The time is intense. The arrest of Jesus is imminent; his earthly ministry is quickly drawing to a close. The sense of the passage from Matthew 23 to Matthew 25 is that Jesus is trying to teach his disciples as much as he can before it all comes to an end.
He warns against religious leaders and condemns them (“You snakes! You brood of vipers!”). He grieves over Jerusalem. And then, on the Mount of Olives, he teaches his disciples, using stories and parables. Be watchful. Be ready and waiting. Be expectant. The last days are coming. Learn from the stories of the 10 bridesmaids and the loaned money. And let me tell you about the final judgment.
This is his last extended time to teach them, and Jesus is packing it in.
Tucked among the various teachings is a warning about being ready. Jesus uses the analogy of the wise and evil servants. The wise and faithful servant, put in charge of the servants of the household, cares for them and feeds them at the proper time. “It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will be put in charge of all his possessions.”
The evil or wicked servant, however, waiting and waiting for the master’s return, gets tired of waiting and “then begins to beat his fellow servants and eat and drink with drunkards.” In his case, the master arrives unexpectedly. “He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (I’ve always like that phrase – “gnashing of teeth” – even though it makes my mouth hurt to think of it.)
Bob Sorge, in The Fire of Delayed Answers, notes that two things happen to the evil servant: “He loses his heart for the household, and he surrenders his self-control.” The two are inevitably linked; one follows almost naturally from the other. The delay in the master’s return creates both a crisis of the spirit and a crisis of behavior.
The causal problem in facing delay is the loss of heart. At work, we’ve been experiencing major organizational and management changes. What the new organization and leadership will be won’t be known for some weeks. There are good reasons for the delay, but the waiting is wearing on people. Anxiety is not uncommon. Speculation abounds. Things overheard in casual conversations become amplified into statements of fact.
The reality is that, regardless of anxiety and speculation, we still have to get work done. Work hasn’t gone away. It didn’t decide to take a holiday while we worried and fretted.
That’s what the wise servant understands and practices. He keeps focused on what he’s been entrusted with, as difficult as that can be at times.
He is faithful. He doesn’t lose heart.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Fire of Delayed Answers. To see more posts on this chapter, “Jesus’ Teaching on Delay,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.
Photograph by Nuzrath Nuzree via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.