Flashback Episode — Avoiding the 1-Bag Trap: Matthew 25:14-30

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Shortly before switching away from Jesus’ teachings and onto sharing about the night Jesus was betrayed, Matthew shares in his gospel about a parable that shares several characteristics to one we looked at earlier this year from Luke’s gospel.

However, there are enough unique details in Matthew’s version of this parable to make me think Jesus spoke two similar parables at different times. While the parable in Luke is often called the parable of the ten servants, Matthew’s parable focuses in on three servants only, and because of this, it is known simply as the parable of the three servants.

Let’s read how Matthew shares this parable and discover some things we can learn from it. Our passage is found in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, and we will be reading from the New Living Translation. Starting in verse 14, Jesus continues teaching the disciples saying:

14 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. 15 He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.

16 “The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17 The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

19 “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’

21 “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

22 “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’

23 “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

24 “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’

26 “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’

28 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

One of the big, unique details in Matthew’s gospel is that each of the three servants received different amounts of money. This might not sound very fair, but Jesus shared in the opening of this parable that this decision was strategic. Verse 15 tells us that “He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities”.

While it might seem that this man is not being fair, this man is actually being fair and giving each servant according to the level of what each is able to manage. While we don’t have any context for what made the five-bag servant more capable than the 2-bag servant, or even the 1-bag servant, I’m sure you know people in your life who are more capable and wise with how they manage their money than others. We probably can look at these three servants in a similar way. One had shown excellent ingenuity, one was perhaps average, and one was afraid of risk.

We can learn an important point from this detail, which says that God is unlikely to give us more resources than we are able to handle. When we use what He has already given to us in a wise and productive way, He is likely to give us more resources as He sees fit.

The next detail we learn is that both the 5-bag servant and the 2-bag servant double the money they were gifted. Again, we don’t know how they did this, but the details of how are less relevant than the results – and that their results were accomplished in a way that didn’t land them in prison or dead, which means they were ethical with their investing and work strategy.

However, a lot of space is given to the 1-bag servant, who simply did nothing. This 1-bag servant is fearful of making a mistake, of losing the money, and of letting his master down. We see the master call this servant “wicked, lazy, and useless” because he did the worst possible thing with the money, which was nothing.

While the master in this parable suggested that a better place for this one bag of silver would have been in a bank where it could have collected some interest, I believe that even if this servant had tried something and failed, the response would have been better than the one he received.

Trying and failing is better than doing nothing because every time we try, we learn something new, and with every time we fail, we discover the limits to what we know and believe. Failure is not on the opposite side of success, it is simply a hurdle to jump over on our way to success.

As followers of Jesus, we have been given the best gift possible, and this gift is an invitation to heaven. This parable challenges us with the responsibility that we are to do something with this gift. Doing nothing only gets us tossed out. Doing something is the only way to move forward.

The last theme I will draw out in our time together is that even if the master didn’t have much faith in the 1-bag servant’s ability, he still entrusted 1 bag of silver to this servant. This means that if you feel left out on God’s blessings, like He is giving blessings to everyone else and you are left out on the sidelines, know that this is a lie.

The master, who represents God, has given everyone something, and He is watching to see what we do with what He has blessed us with. When Jesus returns, those who have done something will be rewarded, while those who were too fearful to do anything risk losing out on everything.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

If you feel as though God hasn’t given you much to work with, determine to use what He has given you. If you don’t have much money, but you have some spare time, use some of your spare time to bless others. If you don’t have money or time, but you have some knowledge or an experience, look for ways you can help others with that information in time and cost efficient ways. God isn’t expecting us to multiply what He has given us exponentially, but to simply use what He has given us to bless others.

Also, as I regularly challenge you to do, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself so that you can keep your connection with God strong. When your connection and relationship with God is strong, I believe He will lead you along the path He created for you to walk, and along this path you will find out that He has given you everything you need to take the next step.

And as I always end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short, chicken out of, or back away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 41: Jesus shares a parable where three servants are giving various bags of silver to use while their master is away on a trip. Discover what we can learn about each of these servants and how we can avoid being a 1-bag servant.

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