This is a little embarrassing, because I’m sure a lot of other people have understood this passage . . . but for over 30 years, I haven’t.

‘For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.’  (Matthew 13:12)

I have to say, it sounds kind of harsh and unfair.

Jesus also told a parable that ended the same way:

‘For [the kingdom of heaven is] as a man travelling into a far country, [who] called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made [them] other five talents.  And likewise he that [had received] two, he also gained other two.  But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.  And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, [thou] good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.  He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.  His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:  And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, [there] thou hast [that is] thine. His lord answered and said unto him, [Thou] wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and [then] at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give [it] unto him which hath ten talents.  For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.‘  (Matthew 25:14-30)

I mean, I’ve got to admit, I could see the guy’s point of view.  No investment is without risk, right?  I was seeing it as if it were speaking of an investment in the stock market.  But there was no ‘stock market’ in Jesus’ day!  Men built their own little empires through hard work and a good reputation.  And this man, apparently, had the mindset of an Amway salesman.  It seems he was envisioning a ‘pyramid’ plan for building wealth and renown.

I believe the money was given to each of the servants as ‘seed money’ or a ‘matching gift’, if you will.  Their master expected each of them to go out and start some kind of a business while he was gone.  Apparently, he was pragmatic enough to know that he might not make it back.  He could have just given them a trust fund to supply their needs while he was gone, but it wouldn’t have been a wise way to deal with the situation.  With their needs supplied and nothing but time on their hands, they were likely to get into trouble.  Instead, the way that he set things up and the instructions he gave them would keep them busy, and enable them to provide for their own needs while he was gone.  At his return, they would repay the seed money and have their own career, independent of any burden of debt to him.  What a great incentive for them to give it their best effort!

What anticipation he must have had, as he finally traveled home!  Now his servants would be more like peers . . . friends . . . men with maturity, business experience, independence, and self esteem.  What a wonderful opportunity he had given them!  It was a win-win proposition for everyone involved.

But how disappointed he must have been, upon arriving home and learning that one had fearfully and lazily squandered his opportunity!  Instead, he preferred to be a servant . . . to do another’s bidding and depend on him for his survival.  What a disappointment.  His master could take no pride in him.   Is it any wonder that what he had was taken away?  It was totally wasted on him.  Not only did he not have it in him to care for himself, to put forth his best effort and grow and mature, he had deprived his master too–deprived him of pride and satisfaction, of adding to his reputation, and of the potential increase to his empire.

Now,  how does that apply to us?  It illustrates the kind of relationship that Jesus wants to have with us:  servants made friends.

‘YE ARE MY FRIENDS, IF YE DO WHATSOEVER I COMMAND YOU. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and [that] your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.’  (John 15:14-16)

He has given each of us a measure of faith, and various talents and abilities.  It is up to each of us to use them in a way that glorifies God and helps to build up His kingdom.  Be faithful.  Do the best you can.  But above all–do something!!  Remember, the servant who was given the least was FEARFUL.  But that is not a valid excuse.  Look what happens to the fearful:

‘But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.’  (Revelation 21:8)

If you think I’m making it sound too severe, remember how the parable itself ended:

‘And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  (Matthew 25:30)

He was cast out of the kingdom . . . because he was unprofitable . . . unfruitful.  His master called him wicked and slothful.  And lest you think his master just had a bad temper, remember it was Jesus who told the parable . . . and He started it by saying  ‘For [the kingdom of heaven is] as . . . ‘  If this wasn’t the standard we would be held to, He would not have equated the parable with how His kingdom is.

(Continued in part 2: Fruitfulness)