Who you know...
Jesus told many parables when he walked the streets of Jerusalem - and the markets where people would have bought and sold are probably not much different today. (See photo.) One parable, that I can imagine Jesus telling not far from such a market is found in Luke 19. (Follow the link to read the whole passage.) The story is the Parable of the Minas - similar to the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew. The main differences I see in the two passages are the amount of money - minas (about three months wages) instead of talents (about twenty years worth of wages) and the reason for the destination. In Matthew, the master is going on a journey. In Luke the master is going away to receive a kingdom. Luke also adds that the people the master left behind hated him and didn't want him to rule over them. Similarities are: Both stories show money being entrusted to three servants - two faithful, one not. To the faithful, they are commended and given more. To the unfaithful servant, the master is angry and judges his actions. Here is the account of the servant who did not obey:
"Then another came, saying, 'Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.'
He said to him, 'I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?'"
The servant calls the master "severe". Some versions use "hard" "exacting" or "austere" suggesting someone who is strict, uncompromising, serious, lacking softness. Though the master doesn't deny the attribute, he does pose it to the servant in the form of a question. "You knew that I was a severe man...?" So I'm not sure we can assume that the master was this way, only that this is what the servant believed him to be. The master condemns the servant with his own words because though he claimed to believe these things about the master, he did not act on his belief.
The servant reminds me of legalism, and of those who see God as a punishing God. People who fear that God will exact severe consequences on any who step out of line. This can result in strict adherence to a set of laws or rules or even frenetic activity in those trying to make sure they dot every "i" and cross every "t" in their attempt to appease God's wrath. This is how the pagans acted in centuries past. In biblical history the countries that surrounded Israel engaged in such practices as child sacrifice (in the extreme) and performed all sorts of rituals (the priests of Baal cut themselves) trying to please and appease the wrath of their gods.
This servant held to a similar belief, assigning traits to the master that were skewed, giving only a partial, possibly even an inaccurate view of the master's character. He knew of the master's wrath, so he feared it, which was a wise start. But he didn't act on what he knew or seek to understand the true nature of the master. He missed what his fellow servants understood - that the master is generous and longs to give to those who love and obey him. But to those who hate him and refuse to obey, he will exact judgment.
The saddest part is that the servant had only himself to blame. He claimed to believe, but his belief held only a fraction of the truth. Now when you compare this to Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus' reaction to those who claim to know him makes even more sense.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"
As the servant did not really know the master, he did not do what the master said. Perhaps he did other things he thought might please the man, but with what he knew to do, he didn't.
The truth is there in this parable that is spelled out in Matthew 7:23 "And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"
It really does come down to Who you know...