There are three parables of Jesus that that illuminate what it means to be a follower of Christ: The Unmerciful Servant, The Bags of Gold and The Sheep and Goats. For convenience there are links to the three parables below. Thank you BibleGateway.com and New International Version.
In the Unmerciful Servant a man who is forgiven a very large debt refuses to forgive a much smaller debt owed him. In the Parable of the Bags of Gold, one man does not use his gold to earn more for his master who had lent it to him. In the parable of the sheep and goats, the sheep represent people who were kind to their fellow citizens and the goats represent people who were not necessarily unkind but they also were not kind. The king in the parable utters those words that strike to the heart of every Christian, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
These three parables are why Jesus was not a philosopher, not a good teacher and did not teach the rule of reciprocity.
Philosophers spend a lot of words trying to help their students make sense of the world. Jesus never does that. God is assumed. We have a duty to act according to how God demands we act. Teachers spend a lot of time explaining why and how to do the things they are teaching. Jesus doesn’t do that. The why, is always to please God. The how, is left for real teachers to explain. Jesus also doesn’t teach reciprocity. Reciprocity is ‘do to others so they will do to you’ or ‘do to others as you want them to do to you because they will’. It doesn’t matter to Jesus if the people he expects us to treat well ever treat us well in return. In Jesus’ view the only person that matters is God.
In the parable of the unmerciful servant, God is represented as very rich man who forgives a very large debt. The rich man is incensed when the person who has been forgiven does not forgive a lesser debt in turn. The context is forgiveness but the rule can be applied to anything. Followers of Jesus believe they are the recipients of great love so they give love to others in turn. Christians believe that the ability to follow Christ is itself a gift so they also try to give that gift to others in turn. Every blessing, even the blessing of being alive, is seen as a gift from God that must be shared with others in some small way. That why Christians have such a high morality. It is not enough to obey a list of things to not do. Christians are actively looking for ways to pay God back.
In the parable of the bags of gold, God is portrayed as a master who lends his servants money. He gives his servants talents of gold. A talent was a unit of weight that was roughly 75 lbs. or 33 kilograms. That’s a lot of gold. That is why the NIV translates it as a bag of gold. The master expects a return on his investment. Those who provide a good return are rewarded. The one who is lazy, and returns his capital but provides no extra, is punished for being unfaithful. That is another reason why Christians have such a high morality. We are not just interested in giving as good as we get and otherwise leaving people alone. We are always looking for ways to give back to God a return on his investment in us.
The parable about the sheep and the goats may not be a parable. It sounds like Jesus is talking about an actual event that is yet in the future. In this story the part of God is played by The Son of Man, a title that Jesus used of himself. Parable or prediction, the story sets out a morality that is the highest of all. Everything the Christian does to another person is to be viewed as if they were doing it to Jesus himself. That’s a mountain of morality. It shows how much Jesus cares about people and how much he expects from the people who are his followers. It is not enough to go through life and not hurt anybody. A Christian must go through life actively seeking the betterment of those around. That is a very very high standard.
Christian morality is very high. It’s so high that we are tempted to teach an easier version. We probably think we are being kind. I’m not convinced. Maybe it is just my personality. Maybe it is something else. I don’t know why but I like it that I follow a guy who has such high standards.
The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant Matthew 18:21
The Parable of the Bags of Gold Matthew 25:14
The Sheep and the Goats Matthew 25:31