In the Parable of the Talents (Mt. 25:14-30), when the last servant is defending his choice to bury what his lord had entrusted to him (rather than use it to profitable ends), he begins with, “Lord, I knew you to be hard man…” He was disloyal to his lord, and lazy. But he blames his lord for his inaction, and claims he was afraid of him, because he was harsh and demanding.
A hard man.
This is sadly the testimony of too many people. Just a few nights ago a widow said that her husband had finally believed in Jesus when he was dying. “But, I don’t know,” she said.
“You don’t know what?” I asked her.
“Well, after years – his whole life – of turning his back on God, of slapping him in the face, and it’s not until the very end that he believes. He may have waited too long. He had so many chances, and he wouldn’t listen. So . . .”
“So you think maybe his chances ran out?”
“I don’t know. You can only reject God for so long.”
Because he’s a hard God. Harsh and demanding.
My God is not hard. Jesus is not harsh and demanding. But we like to hedge our bets. To play it safe, we think it best to not presume on God’s love and mercy. Count on it when its not there, and you could end up in hell, or facing severe judgment. Safer to bury what he’s entrusted to us – the word of his grace, and all the gifts he’s bestowed on us – in the ground.
The dirt bank
By the way, this was common in ancient times, burying money and other wealth in the ground. Without access to banks, they would just hide it. Roman legionnaires did it all over the Empire. If you’ve ever bought a Roman coin, or especially if you’ve bought a bag of unsorted, uncleaned ancient coins, chances are it was from one of these hoards. Farmers from Britain to the Balkans are still digging them up, and selling them to the nearest antiquities dealer. Two millennia ago, some hapless soldier buried his wages, or some loot he ‘acquired’ in his duties, or his men’s payroll, and then went off and died in battle – and with him the secret location of the hoard.
I would hate for that to picture my life. Receiving and taking, hoarding and hiding, then passing from this life with my God-given treasure merely a secret buried in the dirt.
Why do some of us think God is threatening, harsh and short-tempered? Why would someone think God’s grace has an expiration date? That it’s safer to neglect the gifts he’s given us than to go to the marketplace and see what kind return they can bring for our Lord?
I don’t want to be a servant who speaks of a hard God. I don’t make a presumption of his censure, condemnation, or reluctant grace. Is this dangerous? I know some people think so. If it were, I would have expected the lazy servant to have used a different excuse for himself in the parable: “Lord, I knew you to be an easy man. You overlook faithlessness, and don’t get all worked up over laziness and wasted time.”
Then the harsh lord could have rebuked him for presuming on his mercy and grace.
But instead, the servant claimed to be afraid, because his Lord ‘demanded’ of him what he was unwilling to attempt: using the resources he’d been given to carry out the lord’s will, resulting in his pleasure and a promotion to greater opportunity for service and honor. This, by the way, pictures our mission, the work that God has given us to do until he returns. Faithfully stewarding our gifts to carry out his will in the world and in the church. We don’t do this with fear, but with joy and the expectation of his pleasure with our stewardship. This comes from knowing how generous he is, not how stingy or flinty he is.
It comes from banking on grace.
The safer presumption
I’m not willing to sell God short on his grace, nor his patience, nor even his desire that I earn a place of honor and celebration in his kingdom. His grace is so expansive, it reaches so far beyond the limits of my vision or imagination, and exceeds what I have any right to expect, that to put a fence around it, or an expiration date – well, to me that is presumption. And it’s a presumption that shuts up the kingdom from those the Lord is inviting in, those who need to see his love and acceptance.
So, yes: I do presume upon His grace. I’m betting on it, every hour of every day. His every promise and guarantee rests upon this lavish and everlasting grace. Without it I’m sunk. And I would’ve never been otherwise.
Banking on grace, I don’t trust in or lean on myself. Banking on grace, I know I need the Spirit of God, and that I’m nothing part from Jesus. Banking on grace, I’m ready to receive what he very much wants me to have.
Of course I could be wrong. I know some would say I am treading on thin ice. But I would rather err on the side of God’s grace than on its limits. I feel safer there, and my love and service thrive there like a tree planted by the river.
When I finally stand before him, it will become clear if I had it about right, or if his grace was lesser or greater than I thought.
Not having confidence in my own understanding, I would rather risk the Lord telling me that I presumed too greatly upon his grace and taught others the same, than having him tell me I believed too little in his grace and taught the same to others. All he’s done for us has been out of love and grace, not it’s counterparts.
All I have seen, all any of us has seen, I expect to discover, is just a glimpse of the immense favor and glory he means to share with us.