Finding the Happy Middle

Matthew 25:22-23

The case of Mr. Mediocre

Over the past two days, we have looked at the difficulties of being or living with the all-star, five talent servant and the problem of the failure, one-talent servant.

I asked on Monday who this parable spoke too. Most people would say that the failure servant is the focus of the story. Pretty much nobody, on the other hand, gives a second thought to the second servant.

What’s the story with this guy? He is entrusted with less than half as much as his big-shot colleague and only twice as much as the failure. Clearly, the master did not trust Mr. Mediocre all that much.

The world is full of Mr. Mediocre figures. Honestly, the church of Jesus could not function without Mr. Mediocre. That’s the person who takes up the offering and records the attendance and helps prepare VBS craft materials and on and on.

But Mr. Mediocre does not get the same level of acclaim as the All-Star. He hears the wonderful words, “good and faithful servant,” but when the Failure crashes and burns, does Mr. Mediocre see any of that suddenly available talent?

Mr. Mediocre does not get a lot of acclaim from the world, but he should be satisfied with the approval of a grateful master.

  • Do you identify with Mr. Mediocre? In what ways?
  • In what ways do you show appreciation for the Mediocre servants in your life?
  • Ask God to help you to be completely satisfied with his approval.

Failure to Launch

Matthew 25:24-26

The case of the failure servant

Yesterday we looked at the All-Star, but now our attention shifts to the other end of the story’s spectrum. The third servant received a single talent and promptly buried it.

What’s noteworthy to me about this character is that he gets cast into the outer darkness, presumably on a permanent basis, not for something awful he did. This guy didn’t murder anybody or rob orphans or knock little old ladies over in the street. He didn’t really break any of the ten commandments, did he? I’m not even sure he put another god before the true one.

What Mr. Failure did was take two hundred pounds of silver (a talent in Israel) from his master and do nothing with it. He didn’t go out and spend his silver on candy. He didn’t go into the drug trade with that money. He didn’t use it to sacrifice to Baal. He didn’t even lose it. Instead, he just took care of it and then brought it back to the master.

God’s not interested in those who do nothing. He doesn’t see the failure to do wrong to be a positive thing. It’s not even a neutral thing.

  • In what ways are you guilty of taking what God has given you and failing to use it?
  • Can you help any of the talent-hiders you know to open themselves to God’s direction.
  • Pray that God will help you to identify the talents God has given you that you have hidden.

Playing the All-Star Game

Matthew 25:20-21

The case of the all-star servant

The Parable of the Talents has always fascinated me. Part of that fascination lies in my curiosity over who the parable is designed to reach. Let’s assume for a moment that Jesus wanted to speak with those who were like the first servant.

This guy, upon his master’s departure, received five talents. He wheeled and dealed, perhaps bought a sno-cone franchise, and parlayed those five talents into ten. The first servant was rewarded by his master’s appreciation and admiration. But he also received something else. The first servant, the all-star, received the one talent of the foolish third servant. What a deal.

What can we say about this all-star. Not everybody can take the largesse of a venture capitalist and double the investment in fairly short order. Sure, it happens, but much more often it fails to happen. The reality is that as many as 80% of new small businesses fail in the first few years.

The all-star beat the odds and was rewarded. He had the knack. He had, it seems, everything! Don’t you hate people like that?

The risk for the all-star is that he starts to believe his own press. That wasn’t the point Jesus was aiming to make, but it’s true. When we have everything, we can fail to appreciate the difficulties of those who don’t.

  • In what ways can you identify with the all-star servant?  Do you ever find it difficult to remain humble?
  • How do you feel about the all-stars that you encounter? Do you appreciate them? Resent them? Some of both?
  • Pray that God will help you to identify and use the abilities present within you that can move you toward being an all-star.

Mission: Submission

Ephesians 5:21

Wives (and husbands), be ready to submit.

There aren’t that many passages in scripture that can start a fight as readily as the idea of wives submitting to husbands. Biblical teachers can take great pains to explain precisely what they mean and to emphasize that command to mutual submission, but they still get people all wound up and convinced that traditional Christianity wants to keep women illiterate, barefoot, and pregnant.

In reality, submission isn’t something that our current culture thinks very highly of in any setting. When we look at some of the ugly encounters between the police and civilians in recent years–and I’d emphasize some here–we have to admit that the police could have backed off a little and the civilian could have brought a little less attitude, and maybe tragedy could have been averted.

Too often we think that if we give in, if we submit, then we’re losing something. Instead, we determine, “like a tree planted by the water, we will not be moved”! But does that produce what we want and value?

When I think of the submission of Jesus, giving up for years his position in heaven, allowing sinful people to murder him, and providing himself as a dumping ground for every sin in human history, any submission that I make to my wife or anyone else seems rather trivial.

Let’s try to outdo each other in submission. In doing that, we’ll find that rather than losing ground, we have gained it.

  • In what situations do you find it hardest to submit?
  • How easily do you fit into the biblical ideals of marriage roles?
  • Pray that God will show you the places and situations where you need to submit your will to someone else’s.

The Power of the Last Doughnut

Ephesians 5:29

Husband, cherish your wife like you do your own body.

There it is: the last piece of pizza. It doesn’t have to be pizza, of course. Maybe it’s the last doughnut, the last slice of coconut cream pie, the last serving of Arthur Bryant’s burnt ends. You see it. You want it, and then somebody else gets to it before you can.

You’ve been there, haven’t you? And the pain you felt was genuine as well as genuinely ridiculous. It’s not as if you were starving or truly in need of that food, but you really wanted to give it to your belly.

Paul says that nobody ever hated their own body. Some people would disagree. “I hate my body,” some would argue, but really they hate the way their body looks. Often those supposedly hated bodies have been coddled a bit too much with too much ice cream and too little exercise. When I roll over in bed and ignore my alarm, it’s not that I hate my body but that I love my body. I love the way it feels to keep on sleeping.

Whatever is the hardest thing for you to do to deprive your body, whether it be food or drink, warmth or sleep, comfort or freedom from pain, should help husbands to know how to love their wives. I can say that I love my wife, but will I happily give her the last piece of pie? That’s serious stuff.

  • Think of the ways that you demonstrate your love for your body?
  • Compare your love for your beloved with your love for your body? Are you as willing to indulge another like you do your own flesh and bones?
  • Pray that God will help you to love as thoroughly as Jesus loved, despising the comforts of your body in favor of love for another.