Matthew 24:45-51 (NIV) “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
In view of the certainty of Jesus’ judgment falling on the wicked, and of His ultimate return, He has advice in this parable for every follower, especially (though not solely) for those who have been given responsibility for leading and caring for others in the body of Christ. Even though it is tempting to draw specifics out of the parable, specific actions to be accomplished or avoided (such as feeding people and avoiding beating them up, in this particular parable), parables most often use specifics to speak of generalities.
In this case, the opening scenario is the same with both servants: the master has gone away, and in his absence he gives responsibilities to his servants. In both cases, the responsibilities seem to involve leadership, or care of other servants in the household.
In the first scenario, the master returns unexpectedly and finds to his delight that his servant has been diligent in accomplishing his assigned tasks. The servants are well-fed, the house is in order, and everything is being accomplished as if the master himself were present. The outcome for this servant is very good: he is not only congratulated by the master, but is given complete charge of all that the master owns.
The second scenario is the flip side. In this case, the servant has been given the same areas of responsibility by the master. And maybe he does it responsibly for a time, believing that the master could return at any moment. But as time goes on, he relaxes his diligence and become self-indulgent and harsh in his dealings with the other servants for whom he has been given responsibility. Then comes the day when the master returns unexpectedly and finds the servants hungry, beaten down, neglected, and afraid, and the sad excuse of a servant waking from a drunken stupor. In this case, the actions of the master are as swift as they are terrible: the overseer is cut to pieces, and basically hurled into hell to suffer for all eternity.
Some might feel that this punishment is overly harsh. Sure, the servant was remiss, but anyone can grow careless over time. If only the master hadn’t taken so long, or if he had only sent warning ahead that his return was immanent, perhaps a messenger to announce his approach, he would have found a much more satisfactory scene when he arrived. But Jesus’ point is that His promise to return, no matter how long He takes to fulfill it, should be motivation enough for His servants to stay alert, faithful, and diligently involved in the work which He has left for them/us to perform. There need not be, and there will not be any other advance warning, until the sight of His approach sets His faithful servants to rejoicing, and His unfaithful, lazy servants scrambling for a place to hide from His wrath.
Father, the fate of the unfaithful servant is too horrible to imagine. But the fact that he ends up in that predicament is not the fault of the master for showing up unexpectedly, but his own for not continuing to be diligent in all that he does out of consideration of the master’s promise to return, and at an hour that is not expected. Help me, help us, Lord, to live ready every day of our lives; to be found faithful in everything that You have given us to do; and to carry out our tasks, even the hard ones, even the tedious ones, even the challenging ones, with joy, in the sure knowledge that Jesus will return, bringing His reward with Him. Amen.