There is a tendency, especially among the coddled children of the last three decades, for everyone to feel like they are special. Whether that means specially gifted or having some part in the manifest destiny, and thus specially marked for greatness is irrelevant. The point is that, in strictly mathematical terms, the bell curve determines that only a very few are actually special. But, since schools have been handing out A’s and participation ribbons and certificates like candy, it’s not hard to see how everyone gets the idea that they are special. And, in a sense, they are, because all people are unique and their lives are precious in the eyes of the Creator. But, being unique doesn’t make one outstanding.
That being said, some people are blessed and gifted and stand out above the rest. Sometimes those people stand out in IQ tests or SAT scores or some other forms of measuring intellectual ability. Sometimes they stand out in other skills that take them to the top of their fields, such as in sports, opera, ballet, or music. Sometimes, as in case of presidents and politicians or the meat grinder that is pop music, they have greatness forced upon them even though they did not achieve it on merit. However they stand out, they have been given much and much is required.
Let’s pause for a moment and examine the origins and context of our title.
Luke’s Gospel, chapter 12, verse 48: But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. 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.
The context of this verse is that a rich man has gone away and left his servants entrusted with running his affairs. He is gone a long time and the servants start to abuse their power and get lazy in execution. When the man finally comes back, they receive many blows because they knew better. The rest of the servants who weren’t in charge received few blows for being lazy and greedy because they didn’t know any better.
So, what is Jesus trying to say here? And to whom is he speaking? He was not speaking to the Pharisees or to the masses. He was speaking to his trusted inner circle, the ones who knew him well and were chosen to be special. In extrapolation, he is speaking to those of us who have had the privilege, by the proxy of studying his revelation (the Bible) and being enlightened by his Spirit, of also being chosen to be responsible for handling his affairs until he comes again.
Now, for those of us who have been given such trust as to convey the truths of God to a dying world, it is at once a great honor and a humbling and terrifying experience. We learn that God chooses the humble of this world to shame the proud and the foolish to shame the wise. St. Paul tells us not to think too highly of ourselves. And yet God has given us this great responsibility.
I remember the day when I knelt before the alter and my fellow ministers laid hand of blessing on me as I received my ordination. I remember thinking about the vows I was making that day and wondering how I could possibly fulfill them. I was suddenly overcome with fear. I can’t do it! I don’t imagine it was much different for Moses when God spoke to him from a burning bush and told him to go face down Pharaoh and lead Israel, or the day Joshua took over from Moses, or from the day God told Elijah to go back to godless Israel and get back to work. Any honest mortal knows it’s an impossible task–alone. That is why daily prayer and meditation and a total reliance on God are the only way to be successful.
So then, you who are endowed with wisdom and discernment that goes beyond what this world can offer, what are you doing with you gifts? Are you using your time to further the affairs of your boss? Or are you abusing your power for your own gain? Or are you just going through the motions and collecting your paycheck? Or have you given up entirely, gone on to something else, and left the job for someone else? However it is that you have abdicated your responsibilities, remember that the many blows are reserved for those who know better.
“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked.” Do you think God cares about how beautiful your church building is? Do you think he cares how many visitors come to check out your performance on Sunday? Do you think he appreciates how many people of earthly means and celebrity grace your front rows? Or do you think it’s more important to him that you do your duty, speak the hard truth about sin and humbly point all glory to him? After all, God doesn’t need gold or silver or anything. He gives us everything and all we have to give back is thanks and praise.
Maybe you are disillusioned with being his servant. Maybe you are tired of telling people the truth that makes them uneasy, uncomfortable, that makes most people hate what you say and maybe even hostile toward you. You say you’ve had enough already and you want out. Let someone else do it. But who is going to do it? Are you going to leave it to the poor souls who have just begun to understand the grace of God, who have all kinds of enthusiasm but no roots? Are you going to leave it to those who will bring in the worldly business plan who will find successful ways to market God by obscuring the ugly truths with catchy phrases and half-truths, the ones choked by the rocks of worldly success and monetary considerations, who are just as ready to move on to the next business endeavor when this one gets too hard?
Maybe you feel you can just whip people up with emotion and appeal to their carnal desires to create a spiritual revival. If you can just convince people to try harder and decide to get fired up for God, you can make the church into a positive force for political change. Then the world will be a better place because of your effort. But Jesus told us that he is not interested in creating a better here and now. His affairs deal with a heavenly kingdom and leading people to another promised land. Surely the joy, peace and happiness of being a member of the heavenly fraternity spills over and creates a more joyful and peaceful here and now. But perhaps you think you can shortcut right to the here and now without changing hearts for eternity.
It hasn’t escaped my notice that those who were my brothers in the the church ministry were highly gifted. Our ACT scores far outranked the national average for college students, even back when education wasn’t dumbed down. Genius in music, public speaking, languages and liberal arts was common. And yet, none of those things in itself is what made them special. Humble submission to the Spirit of God and a commitment to doing the boss’s work is what made them special. I look into other denominations and I see gifted men as well. And yet, being gifted is a temptation to forget who’s in charge. It’s a temptation to, after long decades have passed, coast. It’s a temptation to see any kind of setback from a human perspective to be a personal failure, and a reason to give up. Don’t do it! Then, when you give your accounting, you will not have to receive many blows.
What shall we say to those who have been entrusted with secular authority? Are you any less responsible to serve your master, the People, than those who serve God in pulpits? Is it any less wrong to abuse your power, to play with the lives of people in exchange for political power or privilege? Is it any less deserving of many blows when you determine to undermine to structures of family and society that bring peace and order, when you forsake doing what is right for what is popular, when you appeal to the wishes of the rich and famous instead of working for what is good for the common person? What about the 50% of you in the NEA who administrate and don’t educate anyone. Are you coasting along and working to line your own pockets or are you working for the children? Are you satisfied, teachers, with going through the motions and allowing 50% of students to keep graduating illiterate? What about you who operate meat packing plants and fast food restaurants that stress profits over safety and are more interested in government hiring subsidies for hiring underprivileged workers than in the long term success of the workers themselves. What about you in the entertainment industry who use your celebrity to stir up mobs of hate and discord, who glamorize aberrant and immoral lifestyles, who appeal to the lowest forms or human nature, who cry endlessly over the bashing of one gay person and yet say nothing about the murders of 53 million unborn children? To whom much is given, much is required. When the day of reckoning comes, how many blows will you receive?