The Pause Before Judgment
Pay attention when the Bible tells you why Jesus is telling a parable. The Bible says that Jesus told this parable "because...people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once." This parable deals with the fact that the kingdom of God doesn't appear instantly although all things are ready for it. Think of a space shuttle launch. The announcer says "3..2..1.." and then there is the minutest of pauses before blastoff. If there was an NBA clock going showing hundreds of seconds, you'd not only feel it but see it.
This parable illustrates the pause before Christ returns to end the world and the 3 things that are going on during this pause. The first thing is the Lord leaves His Church, His servants, His treasure. What's this treasure? Notice unlike the parable of the talents the Lord doesn't leave His servants different amounts. All the servants receive the same amount. What does Jesus leave all of His servants the same amount of? Not talents, money, or possessions. These differ. What Jesus leaves His servants, His Church, in equal amounts when He ascends into heaven is Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. All 3 Means of Grace belong to us all.
This is the great treasure of our Lord Jesus Christ. Waters that forgive sin and eternally reborn a person. Words that heal not mere earthly sickness but the eternal sickness of sin. Bread and Wine that is His Body and Blood for our bodies and souls. This is what our Lord wants us to use, to put to work, until He comes back. He wants us to baptize others and to daily remember our Baptism, to forgive each others sins, to eat His Body and drink His Blood often. This is the business of our Lord; this is what His servants are to be busy doing.
But this treasure of our Lord is nothing in eyes of the world. That's what's being illustrated by the mina. A mina was 3 month's wages. At 5.15 an hour that's roughly $3,700.00. Not much for a Man of noble birth, not much for God in flesh and blood to leave His servants. The world is impressed by wealth not Water. By words that sound wise not ones that forgive sins. By a God who sheds the blood of the bodies of His enemies, not by a God who gives His Body and sheds His Blood for His followers to eat and drink.
There's a pause before Jesus visibly returns. During this pause the Church has the Means of Grace to use and do the business of the Lord. And during this pause the enemies of Christ oppose Him. The text says that they "hated Him." That's a strong word, but when Jesus tells parables He shows what's really in people's hearts rather than what they show to others. In the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, for example, we hear the astonishingly arrogant prayer of the Pharisee.
In this parable we find out that those who are not servants of Christ are really enemies who hate Him. There is no such thing as a middle of the road view of Jesus. You know, "He's a good teacher, a great man, a wise man." Jesus makes eternal claims on people's lives. He demands total fear, love and trust. Those who don't fear, mock; who can't trust, mistrust; who won't love; hate. In America non-Christians are usually polite, politically correct, and tolerant towards Christ, but Jesus shows us how it really is for anyone who doesn't want Christ to reign over them.
And notice how the enemies of Jesus attempt to thwart His Lordship over them. They appeal to one they believe is over Him. Whom does America believe is over Jesus? Christians believe no one is. He is our Lord and our God as Thomas said. Non-Christians believe there is a god over Jesus. We Christians can have Jesus as our God but we are to acknowledge that there is a god above Jesus, a god to whom all religions can pray; one we can all be under, one we can all trust in. We are to be content with praying to god not Jesus specifically, trusting in god not Jesus, being under god, not Jesus.
The enemies of Jesus believe His rule to be harsh and painful. He is uncaring because He doesn't allow women to kill their babies or babies to be used as stem cell factories. He is harsh because He prohibits homosexuals to love, marry, and adopt. He is unloving because He forbids sex outside of marriage but permits parents to spank their kids. He is unreasonable because He insists He is the only revelation of God and the true God can't be known apart from Him. All of this is harsh and painful to fallen man and so during this pause before judgment day the enemies of Jesus rage against Him.
We should not be surprised by this. Jesus tells us this parable to warn us of the raging of His enemies during this pause and to warn us that some even in the visible Church are really enemies. This is the third servant. He's not called the third servant though he follows the ones Jesus specifically calls the "first' and the "second." The third, however, He calls literally, the "heterodox." Orthodox is someone who has God's doctrines lined up correctly. The heterodox do not.
The heterodox servant doesn't use the Means of Grace anymore than Jesus' enemies do. He thinks little of Baptism, so he doesn't rely on it when attacked by sin, death or the devil. He doesn't believe the Lord left the power to forgive sins on earth or His Body and Blood to eat and drink. He doesn't come to Church to have his sins forgiven or to get life and salvation in the Body and Blood of Jesus. He lives by his own opinions and feelings not by the Words of Jesus. He lives by his own sense of being saved, forgiven, and righteous rather than by the Words and deeds of Jesus in the Means of Grace. In effect, the heterodox person buries the baptismal font, the pulpit, and the altar.
And like all people who won't come to Church, who won't use the Means of Grace, this heterodox person blames Jesus. He claims that He doesn't use the Means of Grace because he is afraid of Jesus. Does that ring true? I was afraid of my dad and when he commanded me to eat peas, I ate them. People who won't use Baptism, Absolution, or Communion are so unafraid of Jesus that they feel free to ignore His specific commands to do these things. In reality the heterodox hiding inside the Church during this pause have the same view of Jesus as His enemies outside of the Church. He's a hard, harsh ruler. He only takes and doesn't give.
The Means of Grace can't be gracious to the heterodox person; they can only be commands and demands of Jesus. You gotta remember your Baptism; you have to go to Absolution; you must go to Communion. When the Means by which Jesus gives the grace He won for you on the cross, become "got to's," they cease to be Jesus doing for you and become you doing for Jesus. When the Means by which Jesus gives His fulfilling of the Law and His paying for your sins become "have to's," they're no longer grace to you but a burden. This is why people don't come to Church regularly. Grace isn't here for them but duty, laws, rules. A loving Jesus isn't here for them, but a harsh taskmaster whom they can only despise, no matter what they say.
That's depressing when you stop and think of it. During this pause many things are going on which can lead a Christian to despair. But take heart, this is only a pause. On Judgment Day according to this parable things will be set right. People who've been pretending to be servants of Jesus but who really have buried the Means of Grace under a dozen reasons why they couldn't use them will be exposed. There are no acceptable reasons for not using the Means of Grace, and those who don't use them religiously in this pause will lose them inevitably and eternally on Judgment Day.
Moreover, come Judgment Day, the enemies of Jesus, even those polite, politically correct ones who've never met a religious figure they didn't like, will be slaughtered before Jesus. The punishment is so harsh because their sin is so terrible. Regarding the God who loved the world so much that He suffered, bled, an died to redeem it as a harsh taskmaster, cries for instant judgment. The fact that there is a pause before the judgment testifies to God's incredible grace. But a pause by definition doesn't last.
When Judgment Day arrives not only will hypocrites be exposed and Christ's enemies slaughtered, but His Means of Grace will be shown for the powerful means of salvation they really are and their use will be rewarded far more than you can imagine. Notice when the 2 faithful servants are called forward they say, "Your mina has earned," not "I earned." All glory goes to God's mina. It's Baptism that saves us. It's Absolution that forgives us. It's Communion that feeds us. It's not we who empower them but they that give God's powerful grace to us.
It is the Means of Grace that Jesus wants to use to deliver you from your fear of this passage, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." "Gulp, "you go when you hear this passage. But notice, those who used the Means of Grace didn't receive what they were due but what the Lord's mina was due. Baptized into Christ you will receive what He deserves. Absolved by Christ on Judgment Day He will know of no reason not to let you in heaven. Bodied and blooded to Christ by Holy Communion you will go where He goes on Judgment Day.
Here you sit during this pause worried what judgment day will bring you. That's not how Jesus wants those who use His Means of Grace to be. In this parable, Jesus shows that using the Means of Grace leads to more grace. This is shown by the fact one mina makes 5 or 10 minas more during the pause. And even more astoundingly come Judgment Day Jesus rewards His minas that we have used by exchanging them for whole cities. Jesus reveals this to us so that we who use the Means of Grace during this pause would not fear judgment day but look forward to it and be moved to use His means for saving us all the more now. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Last Sunday in the Church Year (11-14-04); Luke 19:11-27