So what am I left with after all this? Well a couple of things occur to me as worthy of comment.
Firstly, contrary to what I was told in my youth, Jesus return may not be imminent. Yes I know that I’m in danger of being counted among the foolish virgins, or being caught out by the thief in the night, but how else am I to understand Jesus concerns over the people’s excitement at his potential early enthronement? There is undoubtedly a tension here that must be lived in and I must struggle to balance it.
The reason I must continue to struggle with this tension is that to focus too heavily on his imminent return is to devalue this life. What drives the action of the parable is what is not said. We are told little or nothing about what happens in the interim period between the nobleman’s exit and his return as King, but the behaviour of the servants int his period is what determines the outcomes.
Of necessity therefore I am forced to conclude that life and living in this interim period is of the utmost importance. Those of us from the more conservative stable have perhaps focussed too much on getting to the hereafter to the detriment of life in the here and now. The parable forces me to reconsider. This life, its politics, and work, and music and neighbours and shops and sport and pain and everything is of eternal value to God. There is a continuity between this life and the life to come. It is the third servant who tries to shrug off engagement with life in the interim period and he is judged accordingly.
Lest those from the liberal wing of the church get too smug, I can’t escape the reality that the parable does point to the return of the king and some form of new dispensation, whatever that looks like. So I’m not free to engage in the life of this world in all its vitality and complexity and challenge to the neglect of the hereafter. OK, perhaps it is a cliché the charge that the conservatives have focussed unduly on personal salvation and the despising of the world, and liberals have focussed on the injustices of the world to the detriment of individual guilt. But it’s here. And so is personal judgment. And ultimate reward.
What makes the whole thing utterly ludicrous is the insane balance between faithfulness in this life and the reward or responsibility in the life to come. They are related, but waaaay out of proportion. Of such foolishness is the Kingdom composed.