“Wicked” is a strong, some would say harsh, word. It’s not a word most of us would want applied to us. Yet it’s exactly the word Jesus used to describe a certain kind of servant who for all intents and purposes appeared outwardly loyal and dedicated. In Luke 19:11-27 Jesus tells one of His frequent parables. This particular parable has many rabbit trails down which we could wander, but for now I want to focus specifically on why Jesus singled out this servant with such strong language (v.22).
The parable relates the story of three servants whose master departs to receive a kingdom, promising to return as a king. Before leaving he entrusts ten of his servants with a substantial amount of money and commands them “Carry on business until my return.” There are others in the story also who openly rebel against the man’s rule over them and pursue him with a bold message that they reject his kingship. More about them later.
On the man’s return he calls three of his servants and requests an accounting of how they have managed his investment in them. The first produces ten times the amount he was given and is warmly commended for his stewardship. The second, similarly, has multiplied the original amount by five and is also warmly commended. As the master has returned as a king, he bestows on each of these servants authority to help him rule his kingdom.
A third servant now appears and declares: ‘Master, I hid your money and kept it safe. I was afraid because you are a hard man to deal with, taking what isn’t yours and harvesting crops you didn’t plant.’ (Luke 19:20-21 NLT)
But the master is not at all pleased, stating:
‘You wicked servant!’ …‘Your own words condemn you. If you knew that I’m a hard man who takes what isn’t mine and harvests crops I didn’t plant, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’ (Luke 19:22-23 NLT)
“Really?” we ask. “Isn’t that reaction a bit over the top? After all the servant didn’t lose the money by bad investment or gambling. He simply kept it safely out of respect for his master.”
Well, that’s how it appears on the surface. But the master’s reaction is not ‘over the top’, nor is it unjust, because this servant does not respect his master at all. His piety is a sham and his estimation of his master is false. His words are deceptive and his actions are self-serving. Yet he pretends his motives were pure in wishing to safeguard his master’s property. In other words he is wicked!
As the master wisely discerns, this servant is hiding behind a mask of pious compliance in order to excuse his blatant disobedience. He had been equipped with all that he needed to obey his master’s command. Instead he had chosen deliberately to apply his own reasoning to the situation. By the way, very often ‘reasoning’ is the way we justify ourselves to ourselves. The servant had so justified his disobedience to himself that he believed he had done his master a favour by disobeying him.
Now here he stood, not only justified in his own eyes, but in effect blaming his master for his own actions, because his master is such a hard man to please. It is, as his master declares, his own words that condemn him, for his words reveal the condition of his heart, which is nothing less than wicked.
The servant is divested of his position and that which was entrusted to him given to another who was faithful. He shall have no part in his master’s kingdom.
The wicked servant is still among us. He lurks in the inner chambers of our minds arguing against radical obedience. He sits regularly in our church pews convincing us he is the very model of piety. He thunders religious lawkeeping at us from our pulpits, while in his heart he spurns the law of Christ. He is loudest at the prayer meeting, first to arrive on Sunday morning, active in the most notable church programs and has worked hard to earn the pastor’s ‘ear’. Yet he is the greatest of hypocrites for his life is a charade whose purpose is self-preservation and personal power.
His wickedness is rooted in disobedience. He pays lip service to the word of God while doing whatever he likes. Scratch the surface and you will find the god he pretends to serve is a god of judgment and legalism. In reality, however, he is his own god. Why? Because he has never yielded, totally yielded, sovereignty over his own life to the One who rightfully claims it. Outwardly he appears to be a faithful servant. Inwardly he is no servant at all.
You’ve met this wicked servant within churchianity, and so have I….more times than I care to remember. We live in a day when this personality not only parades himself in our local churches, but also masquerades on the world stage proudly displaying his false servanthood to much acclaim. Such wickedness in high places will be fully dealt with by our King whose return grows closer by the hour.
But if we’re honest we’ve also met the wicked servant within our own hearts. He is there waiting in the shadows of doubt, fear, man-pleasing and self-will. There is only one way to destroy this wicked servant’s influence on us. It is to cultivate the yielding of our own will to Christ in both the small and the great, in whatever way He shows us, hour by hour, day by day. This is what Jesus called faithfulness and faithfulness is just as valuable in the small as it is in the great.
Some things do not change:
What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. 1 Sam. 15:22-23 (NLT)
The two servants who obeyed, not even knowing the time of their master’s return, were called faithful and were entrusted with greater authority. The wicked servant, however, was rightfully exposed and cast out as unfaithful. In his heart he really was no different to those rebellious citizens who openly rejected the rule of their new king. In fact he was worse, because he sought to hide his rebellion in a cloak of obedient servanthood.
And that is indeed profoundly wicked.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014 Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.