The Parable of the Minas
WE WILL NOT HAVE THIS MAN REIGN OVER US
Intro: Each of us perceives life/reality through the lenses of our language, culture, history, politics, economics, religion, and military views. As westerners, one of our lenses is capitalism – freely trading to earn resources. Because it was delivered to people with eastern ears from an honor/shame culture, does the parable of the minas need to be rescued from the presuppositions of capitalism? Luke introduces the parable making it clear that some of Jesus’ followers were Last Days fanatics/End Times enthusiasts.
Luke 19:11 Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.
Recall the story immediately preceding this text ended with the Lord Jesus saying to Zacchaeus and his friends, “Today, salvation has come to this house…” (19:9).
Now, Jesus and His disciples were on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, which was a joyful remembering of when God liberated the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage – it was recalling God’s salvation of His people.
The phrase “today salvation has come,” oozes Last Days overtones. If salvation has come for a hated tax collector like Zacchaeus, it surely has arrived for the nation! Can you think of a more appropriate time for the Day of the Lord to appear than Passover?
Jesus taught this parable because there were some in His traveling band who expected the kingdom to appear straightaway.
In every age there are voices announcing that the end of all things is upon us. This kind of speculation provides a convenient escape valve from responsibilities in the present.
If the end of the world is imminent, then efforts to create a just society are pointless. Why work for peace and reconciliation? Why speak truth to power? Protecting and preserving the natural environment is in vain.
And what about Jesus’ model prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth…”? It then requires no commitment or response because earth itself will soon pass away.
The NT presents three paradoxes on the coming of the kingdom of God: (a) the kingdom has already come in Jesus Christ and yet it is still in the future (b) the kingdom is near and yet far off (c) followers of Christ will never know the timing of the coming of the kingdom – and yet here are the signs of its coming!
The parable of the minas addresses the kingdom of God and makes it clear that it will be completed but it is going to be a while.
Luke 19:12 Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.
Herod the Great made a trip to Rome in 40 B.C. seeking permission from the emperor to be appointed King of Judea. His son, Archelaus, made a similar journey to argue his case against his half-brother Antipas 36 years later in 4 B.C.
With these two historical journeys in mind, Jesus opened the parable with a nobleman giving a speech to his trusted servants before he made his journey “into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.”
Luke 19:13 So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come.’
The nobleman set aside 10 of his staff and gave each of them a “mina” which is an amount of currency equal to 100 days wages for a common day laborer (3 months and 10 days pay).
The mina was clearly a gift from a generous master to each of his servants.
As the boss distributes these gifts he tells them, “Do business till I come.” The word translated “till” is versatile and may be translated several ways depending on the context. Often it shows up as “until.” It can be rendered “because.”
We either have “engage in trade until I return” or “engage in trade because I will return.”
If “until” is correct, the whole point of the master’s command becomes: “Get out there and do you best with my mina. The clock is ticking, you have limited time to prove yourself in the marketplace. When I return, I expect profits! How much money can you generate with my mina? Make hay while the sun is still shining!”
If “because” is correct, then the master will celebrate something other than money being generated and profits begin gained.
Is the master looking for measurable success or something else entirely?
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, there were no stable political institutions. Political leadership was constantly changing bringing great stress and uncertainty to everyone.
illus: Imagine a scene today where the Shah of Iran, in his last days in power, summons 10 of his servants and tells them: “I am going away on a little vacation. I’m giving each of you $5,000. I want you to open businesses with my name on them. The sign on the shop will, of course, read “His Majesty’s Royal Rug Shop” etc. I know I have enemies. They will most likely follow me to try to take me out on my trip. But don’t pay any attention to that. I will prevail and I will return. And when I do I look forward to your showing me around my new companies. We will celebrate together.” What will those servants do when they receive the money, and the Shah leaves the country? Discuss the pros/cons among themselves, decide if he can survive/return. Will they act?
It is also obvious from the phrase “do business till I come” that the nobleman is confident that he will receive the royal appointment he seeks. He will be named king. However, not everyone around him agreed.
Luke 19:14 But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’
A delegation of enemy citizens followed the nobleman on his trip and complained to the emperor, “We will not have this ‘#%$J&’ (knucklhead) to rule over us.”
illus: During the Civil War, every time the Northern Army lost a battle, investors withdrew large sums of money from the market, causing the price of gold to go up and the value of cash (new green currency) to plummet. Many did not want Lincoln, this “knucklehead” to rule over them!
The story assumes that the servants in the parable know all about the delegation that followed the nobleman to undermine him.
Even so, anyone who understood the unstable political environment in which they lived would bury that money and wait to see who wins the right to rule. Will it be the nobleman or his enemies? Such is the real world of this parable.
Herod the Great’s trip to Rome in 40 B.C. was successful. He got the nod from the emperor and became king. On the other hand, his son Archelaus made the same trip but was banished and did not win the right to rule.
No one knows how such a perilous journey will end. The nobleman gave out those 10 minas as tests of loyalty.
“Are you willing to take the risk and openly declare yourselves to be my loyal servants (during my absence) in a world where many oppose me and my rule?”
Remarkably, the enemies of the nobleman disappear from the parable until the very end. The story continues almost as though they did not exist.
As the nobleman distributes gifts to his servants to do business with, he is in effect saying, “Once I return, having received the authority of a king, it will be easy to declare your loyalty to me in public. It will be the popular thing to do. I am more interested in how you conduct yourselves when I am absent and you have to pay a price to identify with me.”
illus: Kenneth E. Bailey tells of the time he visited Latvia, former Soviet Union state, teaching brief seminary courses for the Lutheran Church of Latvia. He observed the interview process for new students entering the Luther Academy in the city of Riga. The interview committee said, “The most important question for prospective students is, ‘When were you baptized?’” Bailey asked why that information was important. They answered, “If they were baptized during the period of Soviet rule, they risked their lives and their potential futures. But if they were baptized after the Soviet Union fell, we have many further questions to ask them about why they want to become pastors.”
In the parable the master challenges his servants to live boldly and publicly as his servants, using his resources, unafraid of his enemies, confident in the future with him.
Luke 19:15 “And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.
When the nobleman returns with kingly authority in hand, his first order of business was to call his servants to account.
He wants to know “how much every man had gained by trading.” The single word that gives us this phrase can be translated in two ways: “How much has been gained by trading?” or “How much business has been transacted?”
The eastern churches from the 2nd century on have consistently chosen the second option because it fits their understanding of the context from their worldview. The modern English translations have chosen the first for the same reason. The difference is crucial.
If the master wants to know how much wealthier he is because of what has been gained by trading, he will ask some form of “Show me the money.”
But if he is asking, “How much business have you transacted in my name?” he is seeking to discover the extent to which they have openly and publicly declared their loyalty to him during the uncertain period while he was absent.
Is the focus of the parable on profits, or faithfulness to an unseen master in a hostile environment?
Christ gives us the results of 3 of the 10 servants as representative.
Luke 19:16 Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’
Luke 19:17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’
Luke 19:18 And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.’
Luke 19:19 Likewise he said to him, ‘You also be over five cities.’
The trustworthy servants are the first to report.
Both of them could have replied: “I came up with a good business model. I developed a good product. I carried out careful market research. I employed the best demographic data. I burned the candle at both ends. I hired competent staff. Here are the results: Today I am delivering to you a 1,000% profit on your investment (or 500%).”
Instead, the first says, “your mina has earned ten minas,” while the second says, “your mina has earned five minas.” To the point.
Neither refer to themselves in any way. Instead, they say, “Your gift produced the fruit of our efforts.”
The master then congratulates both servants for being…
Faithful, not successful.
How does the master reward their faithfulness?
With greater responsibility, not greater privileges.
For each mina they gained, he assigned them a city to govern.
In like manner, Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians…
1 Cor 3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.
The third servant is not like the first two.
Luke 19:20 “Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief.
Luke 19:21 For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’
He claims to be afraid of his master. But we should be skeptical.
More likely, he was afraid that he would bet on the wrong horse in the race. He was concerned that his master would not be appointed king, and he would look foolish for backing him and possibly even put himself in danger by identifying with him.
As it turns out, the horse he failed to bet on did win the race! He is caught flat-footed. How will he defend himself?
He chooses what appears to be severe criticism of the master’s character at best, or a personal insult at worst.
“You’re a difficult man to deal with because you win even when you lose. I hid your mina so that no matter what, nothing would be lost. It would be here when/if you came back.”
It is difficult to imagine that when the servant fails his master’s test of faithfulness, he deliberately insults that same master.
It may sound strange to our ears and even offend our sensibilities, but this reply from the 3rd servant is likely meant to be a compliment to his master.
But how can this be when he tells the master to his face in effect, “I see you as a thief” (you collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow)? How can that be a compliment?
Such a label was indeed a compliment among the Gauls of Europe.
“The Gauls think it disgraceful to grow grain by manual labor; and consequently they go forth armed and reap other men’s fields.”
~Cicero, The Republic
Returning to the middle east, the same has been historically true of the Bedouins (desert nomads). If the master in the parable is a Bedouin raider chieftain, what the unfaithful servant says about him is a high compliment.
To the Bedouins, the measure of a man was his skill as a raider. Their love songs are filled with praise for the noble clan leader who can swoop down on unsuspecting encampments and capture all their supplies while taking their camels.
The servant describes his master as one who plunders his neighbors and is successful at it!
But if the master is not a raider, but a nobleman from an agricultural community, the servant’s language won’t land as a compliment.
Jesus and His disciples are indeed from settled farming and fishing villages.
Clearly, the unfaithful servant has critically misjudged his master. How will the newly appointed king respond?
Luke 19:22 And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.
The master announces that he will let the unfaithful servant’s own words condemn him.
The sense of the master’s words becomes, “I understand that you believe your experience makes me out to be a difficult man. Your view is twisted. You are blinded by your bias. My judgment is this: I will leave you with your self-created perception of my nature.”
Psalm 18:25 With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
Psalm 18:26 with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. (ESV)
The parable places the blame squarely on this untrustworthy servant. His unfaithfulness produces a twisted vision of the master.
The way we live influences how we see God.
Walking in the world instead of walking by faith will make our reasoning inconsistent.
The nobleman points this out to the unfaithful servant.
Luke 19:23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’
Collecting interest was forbidden by Jewish law. But if the nobleman were indeed a robber barron who stole bank deposits and agricultural harvests from others, he would care nothing about the law.
The last thing the unfaithful servant should have done with the mina he was given was...nothing. The very least would have been to bank it for the interest it would have accrued.
What happens next, we might find distasteful.
Luke 19:24 “And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’
Luke 19:25 (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’)
His mina is given to the faithful servant who turned one into ten, making the score 11-0, followed by cries of “that’s not fair!”
But let’s remember two things: (1) who the minas truly belong to (2) what the servants did to receive the minas – nothing at all
Taking the mina away from the unfaithful servant did not cost him anything. It was a zero-sum transaction.
Luke 19:26 ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.
The truly difficult verse in this text is the last one.
The enemies of the nobleman are on stage at the beginning of the parable. Then they disappear after he receives his kingship. At the conclusion of the parable the master orders them to be killed.
Luke 19:27 But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’”
T.W. Manson – We may be horrified by the fierceness of the conclusion; but beneath the grim imagery is an equally grim fact, the fact that the coming of Jesus to the world puts every man to the test, compels every man to a decision. And that decision is no light matter. It is a matter of life and death.
In the text, however, the order is given but it is not carried out. Nobody dies in the parable.
The parable does not end, it simply stops with a final scene missing.
Therefore, we should see this command as stating what the enemies deserve and to remember that the text itself does not record what they receive.
In Gen 19, Abraham receives an order from God to kill his only son, Isaac. A second command later canceled that order.
What conclusions would a reader of Genesis come to about God if he/she read the account of the first command assuming that Isaac was killed, but did not read further in the story?
Many of Jesus’ parables are left open-ended.
Does the older son agree to be reconciled with his father and brother in the parable of the prodigal son? We are not told. Does the victim in the parable of the Good Samaritan make it home safely? We do not know. Do the workers in the vineyard accept the owner as a gracious man or do they continue with their cries of “It’s not fair!” There is no answer.
Yes…it is true…
Romans 6:23a “For the wages of sin is death…”
The rest of the verse states…
Romans 6:23b “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
illus: Kenneth E. Bailey, lived in the Middle East for 60 years (1935-1995), most of them teaching NT in Egypt, Lebanon, Israel & Cyprus. On this verse leaving the parable open-ended, he notes “in the middle east the ‘no’ is not an answer, it is merely a pause in negotiations. If a westerner is told by his employer, “You’re fired! Clear out your desk! I want you off the property by 5pm today!” the employee will understand that he or she is fired and start packing immediately. A person from the middle east will listen to the same speech and conclude: “The master is very upset! Hmm – I see that I have a long negotiating process ahead of me. I must seek help from my most influential friends. This is a very serious matter that requires immediate attention.”
“Bring here those enemies of mine…and slay them before me” is an opening statement, but little else.
Even though it is dramatic and sounds final, there is no concluding scene where the judgment is carried out.
Jesus means for us to reflect on the whole parable and do what the unfaithful servant could not – make a reasonable evaluation of the nobleman’s character.
At the beginning of the story the master gave his servants gifts they neither earned nor deserved. Generosity moment #1.
When he returned and inspected their faithfulness, he put them in charge of entire cities for each additional mina gained. Generosity moment #2.
Even how he dealt with the unfaithful servant is remarkable. He takes his mina back but does not punish his unfaithfulness – there is no fine levied nor a dismissal announced. Generosity moment #3.
As he arrives to settle with his antagonistic enemies, he publicly announces what they deserve (“slay them before me”). The wages of sin is death…and?
At this point we are called on to remember the master’s character and consider how such a man may complete his dealings with those who bitterly oppose him.
One other idea the command to “slay them before me” requires us to wrestle with is Luke’s integrity.
The nobleman in Jesus’ parable clearly represents Christ Himself. If “slay them before me” is the master’s final word, what does it say about Luke’s view of Jesus?
Luke 6:35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.
So, which one is it? Love your enemies or kill them in front of you?
Is Luke critically damaging his own presentation of the person of Jesus? Or does our understanding of the parable’s unfinished conclusion need to be reconsidered?
Jesus, the nobleman, gives gifts to His disciples for them to use in His service. He anticipates returning to God and being enthroned. In God’s good time, Jesus will return to His servants to deal with the faithful and the unfaithful. Judgment is announced against the master’s enemies, but that judgment is not enacted.
The fulfillment of the kingdom of God is in the unknown future and “it will be a while.”
Resources for fulfilling the master’s commands are gifts for which the servants are accountable to the master.
The master’s primary expectation from his servants is courageous public faithfulness to an unseen master in an environment where some are actively opposed to his rule.
Humility is appropriate in serving Him. The faithful servants tell the master, “Your mina has earned…” rather than “my hard work has achieved…”
The reward for faithfulness is greater responsibilities. The servant whose mina produced ten was not given a generous pension, a paid vacation, or a villa on the sea. He was appointed ruler over ten cities.
To do nothing with God’s gifts is to betray the One who gives them. The servant who hid his mina was not dismissed but instead judged unfaithful, and in the end the gift was taken from him.
Unfaithfulness distorted the disobedient servant’s vision of his master. This led him to radically misjudge his master’s character.
The master’s judgment of the unfaithful servant was to leave him with distorted perceptions of the master (created by his unfaithfulness).
Conscious, active, determined opposition to the master is taken very seriously. His servants are told what those enemies deserve. The reader is not told what happens to them.
Jesus is clearly the generous master who expects loyalty from His followers, and in his own good time he will make an accounting with them, to the joy of some and to the disappointment of others. He demonstrates His generosity by passing our unearned minas, by His generous rewards to faithful servants and his choice not to punish or dismiss the unfaithful servant. Even His judgment on His enemies is announced but not carried out.
The parable leaves many loose ends. How will those appointed to rule over multiple cities manage? Does the unfaithful servant learn his lesson and repent? How will the enemies respond to the failure of their attack on the nobleman? What, in the end, will the master do with his enemies?
illus: A British journalist once asked Mother Theresa how she kept going, knowing that she could never meet the needs of all the dying in the streets of Calcutta. She replied, “I am not called to be successful; I’m called to be faithful.” (That is very bad capitalism! Don’t invest in her company but do adopt her slogan!)