Theoretical Christians

The fellow in the New Testament who buried his one talent worries me. The whole of this story is found in Matthew 25: 14-30. Basically, a rich merchant was going on a long trip. The merchant was entrusting a significant amount of his fortune to three servants. (A talent was the most valuable coin in New Testament times. It was worth a lot of money. There is disagreement on exactly how much money a talent was worth.) The three servants each in turn receive five, two and one talent respectively. Eventually, the merchant returns and asks for an accounting of the use these talents were put to while he was away. The first two servants had each doubled the value of the money given to them. The third servant had buried his one talent and handed that talent back to the merchant. The merchant was very angry with the third servant. He expected the servant, at a minimum, to have invested the one talent at a bank to draw interest. The merchant took the one talent from the third servant and gave it to the first servant. The conclusion of the story in verses 29-30 is “29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The situation in this story isn’t totally clear. Merchants did go on long trips. They did leave their local funds in the stewardship of trusted servants, if no family was available. There doesn’t seem to be clear instructions about how the money entrusted to the servants should be used. The punishment for the third servant is extreme. And that’s what worries me. I wonder if I fall into the group of people (assuming there is such a group) who deserve this radical punishment.

The Gospel of Matthew continues a discussion of behavior that gets people that causes people to deserve ‘eternal punishment’ in Chapter 25:31-46. The story in verses 31-46 has the Son of Man separating sheep from goats. The separation criteria is simple. The sheep ministered to people who were least capable of doing something for themselves. The ‘goats’ were right there with Jesus but they had no ministry. The goats get eternal punishment.

The Gospel of Matthew forces me to conclude that theoretical Christianity is not an acceptable spiritual path. It’s not enough to go to church each Sunday, sing the posted hymns and make the appropriate responses. If I’m going to be a Christian, I have to have a ministry. I have to have a ministry that brings Christ into the world.

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