Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Punishment for a Believer's Intentional and Unintentional Sins.

But suppose the servant says to himself, 'My master is taking a long time in coming,' and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. Luke 12: 45-48
A multitude of people were listening to Christ tell a parable of a master who is away for his own wedding and in his absence, he places his servant in charge. The servant is warned to keep watch and be ready ("keep your lamps burning"), because his master will unexpectedly return from the wedding banquet and knock at his door. Then he will enter and judge the servant's performance as keeper of the household. Jesus is telling His disciples that faithful servants will be ready for the return of their master by their obedience.

This parable is obviously the Second Coming of Christ and the Judgment, because He says to those listening, 
You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him....Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 
Those are the rewards of the faithful servants. 

Next, Jesus says the words cited in the first passage at the top. This warns His followers about the eternal judgment of the unfaithful, wicked servant who thinks his master is delaying his return, so he starts a drunken party and beats the other servants. That wicked manager will be given this judgment:
He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 
That is very graphic language. The place of the unbelievers is usually thought of as hell. So the wicked servant will be torn apart and we can assume cast into hell.

Notice that Christ distinguishes unfaithful servants  from the unbeliever. Their end will be the same, but He doesn't call them unbelievers, He calls them servants. In judgment, the unfaithful servants will be given the same eternal punishment as the unbeliever. 

Now, scholars differ on how to interpret the next passage. 
That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. 
Is Christ speaking of the same unfaithful servant here who is cut in half? Or is this another servant?  

If this is the same servant, he is both cut into many pieces and beaten with many blows. That is awkward. Why would Christ punish them with cutting them up and also blows? Sounds as if this is a different servant. This one was aware of what he was supposed to do, but failed to do it. He may not have been beating other servants, but did not obey his master. So this second servant who fails to obey his master will be severely punished at his eternal judgment. 

A third servant's judgment is brought up. This one is different in that he wasn't aware of what he was supposed to do. He wasn't being deliberately disobedient.

But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.
The culpability seems to decrease the severity of punishment, but it does not totally excuse him. Perhaps there was some negligence on the part of the servant for not inquiring about his duties. 

Jesus is judging His servants on a sliding scale of obedience with those servants who willfully, flagrantly disobey given the worst punishment. Those who did not know the instructions are still given punishment but only light blows. 

Protestant theology would interpret Jesus' parable as saying that all three of these servants are faithless and their verdict is eternal punishment, but of differing degrees. Most Protestant theology gives the ignorant servant no hope of heaven only mercy in everlasting damnation.  

There is no mainstream Protestant church that would allow for a punishment of the servant's disobedience and then an entering into heaven. 

However, the text could naturally be interpreted to mean that the first wicked servant was sent to hell while the other two were sent for a temporary punishment that would be over. It would have an end and then what? 

Seventh-day Adventists would respond, "annihilation." But that is an interpretation most Christians reject. That is a additional punishment that would create injustice. After all, the person unaware of having sinned would be mildly punished and an additional payment for their crimes of obliteration would follow. That adds too much to the text.

Catholics have what I consider the best and most loving interpretation of this passage because we believe Christ taught purgatory. I will not go into the other scriptural references Catholics use to back up the theology of Purgatory. We will concentrate on this parable. 

Christ is clear here, sins that are not repented of will be punished. Even those who are God's servants. No one gets a "get out of punishment free" card when he sins. We must repent. Then Christ mercifully applies the atonement to the servant and he is cleansed of all unrighteousness. 

This is true of both intentional and unintentional sins. Even sins a believer is not aware of will be punished. However, the verdict for the uninformed who sins is not damnation. Jesus tells us that their punishment is light and temporal, and then a  servant of God will enter heaven. 

Praise God that there is another way. Purgatory. If one has lived this life as God's servant but has failed Him in some respects-- perhaps having been disobedient or lazy--but one's works have not shown utter hatred for God by dismissing Him and hurting His other servants, one may end up in purgatory and not hell. That person's faith will save them but as St. Paul wrote, "as through fire." (1 Cor. 3: 5)

If anyone read these passages as a Protestant, the best a unfaithful or ignorant servant can hope for is degrees of suffering in hell. Jesus provided another way to cleanse a believer of all unrighteousness and to make him clean and spotless as His Bride. Purgatory will make  the believer able to stand in front of a Holy God. 

Can the text be interpreted another way than Catholic, of course. But I have yet to come across a Protestant interpretation of this passage that works with other passages of scripture or the character of Christ. 

I am so thankful for the mercy of Purgatory.