Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 18. The Entrusted Wealth
Luke 19:11-27: While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ He was made king, however, and returned home.
Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’ “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’ “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’
Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’ His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’ He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”
Purpose & Context: I have to confess this is one of my favourite parables for a reason I will later explain. It’s context is obvious from the first verse of it: “While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” It starts with reference to the incident involving Zacchaeus, which concludes with Jesus saying, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Lk 19:10). That was the ultimate call of the Messiah but that was not clear in the minds of many.
It comes quite some way through Luke and there is a sense of expectancy surrounding Jesus because they were back in the south and near Jerusalem. That is where any messianic action was expected. The expectancy of the kingdom coming is really shorthand for expecting Jesus to reveal his power and act against the Romans, their oppressors from who the people thought the Messiah would deliver them. What is interesting about this parable is that it is really all about what is expected of those who are waiting for the messiah – while they are waiting. It is not much about the messiah himself although his authority is made clear within it. After the parable, Jesus makes his way up to Jerusalem for the start of his final week.
- a man of noble birth goes to a foreign land to be acclaimed king, before he returns. (as often happened when leaders went to Rome to be made king of their area).
- before he leaves he gives ten of his servants ten minas (the equivalent of 3 month’s wages: a mina is a unit of weight and thus monetary value) each.
- in so doing he instructs them to put this money to work.
- the servants don’t like him and send a message after him for him not to be made king.
- when he returns he checks what has happened and three servants respond.
- the first has made ten more, the second, five more, and the third, nothing more.
- the first two are rewarded with being given authority to rule over 10 and 5 cities respectively.
- the third servant is rebuked and his money taken from him and given to the first servant.
Significant Parts: There are two significant parts to this parable. The first is the third servant’s response and in explanation he said, “I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man,” and then, second, the punchline: “to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” The third servant shows a negative attitude and the punchline shows the principle which the master applies. We should also note in passing, that when he returns, those who rejected him will be severely punished.
What is unusual about this parable is that, although it is often said that a parable seeks to convey one key point, this parable has so many details that are clearly meant to have significance that we have to extend that idea.
Interpretations: Because Jesus does not spell out the meaning of each part we are left to speculate and simply make suggestions, but I believe the following are legitimate:
- the man who goes away is Jesus who after his death and resurrection will ascend to heaven to rule as king.
- in his three years ministry he conveys much to his disciples and his listeners. That is the money given to the servants.
- while he is away – before he returns again – he expects us to use what he has left with us.
- when he does return there will be an accounting, which implies very clearly that in eternity there will be opportunities to continue ruling in the kingdom for Jesus’ followers.
The Message version paraphrases the punchline rather quaintly as, “He said, ‘That’s what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of. Play it safe and end up holding the bag,” while the Living Bible puts it, “but it is always true that those who have, get more, and those who have little, soon lose even that.” The point being made might be put, what Jesus gives us, he expects us to use fruitfully and if we don’t, it is likely to just fritter away to nothing.
My ‘Minas’? Now what is it that Jesus leaves with us? For some it may be talents and abilities, intellectual, creative, compassionate etc. that enable us to step out and achieve things that will bless this world – IF we do step out. For some it may be good family background or affluence, often which we take for granted but which many lack. One of the things that should be implied here in the light of wider scripture, is that what we achieve is not merely for our benefit but should be for the blessing of others. God is a giver and He wants us to give out of the abundance of all these things we have been considering. In a day of moral and ethical decline where, from Government and a multitude of other institutions, the message (by behaviour) is get for yourself, Jesus’ teaching is radical in its opposite approach.
Concluding Warnings: Underlining this parable, and much other scripture, there are severe warnings. There WILL be a time of accounting when all will have to give account to God for what we had and what we did with it. There is also the greater warning of judgment on those who rebel against God. Both that rebellious attitude and the way we use what God has given us, reveal the state of our hearts and our feelings about God.
The ‘Hard Man’ Syndrome: The reason I said earlier this is my favourite parable (or the other versions of it in the other Gospels) is that this description of God as a ‘hard man’ more than any other description elsewhere in scripture portrays, I believe, the state of many Christians who have never fully taken on board the truth that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) which means that everything He thinks, says or does is an expression of love. The greatest change that can take place in a believer is, I think, coming to this understanding as a reality. It impinges on every aspect of the Christian life and experience. Without it we are vulnerable to accept the lies of the enemy that God is a ‘hard man’ who is out to get us, looking to slap us down, looking to highlight every fault and failing, when the exact opposite is the truth.
And So? As we come to the end of this fairly short series on the parables that are unique to Luke, how do we leave them?
- Fully aware of the wonder of our salvation? (Studies 1,4,11,12A,12B)
- Aware of the needs of others around us? (Studies 2 & 14)
- Persevering in prayer? (Studies 3 & 16)
- Alert for Jesus’ return? (Studies 5,6,9)
- Wise in making the most of what we have been given? (Studies 7,13,18)
- Maintaining an attitude of humility? (Studies 8 & 17)
- Fully committed in my discipleship? (Studies 10 & 15)
May we be those who are not merely hearers but also doers.