Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30 (Pentecost 25: Series A)

Reading Time: 4 mins

Those who imagine God as hard and ungracious are judged severely. Those who trust in God’s mercy in Jesus are encouraged immensely.

For me, this time of the church year is always a bit rough. The readings turn to the last days and the Church rightly proclaims the final judgment. Christ’s words of warning to the religious leaders in Jerusalem before His death are repurposed by the lectionary to be Christ’s words of warning to the Church today, calling us to remember He is coming in judgment.

So, as we wait for Jesus to return, instead of thinking about the joys of the new creation, the experience of the resurrection, the fullness of life for those redeemed and restored... we hear God’s warning. A day of wrath is coming. All people will be judged.

For me, this is difficult, not because I do not want to hear it, but because I worry about how the world will hear it. The world already thinks the Church is judgmental. David Kinnaman’s book, You Lost Me, records the judgment people hear from Christians. I fear these readings, taken out of context, only confirm the misperception most people have of the Church. It is shaming, judgmental, and hateful.

Which is why we need to take a closer look at our parable this morning. The parable does contain judgment. The wicked servant is cast into “the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (verse 30). But rather than focus on the judgment, I would like to focus on what is being judged. What is God so concerned about, and why?

A quick reading of the parable makes it sound like God is concerned with the servant who has not invested God’s money. The other servants have invested His gifts. They have brought Him both His money and a good return. This servant buried God’s gifts and, therefore, has nothing more to share with God than what God originally gave him. “Here, you have what is yours” (verse 25). A quick reading would make us think God is a hard taskmaster and all about profits and returns.

Yet, upon closer reading, that is not what God is concerned about. Investments and returns are considered something “little” to God (verses 21 and 23). God graciously gives these servants more and invites them to share in His joy. In the Kingdom of God, investments and returns are not a zero-sum game. Instead, God graciously lavishes His richness upon His people.

If God is not concerned about returns on His investment, then why is God judging the servant as wicked? A closer reading reveals his error. It is not so much what he has done. It is what he has thought. The servant thinks wrongly about God.

In the parable, there are two depictions of God: One God we know by the wicked servant’s words and actions, the other God we know by the master’s words and actions.

In the parable, there are two depictions of God: One God we know by the wicked servant’s words and actions, the other God we know by the master’s words and actions.

The wicked servant reveals a God who is hard, demanding, ungracious, and needs to be placated and feared. As the servant says, “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed” (verse 24). This is the God our world imagines they will encounter in church, a God who is hard, who makes demands on people, and yet gives them no help. He comes across as a God truly to be feared and avoided.

But that is not the God Jesus reveals, not in this parable and not in His life. In fact, Jesus tells this parable to put an end to that misconception. The servant who thinks this way of God is judged harshly. Why? Because God, in Christ, has a completely different relationship with His people.

When you look at the opening of the parable, what kind of master do you see? Is the master harsh or demanding? Reaping where he did not sow? No.

Instead, when you look at the master, you find a beautiful vision of God. God gives various gifts to His servants, and He does so because He trusts they are able to use them. God gives and trusts.

What a beautiful comfort.

I remember as a child the power of my father’s trust. We were playing pool in the basement. I had been learning to play for a year. During one game, I had a difficult shot. My dad told me I could do it and then... he lent me his cue. My dad’s cue was special. We had learned never to use it. But in this moment, my dad saw the opportunity before me, trusted in my ability, and gave me his cue. There is joy in being called to work for God.

So often we imagine God as giving us gifts only to judge us for screwing up what He has given. This parable proclaims a different vision, a vision based on the mercy of God.

God, your Father, values you. He created you and endowed you with gifts. He sent His Son to bring forgiveness for failure and freedom for faithful service. Those who imagine God as hard and ungracious are judged severely. Those who trust in God’s mercy in Jesus are encouraged immensely. Why? Because the death and resurrection of Jesus put an end to God’s fearful judgment. God now delights in your faithful service. God has given you the ability. He has given you the gifts. He delights in your service, knowing you share in the joy of His Kingdom now and eternally.

So, yes, this parable is a parable of judgment, but what it judges is a limited vision of God. It judges a world that sees only God’s demands and not God’s gracious favor in Christ.

What a blessing it is, therefore, to listen to these words of Jesus. He frees us from the God who comes in judgment and encourages us to live in faithful service to the One who has given us gifts and trusts our ability to serve.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 25:14-30.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 25:14-30.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 25:14-30.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!