Gospel Disproof #47: The Bad Master

In Matthew 24 and Luke 12, Jesus is reported to have told a very interesting parable.

And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.

Like all parables, this is a story that’s supposed to be relevant to people’s everyday lives, and that highlights some important principle about how we relate to God. What’s interesting is that, even though the point of the parable is to encourage us to obey God (the master), Jesus ends up painting a pretty negative picture of what kind of master God really is. He had to, though, in order to keep the parable realistic.

Notice first of all that the master (God) is absent. The rest of us, as slaves, are supposed to expect Him to come back again at some point, but for right now He’s not here, which is why we have the opportunity to act out if we’re so inclined. Secondly, He’s cruel: He flogs the unfaithful servant and assigns him “a place with the unbelievers” (atheists, wave Hi to everyone). Not only that, He even flogs slaves who didn’t know what He wanted them to do. He cuts them some slack because, hey, He never told them the rules, but He is going to beat them anyway.

And why don’t they know the rules? Did He just not tell them? Is He one of those masters who just expects you to guess right every time, because He’ll beat you if you don’t? Hard to tell whether that’s evil, lazy, or just incompetent. And speaking of incompetence, would a good master go away for an extended period and leave the wicked slave in charge? Clearly, the master is a poor judge of character. Then again, he’s not really setting a good example: when the master is gone, the one in charge beats the slaves, and when he comes back, what does he do? He beats the slaves too. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

It’s a very realistic parable because—except for the part about God coming back—it’s pretty close to what we see in the real world: God missing, and evil people in charge, abusing those under their power. So give Jesus a certain number of points for accuracy. But man, what a cruel, lazy and incompetent master!