Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Parable of The Two Servants... Until the end of the world part 2 Matthew 24: 45-51

How would you get ready for a parousia?


It might help I hear you say if you knew what a parousia was.


Would it help to know that we have had a parousia in New Zealand this week. Any Ideas what it is?


Parousia is an ancient Greek word for a royal visit, an official visit from a high ranking official.

This week in New Zealand we’ve had Prince Charles and Camilla in our country.


It’s taken months to organise this visit. Everything had to be done just right. We wanted to show them our best side. They were greeted at Whenuapai airbase by dignitaries and an honour guard. Special events were scheduled, ceremonies planned welcomes arranged, leading up to it the media was full of the preparations, there was even a feel good story of the world’s oldest flash mob being organised for the royal couples walk down Queen street.  A vendor at the fielding farmers market had done his homework and was going to present Charles with some trees that he didn’t have in his royal collection. A special party was arranged for Charles’ 64th birthday, there was a special performance of ‘HarryMacleary from Donaldson’s dairy and special screening of the soon to be premiered Hobbit movie.  We spared no expense to make it a memorable occasion; we even paid for camellias hairdresser to travel down with her. They had gone to a school that needed a boost and spent some time in Christchurch to bring encouragement after the earthquake.


Parousia in theological terms refers to Christ’s coming as king; the second coming. That parousia forms the context for the parable of the two servants we had read out to us this morning.

Matthew tells us Jesus had entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, an act full of symbolic and prophetic meaning, the crowds had sung hosanna, and waved palm branches. His disciples would have been thinking that at last Jesus was going to  be recognised as Israel’s messiah and crowned king. He had entered the temple and instead of the religious leaders recognising him they had questioned his authority. As Jesus and his disciples left that day to go back to where they were staying, the disciples had pointed out the temple building to Jesus, it had just finished being rebuilt and refurbished, maybe that was part of their heightened expectation, and Jesus had told them that the temple would be destroyed and not one stone would remain standing on top of another. On the way home as they walked over the Mount of Olives, they asked Jesus when would this thing happen, when would Jesus come as king, when would be his parousia, and when would to be the end of the age?


 Jesus responds by telling them that he did not want them to be deceived, he gives them a list of signs that would happen, like birth pangs, but then says a strange thing. He says that no one would know the time of his parousia, it would be like a thief in the night, so they and we were to be ready.  Then in a series of Parables he invites them and us to explore what it means to be ready for his royal coming.


Down through history as people have thought of the parousia they have often focused on trying to interpret the signs of the times. Trying to know when the plane will land. They have looked at the latest news through the lens of biblical prophecy, a pass time which David Turner says Jesus teaching about the unknowable time exposes as folly, he maintains that eschatological (that’s the study of end times) correctness is ultimately a matter of ethics, how we live, not speculation.


Imagine the scene at Whenuapai airbase if everyone was lined up and ready and had no idea when the royals were actually coming.  You couldn’t simply wait there indefinitely. Being ready says Jesus  is not a matter of having the red carpet vacuumed, the band practised, the best cloths laid out, the honour guard lined up and at attention, the flags waving and the itinerary all sorted, rather it is a matter of continuing to do the things Jesus has asked us to do.


Scholars point to the fact that in the first generation of believers, the church that Matthew was writing to, that there was the expectation that Jesus coming was imminent. As I mentioned last week it maybe that Matthew was writing to a community that had lived through the destruction of the temple in 70AD or at least were going through the tumultuous times leading up to it. But there was a seeming delay and they were becoming disillusioned so Matthew recounts Jesus parables to encourage them to keep on persevering. In these parables the master or the bride groom is delayed, he hasn’t come when he was expected. For us two thousand years later that is helpful as well, many of course have interpreted these parables to mean that well we don’t know when we will meet our maker, so we need to live ready.


In Jesus day and the times of Matthew’s first reader’s servants being left to look after their master’s household would have been a scene played out all the time. It is infused with echoes of  Old Testament imagery of Israel as God’s servant. The wise and faithful servant continues doing what the master has asked them to do. They feed and care for their fellow servants. The second servant, thinks to themselves, well the master isn’t coming I’ll goof off, and starts to mistreat their fellow servants and joins the ranks of the drunks.


In the wisdom literature of the Old Testament the wise person was seen as the one who lived out their life very much aware of the presence and the nature of God and the fool was one who lived life with no reference to God, their god became their own appetites. Jesus had finished his sermon on the mount with another parable of two people, the wise builder… who heard Jesus words and put them into action and the foolish builder who heard them but did not act on them, here we see that it is not just acting but continuing to act on them and live them out that makes one wise.  


Maybe it would be easy to read Jesus parable and its teaching on ethics through the lens of the carrot and the stick, write large on the canvas of eternity. The faithful and wise servant receives a reward of being placed in charge of all the masters’ possessions. It is the reigning with Christ that Paul talks of in 2 Timothy 2 :12 ‘if we endure with him, we will reign with him’. In the NIV it says the punishment is to be cut up into little pieces, which sort of brings up images of slasher movies, and the hell painted in Dante’s inferno, but when taken with and finding a place amongst the hypocrites in a place of wailing and gnashing of teeth it has sense of being cut off from the presence of the master, finding oneself in a place of darkness, regret and sorrow when being aware of the presence and sovereignty of God.  Christian ethics, living out what Jesus tells us to do however is not based on a prospect of reward, or avoidance of punishment. In John’s gospel at his last meal with his disciples, Jesus says if you love me you will keep my commandments, the wise do not simply serve God because of the reward but because of the reality of God, and his love for us. The second servant we are told did not trust that his master would do what he had said, this servant does not have that love relationship with his master.  We do however need to be aware that Jesus being king does have eternal consequences. But fear or expected reward are not sufficient motive for consistent faithful service.

What are we called to faithful continue doing?

Well the passage was spoken first to the disciples, people Jesus had called to bear witness to who he was and that he will commission to go into the world to make disciples. John’s gospel finishes with Peter being called to feed my sheep. This parable calls those first hearers and all who would take up leadership roles in the service of Jesus to faithfully continue to do that work. The call to leadership is one of caring and feeding God’s people, sadly Church history is full of times and places when leaders have forgotten about this and have abused their power and mistreat fellow servants and when they thought it was about their own position and status.


Beyond that it is a parable for all who would call Jesus Lord… Our eternal destiny says mark Woodley does not call us to care less about our present world but to care more. To care not only for our household’s basic needs, loving people who need you, but in light of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount that expands to caring for the uncared, the marginalised and forgotten, the unattractive and even our enemies.  Yes there are going to be times when we fail, remember we are called to be faithful not successful, there will be times when we fall asleep on the job. This parable and its warnings need to be seen in the wider context of the gospel, with Jesus offer of grace and love and forgiveness to all. But we also have the high and hard calling to be watchful and faithful to the end.

Well how do you get ready for the parousia?


If we knew the time of the coming we’d be all lined up with our best faces on, like a mask, maybe we will find ourselves being relegated to that place with the hypocities. The reality is that we are called to faithfully live out our love for the master by loving our fellow servants.

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