Here are some brief personal thoughts on the last post about Jesus’ parable of the wise versus the wicked servant. Because the cultural and social background of the parable are foreign to my experience; I’m sure the story is less resonant to me than it was to the disciples.
Still, here’s where my imagination went. My wife and I are different in many ways, not the least of which is that she has a much greater need for order in the household than I do. (This will be no surprise to anyone who’s seen my office.) For example, I tend to work on several projects at the same time, which means that books and papers get taken out but not put away, gathering into piles on my desk and around the recliner: no horizontal surface is safe from the creeping menace. It’s not that I like clutter, it’s just that, well, let’s just say restoring things to their pristine state of neatness isn’t high on my list of priorities. (How’s that for a politically correct way to admit that I’m just plain messy?)
Over the years, she’s been incredibly tolerant of my disorderliness, and for my part, I’ve learned to better appreciate her need for an orderly house. I try to keep my detritus from spreading too much, and have even learned to pick up after myself more, so that there will be at least some areas of the house where things are where they belong.
The test comes when my wife goes away for a few days, usually to visit family. On the one hand, I confess that when she’s gone, the shoes stay in the living room a little longer, and the dishes don’t go into the dishwasher quite as consistently. No, I don’t let things get completely out of hand, but I do need to do some quick tidying up before going to pick her up at the airport, so she can come home to a neat house and a clean kitchen.
On the other hand, I will sometimes take on extra house projects while she’s away, from waxing the kitchen floor to remodeling the study: things that tip the balance more decisively toward order. Why? Because I know these things would please her, and they’re best done when there’s one less person underfoot.
My habits have changed over nearly 34 years of marriage, but I will probably never be a truly neat person. There will still be things that will need to be put away at the last second, some cleaning and tidying to be done before welcoming her home.
The analogy isn’t perfect, of course. But I wonder if this doesn’t at least point in the general direction of the attitudes of the two servants in Jesus’ parable. What makes the first servant faithful and wise is that he knows what the master wants, and does it because it would please him. He doesn’t have to worry about when the master will return, because everything will be kept in order, every hour of every day.
But the wicked servant prefers to live in disorder, and will wait until the very last second to rush around and create the appearance of order before the master gets back. Whether his clean-up frenzy is correctly timed is besides the point: what matters is that in his heart, he doesn’t really want to do his master’s will.
What, then, would it mean to be watchful and ready? Whatever it takes to welcome his coming, rather than to fear it.