To Whom Much is Given, Little is Expected (Sometimes)
I’ve been given much. It’s been given to me to hear, understand, and embrace the gospel of Jesus. I’ve been given a wonderful family; dear friends; a healthy church community; opportunities to receive a good education, to work at a solid job, and to write; and a mind and motivations to make good on those opportunities. I bet you’ve been given some similar things.
According to Luke 12:48b, Jesus requires much from people like us: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
I’ve always read this verse as imposing a requirement to produce for Jesus. All the things I’ve been given I should somehow offer back for the purposes of his kingdom and glory. I should use my gifts to further his ends—faithfully loving him, loving my neighbors (be they family, friends, or strangers), serving my church community, providing for my family, and sharing the good news in deed and word.
To be clear, in reading the passage this way I’ve not been snared by a works theology, believing that I must earn my standing before God (this standing, too, is a gift of grace in my view). Rather, I’ve simply believed that Jesus has goals, that following Jesus is in large part about furthering those goals, and that everyone ought to pull their own weight—serving in accordance with their God-given opportunities and abilities. And, I still don’t think this reading of the verse is wrong; it just might be too narrow. Let me explain.
Lately, I’ve felt hemmed in. I’ve felt divinely prevented from using my gifts to maximal effect. In particular, I’ve sensed this in my career. Over the past 16 years I’ve made what have felt like two heroic attempts to change from a career that seems, at best, irrelevant to Jesus’ goals and occasionally at odds with them. Yet each time, I have experienced the divine “no”. (Or, as a friend of mine puts it, the divine “shut up”.) What seemed like more Christianly-meaningful paths simply petered out in the middle of the woods, and I found myself lost.
It has occasionally been my practice to pray John Wesley’s covenant prayer. One of the lines in that prayer is the following petition of God: “let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you.” Lately, it has felt like God has answered that petition by laying me aside—closing the door on avenues of work that seem productive for Jesus. (Be careful what you pray for!) Of course, it is still possible my work is useful to Jesus in ways I don’t understand. But, if I were asked to assess whether I am measuring up to Luke 12:48, until recently I would have said not.
However, in reflecting on my situation and Luke 12:48 more recently, it struck me that maybe this “being laid aside,” and the considerable suffering that has come with it, is in fact part of the “much” that is expected of someone like me (at least sometimes). For those with gifts (everyone!), great satisfaction comes from using those gifts to good effect. The harder thing is to be denied such satisfaction by laying the gifts aside and producing little or nothing through them. And, of course, our faith is often about the harder thing; if trusting God involved self-denial and hardship for Jesus, we can be pretty sure it will sometimes involve these things for us.
So, maybe I’m measuring up to Luke 12:48 after all. It’s just that, in this season, the “much” required of me turns out to be the difficult and paradoxical task of laying my talents aside and producing little.