While they were listening to this, Yeshua went on to tell a parable, because he was near Yerushalayim, and the people supposed that the Kingdom of God was about to appear at any moment. 12 Therefore he said, “A nobleman went to a country far away to have himself crowned king and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten manim [a maneh is about three months’ wages] and said to them, ‘Do business with this while I’m away.’ 14 But his countrymen hated him, and they sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to rule over us.’
15 “However, he returned, having been made king, and sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, to find out what each one had earned in his business dealings. 16 The first one came in and said, ‘Sir, your maneh has earned ten more manim.’ 17 ‘Excellent!’ he said to him. ‘You are a good servant. Because you have been trustworthy in a small matter, I am putting you in charge of ten towns.’ 18 The second one came and said, ‘Sir, your maneh has earned five more manim; 19 and to this one he said, ‘You be in charge of five towns.’
20 “Then another one came and said, ‘Sir, here is your maneh. I kept it hidden in a piece of cloth, 21 because I was afraid of you — you take out what you didn’t put in, and you harvest what you didn’t plant.’ 22 To him the master said, ‘You wicked servant! I will judge you by your own words! So you knew, did you, that I was a severe man, taking out what I didn’t put in and harvesting what I didn’t plant? 23 Then why didn’t you put my money in the bank? Then, when I returned, I would have gotten it back with interest!’ 24 To those standing by, he said, ‘Take the maneh from him and give it to the one with ten manim.’ 25 They said to him, ‘Sir, he already has ten manim!’ 26 But the master answered, ‘I tell you, everyone who has something will be given more; but from anyone who has nothing, even what he does have will be taken away. 27 However, as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be their king, bring them here and execute them in my presence!’”
In Matthew’s version of this parable, there is nothing about the master going off to be crowned king, and the story is about how the Torah ( the gift of God) is put to use, or merely preserved unaltered by his people. Luke adds the complication that the giver is also the true ruler of the land, although he is opposed by some of the people.
Who is this ruler? Luke mentions that people have been talking about the Rule of God, which invites the reader to interpret the ruler as God himself. That’s an almost blasphemous identification because of course the ruler is a hard -faced brute who forces his slaves to work for his profit and doesn’t care whether his people want him as King or not. Still, Jesus often gives the “God part” in his parables to unpleasant characters!
But perhaps God’s Rule is to be established, not by God in person, but by his King, his Messiah, his Son of Man. Perhaps Luke imagines the Messianic King/ Son of Man being crowned in heaven and sent back to rule on God’s behalf.
How then should we interpret the giving of the manim? I think it’s likely that Luke means the prophetic message of God’s Rule, which has to be put to work in Israel by word and action. It may even include the good news given by Jesus. So in Luke’s version the parable can work on two levels:
- It is aimed at the complacent religious establishment in Judaea who have failed to implement the Torah and the Prophets by announcing and living God’s Rule, but have merely preserved these gifts unused, on the excuse that preservation is above all what God wants.
- But it is also aimed at all who have received the gospel of Jesus, the “nobleman” who has had to go to “another country” because his own people rejected him. They should know that he will return as King, to reward those who have made good use of the gospel, while rejecting those who merely preserved it.
Although it is more complex than Matthew’s version, Luke’s version also focuses on the use and abuse of “what has been given.” We can guess that if this parable goes back to Jesus, as I think likely, then it must have been a shrewd attack on the conservatism of religious traditionalists, who in all times are more concerned with the perfect preservation of truth ( Torah, Qur’an, Bible, Dogma) than with its use for assisting God’s Rule in the world.
A perfect example is the use by traditionalists of Jesus’ words about marriage and divorce, to denounce gay marriage, rather than to point creatively to the kind of faithful sexual relationships intended by God for people regardless of sexual orientation. One interpretation puts Jesus’words to work in a new context, the other buries it in the ground. One engages gay people in the Rule of God, the other places them outside it.
Surely however we can dismiss the notion of harsh judgement, as this belongs more to the character of the hard-faced brute than of God?
First of all we should remember that the ruler offers rewards: those who have gained him profits are made governors within his kingdom. This suggests that faithful servants of God’s Rule will be given authority amongst God’s people. As for the servants who produced no profit, they are not punished, but rather left in their sterility. Only the King’s enemies are punished. Whatever we think of punishment we should note that it is just as frequent a topic on the lips of Jesus as in the mouths of the prophets.