In the Gospel of Matthew (25:23), as Jesus approaches the city of Jerusalem for the last time, he talks to his disciples about their need to be “faithful and prudent servants.” Jesus uses this as a kind of “wisdom,” saying that a truly wise person is aware of what is going on around him and what is important in life.
One thing we know for sure: There are a great number of clever people in society today. I don’t mean inventors or scientists, but people who are able to take advantage of the unknowing public. You’ll notice that cleverness is never associated with Jesus. In today’s parlance, cleverness has taken on the meaning of “getting away with something” or “getting something at the expense of another.” Con artists are clever and tricky. They know exactly what to say and how to say it in order to get someone to believe them, invest in their idea and sometimes hand over their life’s savings.
When Jesus uses that expression “faithful servants,” some might not think of themselves as servants. But that is what most good people are called to do: serve and serve faithfully. When you witness a wedding and the young couple pledge their lives and love to each other, they are really offering themselves as “servants.” They are making a gift of themselves to their new spouse even to the point of laying down their lives for the one they love. Isn’t it true that, in a marriage, it is important to be willing to serve one’s spouse? True love requires sacrifice and the gift of self toward those loved. But if both spouses act in the same giving way, then both are cared for. Neither loses by serving; each gains in being served by the other.
This service is all the more true when children are born to that husband and wife. The couple serves, not only each other, but also their children who are so needy and dependent on them. And it is in loving one another and their children that a husband and wife really love God.
I was chaplain at a large Midwestern nursing facility for over a decade. Many times I was inspired by witnessing the care spouses gave to their loved ones who needed nursing care. Sometimes, because of Alzheimer’s disease, the one being cared for did not even recognize his or her spouse. But the other spouse would visit very often—sometimes daily—and they would assist in feeding them and leading their loved one outside for walks or pushing their wheelchair. I don’t mean it was always easy; often it was not. But more than a few times I heard comments from younger, married staff members in the nursing home who witnessed these signs of true love and service. They were in admiration of the love they saw. I wondered if they thought that someday they might too be called upon to do what they saw these husbands and wives doing for their spouses.
Jesus, of course, gave the perfect example of what service was in his own life. It wasn’t just when he knelt to wash the feet of his disciples at the last supper. All through his ministry he was at the service of those who needed him. People kept coming to him seeking healing. They chased after him to touch his garment. Some were carried to him, some crawled to him and others—could only cry out to him, “Master, have pity on us.”
Being a Faithful Servant Does Not Mean We Are Perfect.
When Jesus speaks of “the faithful servant,” perhaps a word we can better use is fidelity. The basic meaning of fidelity is a commitment to growth and development. In a marriage, fidelity surely means more than just avoiding the sin of infidelity. Faithfulness—fidelity in marriage—means that each partner commits himself or herself to continued growth and maturity in their relationship. We are faithful to people, not to things. In fact, when a person becomes more addicted to his hobbies than to his family or to God, something is truly wrong.
But fidelity does not mean perfection. As long as we journey on this earth, we are imperfect and wounded. That’s our condition and God knows it. But do you remember who most attracted Jesus and with whom he spent most of his time? It was not with the self-righteous religious leaders. It was with sinners, outcasts and those who thought they were unlovable. Jesus ate with them and called them his friends.
Are we so different from them? Not at all. We fail from time to time. That’s not the time to run FROM Jesus; rather it is the time to run TO him. Jesus’ greatest joy was not raising the dead to life; it was forgiving sinners and calling them back to life.
We Are Called to Be Prudent Servants.
Jesus also talks about being prudent, and we know that is part of wisdom. When a person is prudent, he also tends to be farsighted. He plans as best he can for the future in an honest and upright manner. He does not get by taking from others nor does he gain by manipulating them.
The other day I saw an advertisement on TV about a well-to-do family. The narrator spoke of how the father and husband was taking good care of his family should anything happen to him. He would leave his wife the house, the car, his savings and insurance. He would provide for his children, leaving them funds for college and a good start in their adult lives. Then there was the sound of ominous music in the background and the narrator said: “But what he forgot to take into account was how much he was leaving the government and the IRS who could take as much as two-thirds of his family’s inheritance unless he uses trusts and other legal means as a way of safeguarding his financial resources.”
And I suspect we have all heard horror stories of families thinking they were cared for when the father and husband died, only to find out that most of the money went to the government. There is no question that the father and husband was faithful. What he also needed was prudence for the good of his family.
This may be something that each family could look at early in this New Year if they wonder if they’ve been prudent in all their planning. Oftentimes good resolutions are joked about. But this is surely no laughing matter.