21. "Unprofitable Servants and Goats"

Matthew 25:14–46

This parable of judgment occurs in the last great body of teaching by Jesus. At this point, Jesus is about to go to the cross. His disciples will see him no more. But he reminds them that the day is coming when he will return as Judge of all men and that all who are wise should be well prepared to meet him in that judgment.
See who Jesus judges as "unprofitable servants and goats."



Unprofitable Servants and Goats, Parts 1 and 2

Part 1: The Parable of the Talents (vv. 14–30) [Click to open, then close, each link to Scripture.]
"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
19"After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'
21"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
22"The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.'
23"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
24"Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.'
26"His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28" 'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

Jesus' story about a businessman who leaves town and entrusts his money with his workers probably made perfect sense to his audience. Wealthy merchants and businessmen often had to travel abroad and leave the business to others to handle while away. In this story, Jesus tells us something about how God deals with us, his servants.

The parable speaks first of the Master's trust in his servants. While he goes away he leaves them with his money to use as they think best. Secondly, although there were no strings attached, this was obviously a test to see (or judge) if the Master's workers would be industrious and reliable in their use of the money entrusted to them. Thirdly, we see the master rewarding those who are industrious and faithful while punishing those who sit by idly and who do nothing with his money.

The essence of the parable seems to lie in the servants' conception of responsibility. Each servant entrusted with the master's money was faithful up to a certain point. The servant who buried the master's money was irresponsible. We learned in Parable #1 that one can bury seeds in the ground and expect them to become productive because they obey natural laws. Coins ("talents" in this parable), however, do not obey natural laws. They obey economic laws and become productive in circulation. The master expected his servants to be productive in the investment of his money.

Q.  What do coins and the law of economics have to do with the kingdom of God?
A.  The Lord entrusts the subjects of his kingdom with gifts and graces and he gives his subjects the freedom and free will to use them as they think best.

With each gift and talent, God gives sufficient means (grace and wisdom) for us to use them in a fitting way. As the parable of the talents shows, God abhors indifference and an attitude that says it's not worth trying. Thankfully, God honors those who use their talents and gifts for doing good.

Those who are faithful with even a little are entrusted with more! But those who neglect or squander what God has entrusted to them will lose what they have. There is "a hearty lesson" here for us. No one can stand still for long in the Christian life. We either get more or we lose what we have. We either advance towards God or we slip back.

Q.  Do you earnestly seek to serve God with the gifts, talents, and graces he has given to you?
A.  ___________________________________________________.

Unprofitable Servants and Goats, Parts 1 and 2

Part 2: The Parable of the Final Judgment . . . the Sheep and the Goats (vv. 31–46) [Click to open and read the Scripture.]
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' 45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Jesus’ story about the separation of goats and sheep must have unsettled his audience. I learned that in arid lands goats and sheep often grazed together during the day because green pasture was sparse.

But they were separated at night because goats needed shelter. They were also less docile and more restless than sheep. They came to symbolize evil. Today, the expression "scapegoat" has become a common expression for someone bearing blame for others. (See Leviticus 26:20–22 for a description of the ritual expulsion of a sin-bearing goat on the Day of Atonement.)

Separation is an inevitable consequence of judgment. The Day of Judgment will reveal who showed true compassion and mercy toward their neighbor. As much as we might like to judge these parables, each of the parables we've studied, nonetheless, judges us.

In this parable, Jesus teaches us a very important lesson about loving our neighbor and taking responsibility for others. God will judge us not only for the wrong we've done but also for what we've failed to do.

Now is the time of God’s mercy for seeking his help and grace to turn away from sin, help others in need, and walk in his way of love. Ask the Lord to purify your heart that you may love as he loves and live charitably with everyone.

A Hearty Application

Now for our application question.
God is gracious and merciful; his love compels us to treat others with mercy and kindness. When we do something for one of Christ's little ones, we do it for Christ.

Q.  Have you recently treated your neighbor with mercy and love as Christ has treated you?
A.  ___________________________________________________.


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