Responsibility and Culpability

This coming weekend is the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we looked at the implications not just of failing, but of failing in faithfulness. Is there any nuance offered in the consequences for such failure?

That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; 48 and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly.

I would suggest that these two verses should be read as a response to Peter’s question in v.41. Responsibility rests on those who have received much (cf. Amos 3:2). Notice that people are punished not simply for doing wrong, but for failing to do right (cf. Jas 4:17).

Culpepper [264-65] notes: “Following on the description of the severe punishment of the faithless servant in v. 46, v. 47 declares that the slave who knew what his master required and yet did not do it will receive a severe beating, while the slave who did not know but acted culpably will receive a light beating. The distinction can be found in the OT references to sins committed ‘with a high hand’ and sins of ignorance (Num 15:30; cf. Jam 4:17; 2 Pet 2:21). The two sayings in vv. 47–48 differ in that v.47 concerns refusal to do what is required, while v.48 describes doing what is forbidden—but without the knowledge of what is allowed and what is forbidden…Both servants are punished because no violation of the law can be overlooked, but the severity of the punishment will vary.”

It is important that Jesus’ servants be active in doing his will. We are apt to be disturbed by the thought that one who sins in ignorance will be punished (v. 48). But we must bear in mind that there is no such thing as absolute moral ignorance (Rom. 1:20, 2:14, 15) and that our very ignorance is part of our sin. The emphasis is on the fact that the beating is light, but we should not minimize the importance of doing God’s will. God’s servant must make every effort to discern the will of God and do it. All are accountable.

Allen Culpepper Luke, vol. 9 in New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN.: Abington, 1995)

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