In Matthew’s twenty-fifth chapter, Jesus tells three of his parables that are most often used by those who drive the performance treadmill to make people work harder to try and earn God’s favor. And, not surprisingly they are some the enemy uses in his accusations that we may not be “doing enough” for God. But in each case, the conclusion of the parables are anything but the “try harder” explanations that religion gives. As I was reading through them the other day, here’s what caught my eye:
First, the Parable of the Virgins: Ten virgins are awaiting the bridegroom, but his coming is delayed longer than five of them had planned. They just had enough oil enough to get to midnight, and when the groom came later they had no reserve with which to light their lamps. The conclusion: Those who live for his coming as if it is immediate, will lose out when he delays. Live for the long haul and whenever he comes you’ll be ready.
The Parable of the Talents: At first blush it looks like those who work harder are rewarded more than those who do little. At a closer look, however, we see that it is really a parable about fear. The one who feared God as an exacting taskmaster is the one who made all the wrong decisions and ended up empty at the end. The lesson: Those who live loved have the freedom to be fruitful. Those who live in the fear of not being fruitful, will find themselves fulfilling their own fear.
The Parable of The Sheep And Goats: Those who were truly about the Father’s business had no idea they were. They were simply loving whomever God put before them. Those who sought to do good as a qualification to enter God’s kingdom missed what it meant to love the people right in front of them. Doing their works for him, meant they missed his opportunities for them.
Those who learn to live loved and cease to strive in their own efforts, will know the joy of the Lord and all that it means to be fruitful. Those who seek to suck up to God to earn brownie points are so lost in their self-effort that they miss him in the simple realities of life. I used to see all these parables completely the opposite of what he intended, and though they made me work harder, they didn’t lead me to true fruitfulness. How could they? My attempts to fulfill them were too self-centered. I’ve said it before. The only thing worse than unrighteousness is self-righteousness. The latter leads to pride and arrogance that only spoils the world around us.
But as I’ve been learning to live loved I’ve been less conscious of trying to do what I think he wants, and freer to embrace what he gives me each day. Who knew it would lead me to the better things he had for me, than those things I thought I should do for him? Learning to live loved will lead us to a righteousness that our growing trust in his love produces. We’ll find ourselves blessing others when we’re not even aware of what we’re doing. That will make us a far sweeter fragrance in the world and a far better follower of his.