The world in Jesus’ day was hierarchical.  Everything was top down, and the weak served the strong. The king was served by nobles, and the nobles were served by those below them. Religion was organized the same way. The family was organized the same way, built around a patriarch.

Jesus does not (in this passage) tear down this system, but he begins to make some changes. The first is an image of service. Imagine how amazing it would feel after a hard day’s work serving others to be served yourself. Even more amazing to be served by your boss, and still more by Jesus himself the head of this new family, the head of the church and the king. The image would be weird in those days, but fascinating.

However, this kind of gratitude on Jesus’ part relies on servants who have done a good job. That’s the normal part, the expected part. It is the reward that is beyond reason.

Peter then asks “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” You could take this to mean, “does Jesus serve everyone?” But the parable that Jesus tells next is about “middle managers,” if you will. A steward who does have a position over others, but it is a position given in trust by someone who is even more powerful. The suggestion is that if we want Jesus who is in charge to of take care of us, then we must take good care of those we are in charge of.

So, what happens to leaders who fail those they serve? What happens to leaders that “eat and drink and get drunk” and do as they please, while inflicting pain and suffering on those they were responsible for? The translation we have today says the master will “punish that servant severely” but my commentary suggests the more literal translation is that they are split in two. Even on a literal level we aren’t talking about physically killing anyone, as the very next line says they are assigned a place with the unfaithful. But I think the idea of separation or splitting is an important one. We cannot take leadership in the kingdom for granted. The rewards Jesus has promised are far beyond what we deserve if we do a good job, but it is still very possible to mess up, to lose not just an eternal reward but a position of trust down here as well. There is no faster way I can think of to displease God in the Bible than to hurt “the little ones” who are so close to his heart.

Peace ~ Fr. Dan