Matthew 25: Israel the Wicked Servant

Here we are, trucking along through Matthew 24 and 25.  Last week, we talked about Jesus’ speech about the “end” in Matthew 24 was really about a terrible event to come in 70 AD.  We discussed Yahweh’s expected return to Israel.  Yesterday, we addressed the first parable in Matthew 25, and suggested its meaning lay along a similar path.

Today, I want to quickly look at the meaning of Jesus’ next parable, regarding the three servants who invest or squander talents entrusted to them (Mt 25:14-30).  Rather than offering commentary alongside the text, I want here to address the overarching theme.

But first, the text (ESV):

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.  Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘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.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘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.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.  Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant!  You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 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.'”

Once more, the master in question here is more than likely God the Father, not Jesus.  It is, by first century Jewish understanding, Yahweh who has left His people for a spell.  It is His return for which they hope.

Further, this parable draws on the notion that the Creator has entrusted care of His creation to humankind.  Implicit in the parable is the understanding of the master, that he wishes his servants to multiply what’s been given them.  Jesus’ story launches from the mandate first given in Genesis 1:28.  “And God blessed them.  And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth'” (ESV).  The same mandate is echoed over Noah in Genesis 9:7, and is tucked away under God’s initial invitation to Abraham, that He would make him a great nation (Gen 12:2).

It has been, from the start, the Creator’s desire for humankind, those made in His image, to represent Him on the earth, to govern the earth on His behalf.  This mission, first given to Adam and Eve, and subsequently to Noah and Abraham, ultimately lands in the hands of Israel, God’s servant.

And there lies the crux of Jesus’ parable.  This is the great surprise of this short story and the warning that hides within.  Israel has been entrusted with the care of Creation.  It was through them God had hoped to reap a harvest.  But certain members of Abraham’s family have been found wanting, and what they have will soon be taken from them.  Indeed, at the time of the parable’s telling, it was being taken and would finally be stripped within a generation.

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