If we compare the parable of the prodigal son and the parable of the talents, we notice the youngest son received no rebuke for wasting his father’s inheritance on wild living (Luke 15:22), whereas the man who had buried his talent received what is an unusually severe rebuke. “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30). We would be more inclined to be compassionate toward this man, as he had not done anything illegal, immoral, or even wasteful or wild. Both the Pharisee at the time and the Church in our day may applaud people who avoid wrongdoing, but the absence of wrong isn’t enough to earn God’s approval.

The parable of the talents suggests this master would have been satisfied with even a small return—just interest—so there was no sign he was a “hard master.” The man’s laziness suggests deep down he thought his master was “soft.” He expected his master to be lenient and let him get away with his inaction. This parable has worrying implications for those who think they will get to heaven because they have lived a better than average life.

Researchers have found 90% of people think they are a better than average driver. This is of course not possible, but it points out how easy it is for us to compare ourselves to others and think we are better than we are. I’m sure there are lots of other areas in life where we think we are better than average. It’s this belief of being better than average that makes us think we will gain God’s approval but we are seriously mistaken.

It was the prodigal son who was welcome into his father’s house when he didn’t try to justifying himself. Instead he became humble and received the father’s mercy.