THE SERVANTS OF CHRIST AND THEIR RESPONSIBILITY

 

By SIEGFIZIED GOEBEL*

 

[* Translated from the German by Prof. Banks.]

 

The narrative (Luke 19: 11-27) itself speaks of the setting up of a kingly rule, which, however, was preceded by a journey into a far country, and a consequent prolonged absence of the future king, during which the fidelity of his servants is to be proved on the one hand, and the hate of his fellow-citizens will be revealed on the other. We may here then assume as undoubted, that by this journey of the nobleman Jesus means to represent His own approaching departure from the world, and by his return His own coming again in royal power and glory; and further, that by the nobleman's servants left behind He would have His own disciples understood, and by his fellow-citizens, His own fellow-countrymen, and citizens of Israel.

 

From that retirement of their Lord arises for the disciples of Jesus, as for the servants of the nobleman, an intermediate period, during which they will be without His visible presence, and must wait for His coming. But the period is not given them for idle waiting. It is of the most critical importance for themselves, because it is appointed them as a test-time, on the use of which their own participation in the kingdom of Christ and their position in it will depend. As the nobleman on his departure delivered to ten servants one mina each, commanding them whilst he is initiating his coming as king, to trade with these minae, precisely that in dealing with so slight a sum the fidelity of each one, and his fitness for the royal service, may be seen; so will Jesus, for the intermediate period up to His second advent, hand over to the body of His disciples (the idea of unity lies in the number ten) an apparently inconsiderable gift, and appoint them the duty of working with it for their Lord, while He is far away.

 

"Like as (it is with the Parousia of the Son of Man as if) a man, about to journey into another country, called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods" (Matt. 25: 14). The Greek words are literally translated "the goods of him", is not necessarily the entire property of every kind and in every place belonging to the householder, but is limited by the context to the property he had in his possession, and under his personal management in his residence so far. Being now about to take a journey, he is obliged to hand over this property of his, which he is unable personally to manage as before, to other faithful hands during the time of his absence. He therefore calls, not strange labourers, but his own servants, belonging to him as his servants; and as their master, since he may expect that they will regard his interest as their own, entrusts to them and their hands the property he leaves behind.

 

In the investigation on his return, the householder first bestows his praise on the faithful servant, and then promises him his reward, so that the Greek words ... belong not so much to the preceding eulogy, as to the following promise of reward, giving its reason, therefore: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Over a little thou wast faithful, over much will I set thee" (Matt. 25: 23). He calls him a good and faithful servant: "good" not in the general moral sense but in his character as servant, therefore a true servant; and since he has especially proved himself such by his fidelity, which is the most prominent virtue of a good servant, the specific "faithful" is combined with the general term "good." The promise of reward is to the effect, that because he has been faithful over a little, he will set him over much, just as a servant who has proved his fidelity in the small is trusted with the great. Thus, the comparatively large sum delivered to this servant was but little in comparison with the wealth of goods (money is no longer specially thought of) over which he is now to be set, set as controller, so that he may now deal with them just as independently, despite the householderís presence, as with the sum of money during the masterís absence. But this, of course, supposes that from the mere position of servant, which he has hitherto held, he is raised to the position of a friend of his master, sharing his full confidence, and taking part in his authority. Hence, to the promise of reward, a saying is added, expressive of this elevation:- "Enter into the joy of thy lord," i.e., into the state of joy accruing to him in his character as lord, and in virtue of his authority, so that the servant will have part and lot in his master's state.

 

But great and glorious as is this reward, so heavy, on the other hand, is the punishment that will be inflicted on those who let the word entrusted to them lie dead and useless. For not merely will the Lord leave to the faithful the rich product of their earthly labour even in the future Kingdom of God as their crown of rejoicing, their glory and joy (1 Thess. 2: 19), but He will also over and above reckon to their glory what He takes from the indolent. By exposing the false glory of the latter, as though they had done their duty by merely preserving that which was entrusted to them, and taking that glory from them along with the trust that was theirs, He will still further augment to the faithful the glory and joy which is the result of their faithful labour, so that they will become just as much richer as the others became poorer.

 

And to the retribution decreed is added the positive punishment which the householder orders to be inflicted on the profitless servant (verse 30): "and the useless servant cast forth into the darkness without" (outside the bright festive rooms). Although, therefore, no festal celebration of the householder's return was expressly mentioned in the narrative before, since the "joy of the lord" (verses 21, 23) cannot be referred to such a feast merely, still the thought of such a celebration so natural and common in other parables, really floats before the narratorís mind. And whereas the first two servantsí entrance into the joy of their lord evidently includes participation in this festal joy, so the idle servant is to be expelled from the bright rooms of his master's household. This doom, then, forms in fact the contrast to the eulogistic word to the first two servants: "Enter into the joy of thy lord." Christ, in the hour of His coming, besides depriving every idle, unfaithful servant of what was entrusted to him, will also inflict on him the penalty of exclusion from His Kingdom: what Luke says of the punishment of the servant already implies that he has no share in the kingdom of his lord, and therefore that he who is like him will have no share in the Kingdom of Christ.

 

And if the hour of Christ's second advent will be an hour of reckoning even for His disciples, how much more will it be an hour of judgment for His enemies! The citizens of Israel, who hated Jesus, although He lived and worked among them as His countrymen, and who were impelled by their hatred for Him to resistance against the counsel and will of the most high God - what can they be to the Messiah returning from heaven but enemies and what other fate can the erection of the Messiah's kingdom bring them than that of rebels, on whom a victorious king takes righteous vengeance? Although members of the chosen nation to which Christ Himself belonged, who as such would have been called in the first rank to enjoy the blessings of the Messianic Kingdom, the manifested Messiah at the setting up of His Kingdom will call them before His tribunal as His foes, and forthwith inflict on them the punishment due to hardened rebels against His divinely ordained eternal kingship - the punishment of condemnation to the eternal death, of whose pain and terrors even the slaying of the rebels in the parable is but a feeble image. When it is said that such an image is unlike the mind of Jesus, this is simply an a priori assertion easily refuted by the numerous passages in which Jesus speaks of the punishment of damnation with no less menacing solemnity, and no less terrible images. That nothing can be meant by extreme penalty inflicted on the rebels in the parable but the condemnation to eternal death, ought not to have called in question, considering the clearness and distinctness with which the parable distinguishes the period of the second advent as one of reckoning and judgment, from the intermediate period preceding it as the time of the Lord's absence in the heavenly world, designed to leave scope to His friends and foes to manifest their love and hate.

 

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