verse 45 he describes one servant as “faithful and wise”, while in verse 48 the other servant is said to be “wicked.”
The way Jesus tells this story, we would understand that either of these two servants would seem to be able to be trusted with the Master's property and possessions until he returns. We have noted what there is in common. Like `The Parable of the Weeds' Jesus told earlier in Matthew's gospel (13:24-30), this is something that needs time to show what is really underneath.
But it will happen. What is really on the heart of someone has to come out. That's even the way it's described in the original Greek. Verse 48 literally says, “But if that evil slave says in his heart, `My master is not coming for a long time...”. Notice how the unbelieving servant works on the basis of not getting caught. Like those of Noah's time, they continue on in life, deliberately ignoring God's Word. Since they are ignoring God's Word, they have a false sense of security in their evil behaviour. The longer it goes on, the more they think they can get away with it. Just like an addict, they keep on going in the ultimately destructive lifestyle, while they know deep down that they will have to give an account. It is God who has given them their lives, their possessions and all their abilities. Everything they have comes from Him - they are even serving Him, although unfaithfully. That's why He has every right to call them to account.
The different heart is the key. It answers the universal question of believers through the ages about unbelievers, “Why me and not he or she?” It answers why the LORD took such a seemingly insignificant tribal grouping - the Hebrews, choosing them to be His people, and working out His plan for all mankind through them. It doesn't make sense in our understanding, but we do know we could only go this way! While God is always totally sovereign, mankind is granted 100% responsibility to respond to the free offer of the gospel. This is the response side to the prophecy in verse 14 that the gospel would be preached in the whole world.
On the other hand there are those who believe, they who form part of the harvest of “a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what is sown (Matt.13:8).” As Jesus explained later to his disciples, “what was sown on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown (Matt.13:23).” This is the person the master can visit any time and be confident he is doing what he was told to do. As Joseph was first for Potiphar, and later for Pharaoh over a much larger area with the whole of Egypt, so this man has his master's will at heart. If his master is blessed so is he!
Imagine then if you were working this faithfully for the greatest Master of all! He who is the source of every blessing would bring every blessing to you. As He does! In response to the faithful servant's work, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”
His Expectant Perspective
While there is a simple call to faith in this parable, we can glean more. The details given to the blessed servant also becomes a model of the attitude believers should have as they wait for the Lord's return. And that's just it! There is something wonderful about expecting His return. It made all the difference to the life of the early New Testament Church. They lived and died as if there were no tomorrow - for the Lord was coming back today.
It is also a popular litmus test for testing our Christian walk. If the Lord were to return - at any time at all - would you want to have Him see you then? Unconsciously we too accept a delay mentality - “It's not going to happen straightaway;” “There are still so many signs to be fulfilled”; “Apparently they haven't translated the gospel into everyone's language yet.” Let's be honest - saying this means we're not ready.
This is precisely why the Lord addressed `The Olivet Discourse' to His disciples and, through them, to the Church of all ages and of all places. We as people of the Light should live expecting to see that Light. And “since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
It's a battle out there - let's not kid ourselves it's otherwise. And if we're not out there fighting for the Lord, clearing the path for His landing party, who is?