“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!’” —Matthew 25:26a
(This devotion is based on Matthew 25:14-30.)
Jesus loved to teach using parables. They surprise and challenge. They invite us to deep self-reflection. They invite wonder and multiple interpretations.
Here is a common way of interpreting the parable of the servants in Matthew 25. The Lord gives a variety of gifts to each of his people. Because some believe they don’t have much to offer, they decide not to use their gifts in service to God and his church. The master calls these servants lazy and wicked. Application: Don’t think that you have nothing to offer our Lord or his church. Instead, contribute your energy and gifts to the life of Christ’s body.
In his book Becoming Friends of Time (2016, Baylor University Press), John Swinton invites readers into another way of understanding this parable by considering a church’s lack of involving people with profound and complex intellectual disabilities in church life. Swinton writes,
Reflecting on the parable with such lives as our lens, it could be argued that we (and in this case the “we” refers to . . . all of those who claim to be followers of Jesus) were in danger . . . of behaving in precisely the way that wicked servant behaved. The only difference being that, instead of burying our own talents, we may . . . bury the talents of others.
Swinton encourages readers to wonder, “What might the church look like if people with profound and complex intellectual disabilities were conceived of as disciples with a distinct vocation—a calling given them by Jesus?”
Sadly, we who are part of churches shut off the flow of God’s grace by not considering the giftedness of many people in church, such as people with intellectual disabilities, “shut-ins,” people with hearing or vision loss, people who have lost abilities due to stroke or accident, and many others.
When we as God’s people exercise the gifts God has given us, each person incarnates our Lord in today’s world. Jesus said, “I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father” (Jn. 14:12, CEV).
What might the church look like if all people were conceived of as disciples and were encouraged to pursue the distinct callings given them by Jesus?
Lord and Giver of all good things, how much have I and my church missed because we have not encouraged everyone to use the gifts you have given them? Help me to see your giftedness manifested in each person who is part of my church. In the name of Jesus, amen.
Rev. Mark Stephenson has served the CRC as director of Disability Concerns since 2006. Before that, he served as a pastor at two Christian Reformed congregations. He and his wife, Bev, have a family that is growing again, with children, in-laws, and grandchildren now totaling seven people, with more on the way. Their oldest daughter, Nicole, has been teaching everyone how to live joyfully with multiple disabilities for 30 years.