We have been were looking at the second servant in the Parable of the Talents and what we can learn from his curious presence in this unusual story. If your just joining us, catch up on our discussion at…
2. Differing Expectations
Expectations are the backbone of effort. We want to know what is expected of us so we can hit that mark and deliver in a way that keeps our partner content. When we know the expectations, we can aim our energies more effectively, not so we simply do the minimum (though some stop there), but so we can be sure we cover what’s expected.
For example, when I play golf, I want to know the number of shots that comprise “par” on each hole. Par is the expected score for an accomplished golfer. Now, I’m not one of those—not even close—but knowing the “par” score still shapes each hole’s challenge for me. So a par 3 hole means using a smaller club and a carefully aimed shot, while a par 5 means getting out the big stick and swinging wildly.
Our lives are shaped by expectations too, though usually we don’t have sticks. When we know what is expected on the job or in our marriages, we can more easily determine the things we need to do.
So in our story of the Master, his three servants, and the bags of gold he entrusted to them while he traveled abroad, we wonder what the Master’s expectations might be. We’re not really told of any instructions he gave, other than to care for his wealth. But, we can infer from his response to their performances, whether or not each servant responded in a way that met his expectations. Clearly, servant #3 blew it. But it seems servant #1 and #2 hit the mark.
And yet, even between these two successful servants, the expectation seems to be different. We see that both doubled the amount they were asked to care for, servant #1 turned five into five more and servant #2 doubled the two he was asked to manage. Yes, their percentage gain was identical, but it’s important to recognize that servant #2, our new friend, wasn’t asked to turn his two bags into five. He was not graded on a curve set by his better-resourced friend.
Often I see some in smaller churches getting lost in the numbers of larger settings. They compare their dozens to someone else’s hundreds and start thinking their achievements matter less. Of course, the media and other story-seekers more likely show up at servant #1’s door, reinforcing the inferior feelings for our “secondary” friend.
So we spiral into frustration all because we can’t compete with those who have more capacity, more resources, and maybe even more ability. And sadly, some lose heart in the comparison. Some even think the Master expects them to deliver on someone else’s potential.
But these friends have misjudged the Master’s intent in his distribution of talents and resources. The Master didn’t say to the second servant, “Well, just do your best…I know you’ll never be like him (pointing to servant #1) but I’ll take the pittance you can generate.” No! There’s an intentional investment of two talents in this guy and an expectation that matches HIS potential.
So the Master expects servant #2 to fulfill his potential. And it’s against that expectation that his efforts will be evaluated.
This servant didn’t fail at all! If the Master expected him to gain five talents out of two, then the Master would have made a mistake in how he divided his treasure. Instead, he knew both servants and gave each of them a meaningful assignment and appropriate expectation.
I can think of many pastors in more limited settings who are doing a fantastic job and yet feel like they should be doing more. Sure, if you see your own potential is to reach higher, then reach higher. But if your using someone else’s scale, you’ve set yourself up for a never-ending sense of failure.
Servant #1 and servant #2 were given two distinct assignments and two differing expectations, but as we will see next time, they received two duplicate rewards.