The parables of the watchful and faithful servants are often seen as separate parables to many people. Although they have a different story line and they don’t include the exact same characters, there are many striking similarities between them. Not only that, but Jesus connects these two parables because of a question asked by Peter and therefore, we should connect them also. We are going to look at these two parables and gain a better understanding of what’s happening in the context of the parables. Let’s begin.
These two parables take place in Luke 12:35-40 (watchful servants) and Luke 12:42-48 (faithful servant). Notice that I did not include verse 41 in those passages. This is because verse 41 is the hinge verse between these two parables. This verse holds the question that Peter asks that forms a bridge and reveals a deeper understanding for these parables. Before we get into that verse, let’s review the parables in context.
The parable of the watchful and faithful servants can be found here.
For the context of these parables, Jesus has been teaching on a variety of subjects up to this point. Being on guard against hypocrisy, money, worrying, and now watchfulness. The first parable is about being prepared for the return of the master and watching for his return. The warning is to keep watch for the return of the master because no one knows when he will return. The other parable is about a servant who was left with big responsibilities and the best result is for the master to come back and find that servant doing what he is supposed to be doing. The worst result would be to assume the master will not return, at least for a while, and mistreat the other servants horribly and make terrible decisions. Then the master would return, and let’s just say it would not end well for the servant. Then Jesus ends the teaching with a bite of truth: He says that the servant who knows his master’s will and does not prepare or do it, will be severely punished. The servant who does not know the master’s will and yet still does not do right, will not be punished as severely. So what is Jesus talking about? What’s with the confusing statements of servants being unprepared and beaten but then others are not beaten? What does it all mean? Let’s break this down.
The meaning of the parable in its original context can be seen as to be about Israel, it’s leaders, and it’s people. Jesus started off talking about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and we can see, especially in verses 47-48, the behavior of the religious leaders in the parable. The religious leaders should be waiting and watching for the return of God to Jerusalem. This is what they have been waiting for, what was promised in the prophets so long ago. The point is, Jesus the master has come, yet they do not see it. They have also not been faithful servants of Yahweh. They have taken advantage of the poor and made themselves exalted amongst the people (beating the servants from the parable). Jesus warns that the master will come and it will not end well for the servants who have not done the master’s will. This is a warning of the judgement that is coming upon Jerusalem. Judgement is coming to Jerusalem because of the unfaithfulness of His servants. The warning is to watch and be faithful, neither of which the leaders of Israel have done up to this point which will lead to their destruction.
Now about the many and flew blows for the different servants in verses 47 and 48. It would make sense that the one who knew better would be punished worse than the one who did not. Staying within the context of the parables, the religious leaders of Israel know better. They know what the will of God is, yet they refuse to listen. Therefore, their punishment will be more severe. On the flip side, those who do not know, perhaps Gentiles or foreigners, or those who simply have not been taught, still are not doing the will of God. They are still doing wrong, though they do not know it. Therefore, their punishment will not be as severe because they did not know. On the contrary, we know that those who do the will of God will be rewarded richly as the parable describes (v.44). Everyone must be held accountable and held to the same standard, but it comes down to our choices and decisions that define our end result.
This parable can still have significance for us today. Christ will come again, only this time to bring salvation (Hebrews 9:28). We need to be prepared for his coming and at the same time we need to make sure we are remaining faithful to Jesus and the covenant. We can stray off the path just like the religious leaders did. We need to pray, fast, study, and let the Spirit guide us towards bringing us closer to Him. Being prepared and being faithful are two traits for followers of Jesus that will never cease to be needed.