Matthew 25:26
His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
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(26) Thou wicked and slothful servant.—The words of the master pierce below the false excuse, and reveal the faults which had eaten like a canker into the man’s heart and soul.



Matthew 25:14 - Matthew 25:30

The parable of the Ten Virgins said nothing about their working whilst they waited. This one sets forth that side of the duties of the servants in their master’s absence, and so completes the former. It is clearly in its true historical connection here, and is closely knit to both the preceding and following context. It is a strange instance of superficial reading that it should ever have been supposed to be but another version of Luke’s parable of the pounds. The very resemblances of the two are meant to give force to their differences, which are fundamental. They are the converse of each other. That of the pounds teaches that men who have the same gifts intrusted to them may make a widely different use of these, and will be rewarded differently, in strictly graduated proportion to their unlike diligence. The lesson of the parable before us, on the other hand, is that men with dissimilar gifts may employ them with equal diligence; and that, if they do, their reward shall be the same, however great the endowments of one, and slender those of another. A reader who has missed that distinction must be very shortsighted, or sworn to make out a case against the Gospels.

I. We may consider the lent capital and the business done with it.

Masters nowadays do not give servants their money to trade with, when they leave home; but the incident is true to the old-world relations of master and slave. Our Lord’s consciousness of His near departure, which throbs in all this context, comes out emphatically here. He is preparing His disciples for the time when they will have to work without Him, like the managers of some branch house of business whose principal has gone abroad. What are the ‘talents’ with which He will start them on their own account? We have taken the word into common language, however little we remember the teaching of the parable as to the hand that gives ‘men of talent’ their endowments. But the natural powers usually called by the name are not what Christ means here, though the principles of the parable may be extended to include them. For these powers are the ‘ability’ according to which the talents are given. But the talents themselves are the spiritual knowledge and endowments which are properly the gifts of the ascended Lord to His Church. Two important lessons as to these are conveyed. First, that they are distributed in varying measure, and that not arbitrarily, by the mere will of the giver, but according to his discernment of what each servant can profitably administer. The ‘ability’ which settles their amount is not more closely defined. It may include natural faculty, for Christ’s gifts usually follow the line of that; and the larger the nature, the more of Him it can contain. But it also includes spiritual receptiveness and faithfulness, which increase the absorbing power. The capacity to receive will also be the capacity to administer, and it will be fully filled.

The second lesson taught is that spiritual gifts are given for trading with. In other words, they are here considered not so much as blessings to the possessor as his stock-in-trade, which he can employ for the Master’s enrichment. We are all tempted to think of them mostly as given us for our own blessing and joy; and the reminder is never unseasonable that a Christian receives nothing for himself alone. God hath shined into our hearts, that we may give to others the light of the knowledge which has flashed glad day into our darkness. The Master intrusts us with a portion of His wealth, not for expending on ourselves, but for trading with.

A third principle here is that the right use of His gifts increases them in our hands. ‘Money makes money.’ The five talents grow to ten, the two to four. The surest way to increase our possession of Christ’s grace is to try to impart it. There is no better way of strengthening our own faith than to seek to make others share in it. Christian convictions, spoken, are confirmed, but muffled in silence are weakened. ‘There is that scattereth and yet increaseth.’ Seed heaped and locked up in a granary breeds weevils and moths; flung broadcast over the furrows, it multiplies into seed that can be sown again, and bread that feeds the sower. So we have in this part of the parable almost the complete summary of the principles on which, the purposes for which, and the results to faithful use with which, Christ gives His gifts.

The conduct of the slenderly endowed servant who hides his talent will be considered farther on.

II. We note the faithful servants’ balance-sheet and reward.

Our Lord again sounds the note of delay-’After a long time’-an indefinite phrase which we know carries centuries in its folds, how many more we know not nor are intended to know. The two faithful servants present their balance-sheet in identical words, and receive the same commendation and reward. Their speech is in sharp contrast with the idle one’s excuse, inasmuch as it puts a glad acknowledgment of the lord’s giving in the forefront, as if to teach that the thankful recognition of his liberality underlies all joyful and successful service, and deepens while it makes glad the sense of responsibility. The cords of love are silken; and he who begins with setting before himself the largeness of Christ’s gifts to him, will not fail in using these so as to increase them. In the light of that day, the servant sees more clearly than when he was at work the results of his work. We do not know what the year’s profits have been till stock-taking and balancing-time comes. Here we often say, ‘I have laboured in vain.’ There we shall say, ‘I have gained five talents.’

The verbatim repetition of the same words to both servants teaches the great lesson of this parable as contrasted with that of the pounds, that where there has been the same faithful work, with different amounts of capital, there will be the same reward. Our Master does not care about quantity, but about quality and motive. The slave with a few shillings, enough to stock meagrely a little stall, may show as much business capacity, diligence, and fidelity, as if he had millions to work with. Christ rewards not actions, but the graces which are made visible in actions; and these can be as well seen in the tiniest as in the largest deeds. The light that streams through a pin-prick is the same that pours through the widest window. The crystals of a salt present the same facets, flashing back the sun at the same angles, whether they be large or microscopically small. Therefore the judgment of Christ, which is simply the utterance of fact, takes no heed of the extent but only of the kind of service, and puts on the same level of recompense all who, with however widely varying powers, were one in spirit, in diligence, and devotion. The eulogium on the servants is not ‘successful’ or ‘brilliant,’ but ‘faithful,’ and both alike get it.

The words of the lord fall into three parts. First comes his generous and hearty praise,-the brief and emphatic monosyllable ‘Well,’ and the characterisation of the servants as ‘good and faithful.’ Praise from Christ’s lips is praise indeed; and here He pours it out in no grudging or scanty measure, but with warmth and evident delight. His heart glows with pleasure, and His commendation is musical with the utterance of His own joy in His servants. He ‘rejoices over them with singing’; and more gladly than a fond mother speaks honeyed words of approval to her darling, of whose goodness she is proud, does He praise these two. When we are tempted to disparage our slender powers as compared with those of His more conspicuous servants, and to suppose that all which we do is nought, let us think of this merciful and loving estimate of our poor service. For such words from such lips, life itself were wisely flung away; but such words from such lips will be spoken in recognition of many a piece of service less high and heroic than a martyr’s. ‘Good and faithful’ refers not to the more general notion of goodness, but to the special excellence of a servant, and the latter word seems to define the former. Fidelity is the grace which He praises,-manifested in the recognition that the capital was a loan, given to be traded with for Him, and to be brought back increased to Him. He is faithful who ever keeps in view, and acts on, the conditions on which, and the purposes for which, he has received his spiritual wealth; and ‘he who is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much.’

The second part of the lord’s words is the appointment to higher office, as the reward of faithfulness. Here on earth, the tools come, in the long run, to the hands that can use them, and the best reward of faithfulness in a narrower sphere is to be lifted to a wider. Promotion means more to do; and if the world were rightly organised, the road to advancement would be diligence; and the higher a man climbed, the wider would be the horizon of his labour. It is so in Christ’s kingdom, and should be so in His visible Church. It will be so in heaven. Clearly this saying implies the active theory of the future life, and the continuance in some ministry of love, unknown to us, of the energies which were trained in the small transactions of earth. ‘If five talents are “a few things,” how great the “many things” will be!’ In the parable of the pounds, the servant is made a ruler; here being ‘set over’ seems rather still to point to the place of a steward or servant. The sphere is enlarged, but the office is unaltered. The manager who conducted a small trade rightly will be advanced to the superintendence of a larger business.

‘We doubt not that for one so true

There must be other, nobler work to do,’

and that in that work the same law will continue to operate, and faithfulness be crowned with ever-growing capacities and tasks through a dateless eternity.

The last words of the lord pass beyond our poor attempts at commenting. No eye can look undazzled at the sun. When Christ was near the Cross, He left His disciples a strange bequest at such a moment,-His joy; and that is their brightest portion here, even though it be shaded with many sorrows. The enthroned Christ welcomes all who have known ‘the fellowship of His sufferings’ into the fulness of His heavenly joy, unshaded, unbroken, unspeakable; and they pass into it as into an encompassing atmosphere, or some broad land of peace and abundance. Sympathy with His purposes leads to such oneness with Him that His joy is ours, both in its occasions and in its rapture. ‘Thou makest them drink of the river of Thy pleasures,’ and the lord and the servant drink from the same cup.

III. The excuse and punishment of the indolent servant.

His excuse is his reason. He did think hardly of his lord, and, even though he had His gift in his hand to confute him, he slandered Him in his heart as harsh and exacting. To many men the requirements of religion are more prominent than its gifts, and God is thought of as demanding rather than as ‘the giving God.’ Such thoughts paralyse action. Fear is barren, love is fruitful. Nothing grows on the mountain of curses, which frowns black over against the sunny slopes of the mountain of blessing with its blushing grapes. The indolence was illogical, for, if the master was such as was thought, the more reason for diligence; but fear is a bad reasoner, and the absurd gap between the premises and the conclusion is matched by one of the very same width in every life that thinks of God as rigidly requiring obedience, which, therefore, it does not give! Still another error is in the indolent servant’s words. He flings down the hoarded talent with ‘Lo, thou hast thine own.’ He was mistaken. Talents hid are not, when dug up, as heavy as they were when buried. This gold does rust, and a life not devoted to God is never carried back to Him unspoiled.

The lord’s answer again falls into three parts, corresponding to that to the faithful servants. First comes the stern characterisation of the man. As with the others’ goodness, his badness is defined by the second epithet. It is slothfulness. Is that all? Yes; it does not need active opposition to pull down destruction on one’s head. Simple indolence is enough, the negative sin of not doing or being what we ought. Ungirt loins, unlit lamps, unused talents, sink a man like lead. Doing nothing is enough for ruin.

The remarkable answer to the servant’s charge seems to teach us that timid souls, conscious of slender endowments, and pressed by the heavy sense of responsibility, and shrinking from Christian enterprises, for fear of incurring heavier condemnation, may yet find means of using their little capital. The bankers, who invest the collective contributions of small capitalists to advantage, may, or may not, be intended to be translated into the Church; but, at any rate, the principle of united service is here recommended to those who feel too weak for independent action. Slim houses in a row hold each other up; and, if we cannot strike out a path for ourselves, let us seek strength and safety in numbers.

The fate of the indolent servant has a double horror. It is loss and suffering. The talent is taken from the slack hands and coward heart that would not use it, and given to the man who had shown he could and would. Gifts unemployed for Christ are stripped off a soul yonder. How much will go from many a richly endowed spirit, which here flashed with unconsecrated genius and force! We do not need to wait for eternity to see that true possession, which is use, increases powers, and that disuse, which is equivalent to not possessing, robs of them. The blacksmith’s arm, the scout’s eye, the craftsman’s delicate finger, the student’s intellect, the sensualist’s passions, all illustrate the law on its one side; and the dying out of faculties and tastes, and even of intuitions and conscience, by reason of simple disuse, are melancholy instances of it on the other. But the solemn words of this condemnation seem to point to a far more awful energy in its working in the future, when everything that has not been consecrated by employment for Jesus shall be taken away, and the soul, stripped of its garb, shall ‘be found naked.’ How far that process of divesting may affect faculties, without touching the life, who can tell? Enough to see with awe that a spirit may be cut, as it were, to the quick, and still exist.

But loss is not all the indolent servant’s doom. Once more, like the slow toll of a funeral bell, we hear the dread sentence of ejection to the ‘mirk midnight’ without, where are tears undried and passion unavailing. There is something very awful in the monotonous repetition of that sentence so often in these last discourses of Christ’s. The most loving lips that ever spoke, in love, shaped this form of words, so heart-touching in its wailing, but decisive, proclamation of blackness, homelessness, and sorrow, and cannot but toll them over and over again into our ears, in sad knowledge of our forgetfulness and unbelief,-if perchance we may listen and be warned, and, having heard the sound thereof, may never know the reality of that death in life which is the sure end of the indolent who were blind to His gifts, and therefore would not listen to His requirements.

Matthew 25:26-27. Thou wicked and slothful servant — Wicked, because slothful. Observe well, reader, slothful servants are wicked servants, and will be reckoned with as such by their Master: for he that is slothful in his work, and neglects to do the good that God has commanded, is brother to him that is a great waster, by doing the evil that God has for bidden, Proverbs 18:9. He that is careless in God’s work, is near akin to him that is busy in the devil’s work: Satis est mali nihil fecisse boni. It is evil enough to have done no good. Omissions of duty are commissions of sin, and must come into judgment as such. Slothfulness makes way for wickedness, and when the house is empty, the unclean spirit takes possession of it. Thou knewest — I reap where I sowed not? — That I require impossibilities! This is not an allowing, but a strong denial of the charge. Thou oughtest therefore, &c. — On that very account, on thy own supposition, to have improved my talent, as far as was possible. To have put my money to the exchangers, &c. He mentions this instance of good management, because it was the lowest that could be, and was attended with the least trouble; to intimate that, though the servant had not pursued that particular sort of trade in which he ought to have employed the talent, yet if he had been at any pains at all to improve it, though it had been little, his lord would have accepted it. And then I should have received mine own with usury — Συν τοκω, with interest, or produce. “Anciently, the import of the word usury was no other than profit, whether great or small, allowed to the lender for the use of borrowed money. As this practice often gave rise to great extortion, the very name at length became odious. When Christian commonwealths judged it necessary to regulate this matter by law, they gave to such profit as does not exceed the legal, the softer name of interest; since which time, usury has come to signify solely extravagant profit disallowed by law; and which, therefore, it is criminal in the borrower to give, and in the lender to take. As it is not this kind of profit that is here meant, the word usury is now become improper.” — Campbell. Observe, reader, though the parable represents but one in three unfaithful; yet, in a history that answers the parable, we find the disproportion quite the other way; when ten lepers were cleansed, nine of the ten hid the talent, and only one returned to give thanks, Luke 17:18-19. The unfaithful servant was he that had only one talent, but doubtless there are many that have five talents, and bury them all; great abilities, great advantages, and yet do no good with them: but Christ would intimate to us, 1st, that if he that had but one talent was reckoned with thus for burying that one, much more will they be accounted offenders that have more, that have many, and bury them. If he that was but of small capacity was cast into outer darkness, because he did not improve what he had as he might have done, shall those be spared that trample under foot the greatest advantages? 2d, That often those who have least to do for God, do least of what they have to do. 3d, That the hard thoughts which sinners have of God will be so far from justifying their slothfulness, that they will rather aggravate and add to their guilt; so that in the day of final accounts, they will be left quite without excuse; all frivolous pleas will be overruled, and every mouth will be stopped.

25:14-30 Christ keeps no servants to be idle: they have received their all from him, and have nothing they can call their own but sin. Our receiving from Christ is in order to our working for him. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. The day of account comes at last. We must all be reckoned with as to what good we have got to our own souls, and have done to others, by the advantages we have enjoyed. It is not meant that the improving of natural powers can entitle a man to Divine grace. It is the real Christian's liberty and privilege to be employed as his Redeemer's servant, in promoting his glory, and the good of his people: the love of Christ constrains him to live no longer to himself, but to Him that died for him, and rose again. Those who think it impossible to please God, and in vain to serve him, will do nothing to purpose in religion. They complain that He requires of them more than they are capable of, and punishes them for what they cannot help. Whatever they may pretend, the fact is, they dislike the character and work of the Lord. The slothful servant is sentenced to be deprived of his talent. This may be applied to the blessings of this life; but rather to the means of grace. Those who know not the day of their visitation, shall have the things that belong to their peace hid from their eyes. His doom is, to be cast into outer darkness. It is a usual way of expressing the miseries of the damned in hell. Here, as in what was said to the faithful servants, our Saviour goes out of the parable into the thing intended by it, and this serves as a key to the whole. Let us not envy sinners, or covet any of their perishing possessions.Slothful - Indolent, lazy, who had done nothing. God will judge people not merely for doing wrong, but for not "doing" right. See Matthew 25:45. That servant was "wicked," because he had such an opinion of his master; he had shown that he was slothful by not making good use of the talent, Matthew 25:27.

Thou knewest ... - This should be understood, and might have been translated, as a question. If you knew that I was Such a man you ought to have acted accordingly, so as to have escaped punishment. Didst thou know that I reap, etc.? Then thou shouldst have given my money to the exchangers, etc. This is not intended to "admit" that he was such a man, but to convict the slothful servant of guilt and folly in not having been prepared to meet him.

25. And I was afraid—of making matters worse by meddling with it at all.

and went and hid thy talent in the earth—This depicts the conduct of all those who shut up their gifts from the active service of Christ, without actually prostituting them to unworthy uses. Fitly, therefore, may it, at least, comprehend those, to whom Trench refers, who, in the early Church, pleaded that they had enough to do with their own souls, and were afraid of losing them in trying to save others; and so, instead of being the salt of the earth, thought rather of keeping their own saltness by withdrawing sometimes into caves and wildernesses, from all those active ministries of love by which they might have served their brethren.

Thou wicked and slothful servant—"Wicked" or "bad" means "falsehearted," as opposed to the others, who are emphatically styled "good servants." The addition of "slothful" is to mark the precise nature of his wickedness: it consisted, it seems, not in his doing anything against, but simply nothing for his master.

Thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed—He takes the servant's own account of his demands, as expressing graphically enough, not the hardness which he had basely imputed to him, but simply his demand of a profitable return for the gift entrusted.

See Poole on "Matthew 25:27".

His Lord answered and said unto him,.... Resenting, as he well might, not only his indolence and sloth, his neglect of his duty, and his worldly disposition, but the abusive character he had given of him, in order to cover his own wickedness:

thou wicked and slothful servant; a very just character of him: he was a "wicked" servant; all men in a state of nature are wicked; they lie in wickedness, and are under the power of the wicked one; and there are many wicked men among professors of religion, and many wicked ministers, who, though not openly profane, yet either trusting to their works, or doing the work of the Lord deceitfully, or wholly neglecting it, justly merit this character. This man's wickedness lay in his slothfulness, in not doing the good he might, and had gifts and abilities for; and in entertaining wrong thoughts of, and in bringing false charges against his Lord: and he might be truly said to be "slothful"; since he took no pains to improve in spiritual knowledge; and instead of digging for that, as for silver and hid treasure, dug in the earth, and hid his talent there: he neglected the gift that was in him; did not stir it up, or study to show himself a workman that needeth not to be ashamed; did not give himself up to reading, meditation, and prayer; but trusted to, and depended on what other men had done; stole away his neighbour's words, reaped that for which he had not laboured, and entered into the labours of others; and being afraid of difficulties, indulged himself in ease and pleasure, served his own belly, and not the Lord Jesus; he gratified his worldly lusts, and had no regard to his master's interest,

Thou knowest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: not granting that he was such an one, and that his servant knew him to be such, and had given a true character of him; but supposing he was such a person he had wickedly represented him to be; he turns the argument upon him, that therefore he must needs know, that he expected to have had his money improved, and to have received it with an increase; and that upon such a consideration he ought to have been the more diligent and industrious, in using and improving his talent, and not to have indulged sloth, and idleness; and thus he convicts, judges, and condemns him, as a wicked, slothful servant, by his own words.

His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
Matthew 25:26 f. The master chastises the worthless and indolent (Romans 12:11) servant with his own weapons.

ᾔδεις, κ.τ.λ.] question of astonishment, which is more spirited and more in keeping with the surprising nature of the excuse than to understand the words in a conceding sense (Kuinoel, de Wette), or as an independent hypothesis (Bernhardy, p. 385), in which case the οὖν of the apodosis would be deprived of its force (see Hartung, Partikell. II. p. 22 f.; Klotz, ad Devar. p. 718 f.).

βαλεῖντοῖς τραπεζ.] flinging down upon the table of the money-changers, represents the indifference of the proceeding.

ἐγώ] is emphatic as related to the preceding ἴδε, ἔχεις τὸ σόν, Matthew 25:25. To it likewise corresponds τὸ ἐμόν, to which, however, σὺν τόκῳ is now added for sake of emphasis.

Matthew 25:26 πονηρὲ (vide on Matthew 6:23), wicked” is too general a meaning: mean-spirited or grudging would suit the connection better.—πονηρὸς is the fitting reply to σκληρὸς, and the opposite of ἀγαθὸς. You call me hard, I call you a churl: with no heart for your work, unlike your fellow-servant who put his whole heart into his work.—ὀκνηρέ, slothful; a poor creature altogether: suspicious, timid, heartless, spiritless, idle.—ᾔδεις, etc.: a question, neither making an admission nor expressing surprise or anger, but leading up to a charge of inconsistency = If that was your idea of me, why then, etc.

Verse 26. - Thou wicked and slothful servant. In marked contrast with the commendation, "good and faithful," its vers, 21, 23. He was "wicked," in that he calumniated his master, who really seems to have been ready to acknowledge the least service done to him, and never looked for results beyond a man's ability and opportunities; and he was "slothful," in that he made no effort to improve the one talent entrusted to him. Thou knewest (ἤδεις), etc. Out of his own mouth he judges him (Luke 19:22). He repeats the slave's words, in which he expressed his notion of his lord's character and practice, and deduces therefrom the inconsistency of his action, without deigning to defend himself from the calumny, except, perhaps, by the use of ἤδεις, which gives a hypothetical notion to the assumed knowledge. "You knew, you say." Some editors place a mark of interrogation at the end of the clause, which seems unnecessary. Matthew 25:26Slothful

With no more trouble than he expended in digging, he might have gone to the exchangers. The verse should be read interrogatively, Didst thou indeed know this of me? Thou shouldst then have acted with time promptness and care which one observes in dealing with a hard master. To omit the interrogation is to make the Lord admit that he was a hard master.

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