Thursday, June 7, 2012

An Austere God?

I was reading the parable of the minas just the other day, and a new thought came to me. Before getting started, I recommend that you read the parable of the minas in Luke 19:11-27. It seems to me that this parable has a very similar meaning to the more popular parable of the talents told just a few days later in Matthew 25:14-30, with a couple of interesting differences.

If I understand the parable of the minas correctly (and I am wide open for correction on my understanding of this parable), the nobleman is Jesus. The citizens who hate the nobleman are the Jews who oppose Jesus. The servants are disciples of Jesus. The minas represent responsibilities, opportunities, abilities, etc. given to each disciple. The return of the nobleman represents the judgment. The first two servants had done well and were rewarded. The third servant had been lazy and was rebuked and punished. Punishment of this third servant isn't explicitly stated in this parable, but it seems to be implied, especially if I'm right that this return represents the judgment and in light of the similar parable of the talents. None of that was new to me and likely isn't new to you. I've taught those lessons before from this parable. I've even gone on to talk about the statement in verse 26 that the one who has will be given and the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But none of that is what I'm writing about now.

For some reason, I've given this one mina servant very little attention, other than to matter-of-factly point out his wickedness and laziness. But the parable tells us more about him. He was a disciple, but a disciple with a misunderstanding about the nature of Jesus. Notice what he thought of the nobleman in verse 21. "You are an austere (that is rough, severe, harsh) man, you collect what you did not deposit and you reap what you did not sow." If my explanation above is accurate (it may not be), then consider what this means. This one mina disciple thinks that Jesus is a harsh, rough, forbidding God and King. He thinks that Jesus demands the unreasonable. And because of this warped view of Jesus, he does nothing productive. He was given one simple instruction from the nobleman, and his warped view of Jesus prevented him from following that instruction.

What a horrible view of Jesus. Yet, I confess to having been guilty of that. I have approached God as if pleasing Him were beyond my ability. Rather than do business with my mina, I've hidden it away, thinking I was unable to please a harsh Master. I've felt hopeless and that I could never get it all right. Doing nothing seems no worse than doing it wrong, and doing nothing sure is easier. I've even avoided sharing the gospel because I didn't want to share my hopelessness. I am ashamed! I did that to my own destruction (verse 22) and offer no excuses. What a horrible misunderstanding of Jesus! Jesus is not austere. He describes Himself as meek and lowly. God has gone to great lengths to show us how gentle and good He is.

How did I get the impression that God demands more from us than He gives us the ability to do? I think it came from an unbalanced approach to God and His word. I spent too much effort thinking about and teaching about God's judgment and vengeance and did not give enough consideration to His grace and love. I never bothered to understand that even His vengeance grows from His love. I thought that Nadab and Abihu had been slain for a misstep, but had not considered that Ruth was given entrance to the assembly of the Lord against the law (Deut. 23:3) yet was given a place in the lineage of Christ . I imagined God as a strict master who had little or no tolerance. I simply have not properly considered God as revealed in Jesus (Heb. 1:1-3). A view of God that overemphasizes judgment to the point of viewing God as harsh, rough, austere, may cause one to do nothing productive. It is a dangerous view.

Now, to be sure, properly considering God as revealed in Jesus does not ignore the role of God as judge. Verse 27 is one of the most severe statements of Jesus that I know of in the New Testament. Paul reminds us to behold the goodness and severity of God (Rom. 11:22). God's judgment on His enemies is severe. If we ignore it, we do horrible injustice to the parable of the minas. Judgment, and severe judgment, is part of that parable and part of God's love. If we ignore God's judgment we do so to our own peril. God's enemies have no hope, and the only way to be His friend is through a loving, active faith in Jesus.

What I'm striving for, in myself, is balance. It is possible to be unbalanced in either direction. It is possible to overemphasize God's mercy and longsuffering and kindness to our own destruction. The Bible warns against that. It is also possible to overemphasize God's vengeance and severity to our own destruction. I believe this  parable warns against that. If I focus too much on God's vengeance, I will see no hope of salvation. If I focus too much on God's grace, I will see no need for salvation. God help me to understand both His grace and His judgment.


  1. I received via Facebook the following comment on this post that I wanted to add for the reader's consideration.

    "I believe that your characterization of fear in the case of the parable of the minas is inaccurate. You portray the servant as one who wants to do right but is paralyzed by his fear. The master exposes him as one who wants to avoid work and wants to use fear as an excuse. Do you see that the master makes the case that if the servant truly feared he would have behaved differently than he did? In other word, he is calling his bluff. He is a lazy servant and wants to make his inaction sound better by appealing to fear. There is a fear that must be cast out but it is not the kind of fear that says if I don't do what God says I will be lost."

  2. As a result of this feedback, I have modified the post. I have taken away references to the fact that fear prevented the servant from doing business. Rather, I have stated that a warped view of God as unreasonable and thinking that serving Him is a hopeless endeavor led to the servant's laziness. I believe this is a common excuse for not serving God, the belief that it is too difficult and that He is impossible to please. And it is just that, an excuse.

    The reader points out that if the servant were truly afraid, he would have behaved differently. That is a good point.

    I appreciate the feedback.