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The Rev. Bob Bohl The Rev. Bob Bohl

The Rev. Robert W. Bohl is a retired Presbyterian pastor, moderator of the 1993 General Assembly, and chairman of Presbyterian Publishing Corp.

Member of:

Presbyterian Church (USA)

Representative of:

Presbyterian Church (USA)


Reluctant Servants

Matthew 25:13-30

June 15, 1997

One of the curious facts about each one of us is not what we believe or don't believe about God, but rather what we believe or don't believe about ourselves. The most pervasive tendency of Christians today is to be reluctant servants. It is the belief that if God wants something done hopefully God will call on someone more able than me to do it.

The patron saint of this attitude is that Old Testament character named Jonah. Most of us have been so fascinated with the thought of Jonah being swallowed by a whale that we have totally missed the real point of why someone even wrote the little story about Jonah. The real story is about Jonah as a reluctant servant. One day God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, the Capital of Assyria and warn them to change from their wicked ways or God would destroy them. Jonah wanted no part of this mission so instead of going east to Nineveh he boarded a ship and headed west toward Spain. Because of this rebellion toward God there is a storm at sea and Jonah is thrown overboard and that is the part that deals with the great fish that swallows him.

But that is not the point that needs to be made. The point is that God speaks to Jonah a second time telling Jonah to go to Nineveh. Reluctantly he goes and he preaches an eight-word sermon. Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. The people of Nineveh were Gentiles...non-Jews and it infuriated Jonah that God would show any favor toward them. Assyria had been an enemy of Israel forever...a constant source of Israel's problems. To the chagrin of Jonah, the people listened to his warning and repented. God decided not to destroy Nineveh, and Jonah gets very angry at God... so angry that he prays to God: "O Lord take my life from me for it is better for me to die than to live."

This is a tragic illustration of the thought that God exists for us, rather than we exist for God; the notion that God exists to do for us what we want, rather than our existing to do what God wants. Do you know what Jonah did. He went out of the city to its edge and sat down and pouted.

One of the curious facts about each one of us is not what we believe or don't believe about God, but rather what we believe or don't believe about ourselves! Jesus put a new twist on this in his story which we have titled The Parable of the Talents.

Jesus said: "The Kingdom of Heaven is just like a man going abroad who called his household servants together before he departed and handed his property to them to manage...according to their respective abilities! This does not mean that God is not fair. It simply means, to those who have been given much, from them much will be required. It means that everyone has been given something and from each one of us something will be required. God has a right to expect something from us.

This story is a glorious reminder to those of us who are forever being hypnotized by the big things in life. But Jesus, in contrast, was forever calling our attention to the importance of little things...five loaves and two little fish he used to feed five thousand; faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains; a widow's mite is the most significant offering in church. All this to remind us that the small and seemingly insignificant are loaded with possibilities!

The story is about the kingdom of heaven. It is about those who will enter the kingdom and about those who will be refused admission. God does not automatically haul everyone into heaven by some last compelling gesture. No, God makes heaven our decision. There seems to be absolutely no doubt as to where Jesus places the spotlight of emphasis in this story. It is clearly upon the one who was given the one talent, and he did nothing productive with it. When the day arrived for the final accounting of what each one had done with what had been given to them...the one talent person sneaks up behind the other two who were being so resoundingly commended and rewarded and he makes his defense. Sir, as if to God, I have heard you were a hard man so I was afraid and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is..it's yours....just as you gave it to me! Unused...perfectly intact.

We are unprepared for the thunderous reply. "You wicked and lazy servant. You should have used what I gave to you but because you didn't I take it away and give it to those who will." Then he thunders on. "As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him into the darkness where he will be lost forever." Does this mean that God is not merciful or that God is unfair. No, it only means that God is business like and that God gives to each one of us a chance to prove ourselves according to our abilities. Each one of us will be matched against his own ability and opportunity.

Yet the truth is that God is accustomed to working wonders, almost miracles with little one talent people who have enough faith in God and in themselves to do significant things. Tear the haloes off of the heroes and saints of the past, take a good look at them before we put haloes on them and you will see what I mean. Moses was a man with blood on his hands; he had murdered an Egyptian, and besides, he had a stammer in his tongue. James and John were loud-mouthed fisherman trying to badger Jesus into giving them special seats in heaven. Peter was a blundering hulk of a man widely known for making promises he could not keep. Paul was an unimpressive little Pharisee determined to persecute every little Christian that crossed his path. Stand them up without their haloes and you see them as one talent little men whom God took and twisted their talent into something incredibly significant...so today we call them saints!

The choice before us is one of being a reluctant servant or a risky servant!

Have you ever felt like giving up? Have you ever wondered, even in what you try to do for God, whether it is doing any good? Let God be the judge of that! I remember reading about a little girl named Annie who in 1876 was ten years of age. She was put into a poor house for children...called the Tewkesbury Alms House in Massachusetts. Her mother had died and her father had deserted her. Her aunt and uncle found her too difficult to handle. She had a bad disposition, a violent temper...stemming in part from eyes afflicted with painful trachoma. She had been put in the poorhouse because no one wanted her. She was such a wild one that at times she had to be tied down.

But there was another inmate named Maggie who cared for Annie. Maggie talked to her, fed her, even though Annie would throw her food on the floor, cursing and rebelling with every ounce of her being. But Maggie was a Christian and out of her convictions she was determined to love this dirty, unkempt, spiteful, unloving little girl. It wasn't easy, but slowly it got through to Annie that she was not the only who was suffering. Maggie also had been abandoned. And gradually Annie began to respond.

Maggie told her about a school for the blind and Annie began to beg to be sent there, and finally, consent was given and she went to the Perkins Institute. After a series of operations her sight was partially restored. She was able to finish her schooling and graduate at age twenty. Having been blind so long she told the director of Perkins that she wanted to work with blind and difficult children. They found a little girl seven years old in Alabama who was blind and deaf from the age of two. So, Annie Sullivan went to Tuscumbia, Alabama to unlock the door of Helen Keller's dark prison and to set her free.

One human being, in the name of Christ, helping another human being! That's how God's kingdom comes, through small acts of kindness!

God's biggest problem is not with big, important people. For one thing there are only a small number of them in the whole world. No, God's biggest problem is with all of us "one talent" types who believe that no matter what we do it won't make much difference. Thanks be to God.


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