Guest Article by Rev. Paul Cain, member of the Steadfast Lutherans Board of Directors and Editor of Curriculum for Steadfast Press
Stewards are given to be faithful caretakers. Stewards are not owners.
Consider two Parables of our Lord Jesus.
The first is the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30).
14 “For it [the kingdom of heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants[a] and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
The man went away on a journey. It’s Jesus. We are given no indication when he will return. Daily life must go on. He has assets that need managing. We are told nothing about livestock, crops, other servants, or even the man’s family. We are simply told that seven talents are given to three servants according to their ability.
Our use of the word talent as the ability or gift of an individual is derived from this parable. But in the parable, the word talent has a more tangible meaning. A talent was a coin, a very valuable coin. In the parable of the unmerciful servant, we heard about a denarius being a common wage for a day-laborer. A talent is a year’s salary.
How long did these events take? We are not told. The only measurement of time we hear is that of the first servant. The one with five talents went at once. No hesitation. He got to work. He wasted no time. He doubled the money entrusted to him. Not bad! And the second servant doubled his two talents. We are prepared to expect the third servant would double his one talent. Nope. He went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Why?
We hear of the faithful work of the first two servants and the fruit because of their hard work. And then we hear of something else entirely. This third servant is different than the other two. He hid his lamp under a bushel basket. He buried his treasure in the field. He sat on his hands. He did nothing.
The third servant was not faithful. He had a different attitude entirely. It was based upon what he thought of his master. The first two faithful servants knew they had a gracious master who took joy in their faithful service. This servant saw his master as a hard man.
The third servant served not in reverent awe, but was fearful. There’s a difference. His own words show his unfaithfulness. If he knew that his master reaped where he did not sow seed, did he really think the master would be satisfied with no return on his investment? This servant’s words and deeds are not consistent. They contradict one another.
Some see the Lord not as gracious and merciful as He is in Christ, but as a hard, unknowable God who takes our loved ones away and makes us live according to his whims. In short, they see Him not as a God who is primarily Gospel, but one who is only law. We know the law can lead to several reactions. 1. The law is ignored. I can’t keep the law and be perfect, so why try? I’ll just do whatever I please. 2. Hypocritical self-righteousness. No, I can’t keep the law, but I do better than those other people. God will accept me. Look at all the good I do. 3. Despair. This is common among perfectionists. Such a person may lose all hope.
Judas betrayed our Lord. Peter denied Him three times. Judas lost all hope (and went and hung himself). Peter remembered the Lord’s words. The Gospel made all the difference in the world. Peter was restored, forgiven. You are restored, forgiven in Christ.
He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
There is judgment for the unfaithful, for those who have been given the Lord’s gifts and do nothing with them because their faith died. They ignored God’s Word, Holy Communion, their pastor, and their congregation just as surely as if they dug a hole and buried it all.
The Lord has entrusted His gifts to us. They remain His, yet they are here for your benefit. The law questions would be, “What have you been doing with them? What have you failed to do with them?” The questions condemn and convict us. They measure, evaluate, and judge.
Remember how the hymn goes? We give Thee but Thine own. We are stewards of all that we have. The state may recognize us as rightful owners on titles and deeds, but the Christian knows that the owner and giver of all things is the Lord. Now let’s ask the vocation questions. What gifts has the Lord given you? How has the Lord given you to use these gifts to serve the Lord by serving those entrusted to your care?
The second is the Parable of the Vineyard and the Tenants (Luke 20:9-20).
9 And he [Jesus] began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant[a] to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’?
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.
God’s Old Testament people often had a problem with authority. That’s what led to the fall. That’s how one brother was not his brother’s keeper. Later, God’s authority as King was questioned. Exit Judges, enter Kings. And false gods. When Israel and Judah went after false gods in addition to or in replacement of the Lord, prophets of the Lord didn’t fare too well. Persecution was common. Prophets were beaten, treated scandalously, wounded, even killed. The Lord had made for Himself a people, and there was always a faithful remnant. But the people rejected their God and His servants. That is Our Lord’s point.
Isaiah 5, The Song of the Vineyard, like many other Scripture passages, calls Israel, the Lord’s people, a vineyard. What a vineyard! It appears to need some tending! Isaiah sings of the Lord and His people. And shares the Lord’s future plans for His vineyard.
Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!
The Lord gave His vineyard the best care. The Lord gave His people His best Gifts. But the Lord was rejected. His servants were rejected. His gifts were rejected. And so Jesus wanted to drive these points home.
I claim no originality of the idea of applying these parables of Christ to those whom Synod has entrusted with the stewardship of the entities and institutions of Synod. Several friends mentioned these parables as they were prayerful in preparation for the LCMS Convention and in grief over the actions of some regents of CTX.
Stewards are not given to do what they please. They are given to be accountable to the Lord, the Synod, and the congregations of Synod. They are not a law unto themselves.
Let’s say the quiet things out loud at the 2023 LCMS Convention in Milwaukee. Its the good, right, salutary, and churchly thing to do.
Regents rejecting the authority of Synod is a sin against the Fourth Commandment.
Filing new Articles of Incorporation as if Concordia Texas were independent is a sin against the Eighth Commandment as a false witness, a lie.
Desiring to have Concordia Texas as an entity independent of the LCMS is a sin against the Tenth Commandment, coveting.
And attempting to take the university is a sin against the Seventh Commandment as clear theft.
Repent. Be reconciled.
Let’s learn the lesson Denethor, Steward of Gondor, did NOT learn in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
Concordia University Texas belongs to the congregations of Synod, not its stewards, not to its caretakers.