From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Most of us know this verse as a proverb: “To whom much is given, much is required.” We apply it to everything from intelligence to money. Yet the statement arises in a very specific context. Jesus is talking about management and readiness. He begins with a simple story about servants. “Be ready for service,” He says in Luke 12.35, like a staff awaiting its master’s return from a party. When they’re properly prepared, they’ll open the door for him, and he'll be pleased by their attentiveness to his needs. It will go well for them if they’ve done their work and stayed up to greet the master, regardless how late he comes home. Then Jesus does a peculiar zigzag that throws off His entire audience, including the disciples.
He turns His focus from the servants to their employer. If the master knew when a thief planned to invade his home, Jesus says, he’d be on guard. Since he doesn’t know, it’s best to be watchful at all times. Clearly, He’s talking about remaining vigilant for judgment. But the servant and thief analogies don’t mesh. First, Jesus is talking about servants’ responsibilities to serve their master at any time. Next, He’s giving on seminar on home security. Taken together, it’s unclear who’s who. It appears we’re the servants in the first and master in the next, while He’s the master in the first and thief in the next. The parables read better as nesting narratives than all of a piece. (Some scholars think their odd juxtaposition is an awkward cut-and-paste job.) But their common thread is readiness, and as we read on, Jesus clarifies this with another parable.
After the first two stories, everyone looks around to see if others get it. They don’t. Peter asks if the stories apply to everyone or just the disciples. Jesus doesn’t say. Instead, He talks about a master who assigns one servant to attend to the others’ needs while he’s away. If the manager uses his time and authority wisely, Jesus says the master “will put him in charge of all his possessions.” (Luke 12.44) Now suppose the manager, thinking he’s in charge for an indefinite period, abuses his authority to beat his fellow servants, eat their food, and drink their wine. The master returns unexpectedly to find his staff bruised and hungry, while the manager’s wasted his time—and his master’s trust—abusing others and indulging himself. Christ predicts the master “will cut [the manager] to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.” (v46)
This is Management 101: delegated leadership, meeting objectives in a timely manner, and maintaining productivity, workplace safety, and staff satisfaction. We’ve all worked for great managers and lousy ones. The great ones treat everyone equally. They’re transparent about their success relying on those they manage. They’re dedicated, consistent, and inspiring. Lousy managers play favorites and conceal self-serving agendas. They intimidate and exploit others’ insecurities to foster fear and panic. Great managers encourage improvement and confidence. Lousy ones threaten their people with dismissal. Great managers prepare for surprise visits from the higher-ups. They get promoted, as do many they lead. Lousy managers get fired. Those they mistreat, however, keep their jobs. Since responsibility for success isn’t theirs, neither is accountability for failure.
Jesus summarizes the three case studies like this. The person who knows what the master expects and procrastinates or fails to meet expectations will suffer greatly. The person who doesn’t will also suffer, though minimally so, much like employees with lousy managers are penalized with overtime or miss out on bonuses. But responsibility for readiness belongs solely to the manager. It’s his/her job to keep everything in order, with the staff standing by for the master’s arrival. It’s his/her task to be prepared when the master shows up without warning. It’s his/her duty to treat others as equals, showing them the same concern and care he/she seeks, focusing on their needs rather than his/her desires.
When Jesus says, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded,” He’s not talking about gifts or blessings. He’s spelling out His performance criteria for our lives. When we look closely at the three parables, we recognize our standards of success sit squarely on Christ’s laws of love: “Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22.37-39) This is what He’s assigned to us. This is what we’re required to do. We’ve no time to procrastinate. Nor can we misuse Christ’s authority to abuse others with intimidation and fear. Nor we can we keep His love to ourselves, sinking in a drunken stupor of acceptance while others starve.
“Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins,” says James 4.17. Each of us knows good we’ve not yet done--love we can return for hatred, kindness for cruelty, provision for poverty, mercy for condemnation, and acceptance for rejection. Our lives are full of people needing forgiveness and love—God’s and our own. Tomorrow isn’t promised. Our master may call us at any moment. “I didn’t expect You so soon” won’t suffice. For all the good we’ve done so far, there’s still much more to do.
Fill in the blank today, tomorrow, and until He calls.
(Tomorrow: Under the Influence)
Postscript: “Through My Eyes”
Justin Lee, Executive Director of The Gay Christian Network, emailed me with a link to preview “Through My Eyes,” a GCN documentary about young gay and lesbian believers’ struggles to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation. The full DVD is on its way to me and I’ll be able to give a better-informed assessment after I’ve seen it. But on its own, the film’s trailer is a powerfully moving testament to the profound conflicts GLBT believers deal with.
Please take three minutes to watch this trailer. Whether or not you identify with gay Christians, by its end you’ll most assuredly identify with the sincerity and faith in Christ these kids express. (I personally identified most closely with the young man in the green t-shirt near the trailer’s middle.) You’ll find more information about the film on this page of the GCN site.