This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
The Parable of the Ten Minas
11 While the people were listening to these things, Jesus proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. 12 Therefore he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 And he summoned ten of his slaves, gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to be king over us!’ 15 When he returned after receiving the kingdom, he summoned these slaves to whom he had given the money. He wanted to know how much they had earned by trading. 16 So the first one came before him and said, ‘Sir, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And the king said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.’ 18 Then the second one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 So the king said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another slave came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina that I put away for safekeeping in a piece of cloth. 21 For I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You withdraw what you did not deposit and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 The king said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! So you knew, did you, that I was a severe man, withdrawing what I didn’t deposit and reaping what I didn’t sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money in the bank, so that when I returned I could have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to his attendants, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has ten.’ 25 But they said to him, ‘Sir, he has ten minas already!’ 26 ‘I tell you that everyone who has will be given more, but from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be their king, bring them here and slaughter them in front of me!’
It’s interesting to note that while Matthew (25: 14-30) makes this story a parable about putting the tradition of Jesus to work in the world rather than preserving it untouched, Luke unites it with the story of a contested kingship to present a parable about Jesus’ monarchy and the mission of the church. The story is ironical in that the main character is evil but still provides a warning to the believers. The nobleman is one of a class of Jewish or Gentile clients of Rome or some other great empire that preferred native people to rule their own conquered lands because it gave their empire plenty influence and less responsibility. The main duty of a puppet king was to secure order and gather taxes for the Empire. Often the population didn’t want him to rule and may have tried to prevent it. Naturally such man expected his slaves to carry on his business profitably in his absence, and on his return he would reward the slaves who had succeeded in gaining him profit. The idle slave, who tried to excuse himself by his master’s severity, would find him severe indeed.
His return home would also give the King a chance to sort out the citizens who’d acted against him; he’d watch them die.
Luke is saying, “You all know about absentee landlords and puppet kings; when they appear they demand a reckoning. Don’t imagine that because Jesus is a true king and not a tyrant that he doesn’t expect his business to be carried on energetically in his absence. He expects growth in his community by means of the treasure he has left in it. As for his enemies, well you know what a puppet king would do! Don’t imagine that Jesus, the compassionate, the merciful, will do nothing.”
Luke is often characterised as the mildest of the evangelists, but he is capable of a kind of black comedy that is also seen in the story of Ananias and Saphira in his Acts of the Apostles chapter 5, where dishonest disciples turn out to be toast. As another biblical passage puts it “It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Perhaps by Luke’s time of writing believers were raising questions about the absent Jesus. Was there anyone who would really hold the church to account? Luke’s story answers yes, without in any way specifying how this accounting will take place. It may seem remote to some believers but they should know from their secular experience that prolonged absence does not mean that the king is dead, or has relinquished his power. Those who have carried on the Messiah’s business will be held to account and those who have opposed him will get their reward.
Very few sane Christians today think that Jesus will soon make a re-appearance. That kind of “eschatological” (end times) thinking, while admittedly biblical, is thought to be the possession of crazies. But how are we to translate it for our time? If we simply neglect it, we are left either with an effective atheism or with a remote deity who bears no likeness to the interfering old tyrant of the Bible. Some will say we’re better off without him and opt for the pure humanity of Jesus without any of the mythologies of the kingdom which clutter the pages of the Old and New Testaments. Albert Schweitzer thought so. After close examination of the gospels he concluded that the real original Jesus had probably believed a lot of nonsense about living in the end times of one world and the dawn of a new. The only sensible thing to do was to rescue Jesus’ ethical teaching and try to live by it, as Schweitzer proceeded to do.
In my own time, Tom Wright, a great biblical scholar, has worked patiently through the eschatological material in the Bible and insisted that it makes perfect sense and has indeed, really happened in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. God has won his victory over evil and all we need to do is to believe it and live it. As with any assertion, we should ask its author what would disprove it. God has defeated evil. So what about the wars of the 20th century? What about Auschwitz? Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Mlavic, all the great reducers of the human population? If indeed nothing would disprove the belief in God’s victory, does it have any substance at all?
Luke simply declares that Jesus has begun a new era for humanity in which his disciples will establish communities of faith and justice, as instances of God’s Empire in the world, and that the One who has “gone to a distant country to receive a kingdom” will one day return to claim it and hold his church to account. I believe that. I may think that the kingship and the (merciful) judgement of Jesus impinge equally on all times in my life and the life of the world, rather than simply at the end. I consider myself responsible to Jesus for what I make of his business. I know what Milton meant when he wrote of “that one talent which is death to hide”; I already feel the shame of being found lazy and fearful in representing the cause of Jesus; I think that greater slaves of Jesus, such as Popes and Cardinals and television evangelists are also brought wriggling to the bar of judgement. Mercy is more than justice but not less. Yes, this is an imaginative experience but none the less real for that.