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12. The Parable of the Ten ‘Minas’

| Martin Charlesworth
Series 10: Episode 12
Luke 19:11-27

In the light of the Jewish expectations that when Jesus go to Jerusalem, he would bring in the full Kingdom of God, Jesus tells this parable using the political culture of his day to explain the difference between his first and second coming and the responsibility of his followers.

In the light of the Jewish expectations that when Jesus go to Jerusalem, he would bring in the full Kingdom of God, Jesus tells this parable using the political culture of his day to explain the difference between his first and second coming and the responsibility of his followers.

Transcript

Hello and welcome to Series 10 and Episode 12, where we're going to look at a parable that Jesus told, ‘The Parable of the 10 Minas’, and we're going to be in Luke 19: 11 - 27.

Introduction and Recap

This is the third story that's located in the city of Jericho, and Luke tells all these three stories together. The last two episodes covered the first two major events, and then here is a parable that follows on and is related to the things that have happened in the city of Jericho. More generally, we can say that we are now at the very end of that long journey that Jesus took from Galilee to Jerusalem, that started many months earlier and is documented very carefully, especially in Luke's Gospel, when Jesus decided to leave Galilee and head for Jerusalem, warning his disciples along the way, that he was going to face opposition, be tried and crucified, killed by the Romans, and then rise again from the dead, when he got to Jerusalem. This long journey has been overshadowed by this prophetic expectation of conflict and difficulty. We're now at the very end of that journey.

The city of Jericho, as I've mentioned in the last two episodes, is situated only a short distance from Jerusalem, on a main road, which was a main trading route, and a main travelling route for pilgrims going from the north of the country in Galilee to Jerusalem. Jesus is in the city of Jericho heading south, heading up from the Jordan Valley, where the city of Jericho is, into the Judean Hills, in order finally to arrive at Jerusalem, the long-awaited entry into the city, in order to bring his ministry to its conclusion. That's the broader context.

The immediate context in Jericho is, that when Jesus arrived in Jericho there's quite a buzz, and quite an expectation there. People along the road heard he was coming, the word got around on the street, crowds came out and lined the street waiting to see Jesus as he came in. He was a well-known figure by this stage in all parts of the country, including in Jericho where he hadn't spent much time, and they're waiting for him to come through the city. He has two significant encounters as he passes through the city, which happen immediately before he tells this story. In this wave of enthusiasm there is a situation in which there are a couple of beggars on the side of the road who are blind. One of them, by the name Bartimaeus, cries out to Jesus, according to Luke's account, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus speaks to him and he is healed of his blindness spontaneously. Immediately he follows Jesus along the road, calling out praise to God along the way. That was fairly sensational. People in the city would know Bartimaeus because blind beggars, and other beggars, tended to sit in similar places over long periods of time; they tended to sit in places which were more profitable to them as they were begging for money from passers-by and the main road was the best place to be. As Bartimaeus is calling out praise to God behind Jesus and Jesus is walking along through the city, then comes the second surprise! The local chief tax collector, Zacchaeus wants to get a glimpse of Jesus. He climbs up a tree because he's late into the crowd, and he's quite short in height. As he is at the top of the sycamore tree, Jesus calls out to him by name, and asks to come to his house, whereby Zacchaeus receives him, receives the Gospel message, and immediately repents of his financial practices, by giving away half his possessions to the poor, and promising to pay back four times the amount of money that he might have stolen off people through his trading policies as a tax collector.

High Expectations

These are two fairly sensational events. They both have a big impact on the crowds, and the general atmosphere in Jericho at this time, is captured by the first verse in our parable, which says,

‘While they were listening to this,’ (that is, Jesus and Zacchaeus talking together,) ‘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.’

Luke 19:11, NIV

The expectation is sky-high that Jesus is going to do something very dynamic in Jerusalem. Nothing to do with death and resurrection or anything like that - far from it. The expectation is that he'll bring in the Kingdom of God in full power; by overthrowing the Romans, getting rid of all idolatry from the city, sorting out the religious establishment, making the Temple really effective in worship, bringing the presence of God, and bringing a reality which the Jews had picked up from the Old Testament, and which we discussed on quite a number of occasions in earlier episodes, something I called the messianic age, the age of God, as led by the Messiah whereby, from Jerusalem, God will rule over the whole earth, bring peace and justice, and salvation and judgement, to the whole world. The Jews had all this expectation in their consciousness, and at this particular time, the crowds were very aware of what Jesus was doing - that he was heading for Jerusalem; they had this sense there was some kind of a showdown going to take place, and they thought, ‘maybe this is the moment where he'll overthrow the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and put himself in charge of the nation’. This is the context for Jesus to tell this story.

The Parable of the Minas

It's a very similar parable to one that appears in Matthew's Gospel, Matthew 25: 14 - 30, which is entitled, The Parable of the Talents. That takes place a little later when Jesus is in Jerusalem. We should see these two parables as separate. They're slightly different, they make some similar points, but as I've often mentioned as we've gone through the life of Jesus, we find similar or identical teaching appearing in different contexts. This is no surprise, because as a good teacher he'd want to bring similar points in different places. We mustn't confuse these two, and let's treat them separately. When we come to the parable of the talents, I'll be teaching that as a separate theme, and distinguishing it from this one.

We've got a mysterious word here, before we even read the parable, and that is the word ‘mina’. What does it actually mean? It's a unit of money which is a representation of about three- or four-months' worth of wages. If you can just calculate that in terms of your culture and your experience, if you receive a working wage for your job, or you have an income that you can measure clearly and multiply by it by three or four for a month, then you'll get an equivalent figure in your own culture.

Parables are stories with symbolic meanings that have one main point. I've said this on quite a number of occasions. We need to try and identify what the main point is. The main point of the parable is already indicated by the verse I just read to you. Jesus is speaking about the question of whether the full expression of the Kingdom of God is going to be revealed when he arrives in Jerusalem. Is it going to happen now? In other words, is the Jewish expectation of the messianic age going to be fulfilled at this precise moment, when Jesus enters Jerusalem? The parable gives a decisive answer, which you'll very clearly see and the answer is: no, this is going to happen at a later stage in history. We already know the main thrust of the story, but let's read it now. There's lots of interesting details in it, which bring to life and relevance this important parable. Luke 19: 11 to 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're 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. 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.’”’

Luke 19:11-27, niv

The Cultural Context of that Time

It's a very vivid story, dramatic, complex, and very decisive in conclusion. Before we get to the details of the story let's think about the cultural context. It's interesting to see that a nobleman, a man of noble birth, was going to a distant country to have himself appointed king. That seems to be a very odd thing to put in a story. What on earth could that mean? How do you become a king of your own country by travelling to another country, and getting appointed by someone else? To us that doesn't make very much sense. But to the readers and listeners, it would make a lot of sense. For this reason: they were living in the Roman Empire, and the Roman Empire was divided into provinces. Some of those provinces were ruled by direct governors, appointed by Rome, accountable to the Emperor, who were Romans. The preferred way of governance for the Romans, was to appoint a local king as their puppet ruler, who ruled on their behalf. If they could do that, then they would have indirect rule in that country; they'd get what they needed out of the country, but all the dirty work of governing would be delegated to somebody else.

In Israel, the Roman policy for many decades had been to rule through local rulers, and they had taken a family and invested a lot in this family, to make them the local rulers. This is the family of Herod the Great, whose father was appointed ruler in that area. Herod inherited that authority from his father and so he ruled over the whole country, and Herod the Great was the ruler who was in power when Jesus was born, and he appears in the Gospel accounts, and particularly in Matthew's account, when he tries to kill the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. But he dies very shortly after the birth of Jesus. By the time Jesus is an adult and in ministry, and the time of this particular story, the country has been broken up into three different sections. Two parts of the country are ruled by two different sons of Herod, one is Herod Antipas - ruling Galilee and Perea, and one is Herod Philip - ruling an area called Trachonitis, which is to the north and to the east in the country, to the east of Galilee. The central heartland of the country Judea, with its capital city Jerusalem, was initially given by the Romans to another son of Herod, Herod Archelaus, but he was so unpopular that he was removed from power by the Romans.

The interesting thing was that in order to gain this appointment, each of these people had to travel to Rome, and be given the royal authority by the Emperor in Rome, and then they would come back. They would leave the country as a nobleman and they'd go to a distant country and they'd come back from a distant country as a king. That happened to Herod Antipas, for example, who was the ruler in Galilee in the time of Jesus. This story about a man of noble birth going to a distant country to have himself appointed king, and then to return, was very understandable to the readers, because that's exactly how their rulers were appointed. Herod Archelaus, who ruled in Judea for just a few years, was so unpopular that they sent a delegation of Jews all the way to Rome, in order to protest that they wanted him removed and replaced. He was actually replaced in the year 6 A.D. and appointed in his place was a Roman governor, who subsequently was Pontius Pilate, who was ruling at the time of Jesus. The point of telling you all this background is to say that this story fits perfectly into the context of the culture and the politics of Israel at the time. We even have a reference to subjects who hated the king and sent a delegation after him to a distant country to try and get him removed. That's a really vivid detail that had actually happened 30 years earlier, approximately, in the case of Herod Archelaus, and he had actually been removed as king, and replaced by direct Roman rule. So, this parable is very believable to those who hear it because they understand this process of a king and a far country as the place of appointment. It's the authority resting in Rome that counts. Rome makes all the decisions about who the rulers are, in every one of the provinces of its vast empire, all the way round the Mediterranean at the time.

The Significance of the Parable

This background fits very well to the message that Jesus wants to state here because the nobleman here clearly represents Jesus himself. We have a story here about a delayed kingship. This nobleman had to go to a distant country in order to be appointed and then come back. That could take about three months, and that's why the servants are given a mina, which is three- or four-months' worth of income; it's about that time that the nobleman would be away. Just as the nobleman went to a distant country, which would be Rome, so the implication here is that Jesus will go to ‘another country’ and then come back again. Here's a reference to the distinction between the first coming and the second coming. What will actually happen is that Jesus, after his death and resurrection, will ascend to heaven; he'll return to heaven. Luke makes this extremely clear. He teaches very clearly about the ascension in Luke 24 and in Acts 1. ‘He'll go to a distant country’, and then at some future time he'll come back and he'll rule as king, in full authority and power.

This is a very useful image for the reality of the distinction between the first coming of Jesus and the Second Coming. When he comes the second time he comes with full royal authority, just like the nobleman once he'd been made king, he called his servants together, held them to account for what they had done with the gift that he'd given them when he went away because when he went away, he gave ten of his servants a mina, a unit of three- or four-months' worth of wages, and said, ‘invest this and use this wisely on my behalf until I return’. A mina could create a successful business, could be invested in someone else's business, could be invested in land, all sorts of things that could happen with it.

As the story progresses the nobleman goes away to a distant country, he's appointed king, he comes back again. At the time he comes back, he's assessing the faithfulness of his servants. We have three different servants here with three different outcomes. The first servant has been extremely productive, he has made a lot of money. He's made ten minas out of one. The second servant has made five out of one. These have been productive servants, and their faithfulness and their trustworthiness, means that when the king returns, he gives them significant responsibility. He's now responsible for the whole country so he hands over whole cities for them to rule over as local governors. They have been good servants; they have invested what they've been given; they've had faith in their master, believed that he will return, believed that he'll return as king, believed that they have a part in his kingdom, and believed that they must prepare the way for that kingdom, by their act of investment and faithfulness while he's away.

The bad servant hid the money. This is interesting. There weren't formal banks in those days, and we've discussed this point in an earlier episode, but there were moneylenders who would take a deposit of money and would look after it for a very small interest rate, of benefit to that person. So, you could, at the very least, hand the money over to a moneylender, or an agent, financial agent like that, and it would have made a very small increment, or a very small bonus, by the time the three months had passed. This bad servant, so to speak, didn't even do that, and he didn't invest the money in business. He hid this money. Now why did he do that? He was obviously criticised for it, because there was no investment, no benefit, no economic activity, nothing good had happened with that money in the three or four month period whilst his master had been away in a distant country. Why did he do it? Probably because he hoped that his master would never come back again, would be detained in Rome, would not receive the agreement of the Emperor to become the local king in the country, and he thought to himself, ‘Well if he doesn't come back, then if I've hidden the money, no one will know where it is. It'll become mine. If it's on deposit with the bankers, with the moneylenders, they at least will know where it is and other people can find it out, and people might claim that money back.’ He wanted to store the money for himself. He sincerely believed and hoped that his master would never return again. He was a very unwilling subject of his master. He was a very unreliable servant. He comes into conflict with the master. He's just kept it hidden in a piece of cloth in his house, and he claims that the problem was that the master was a hard man, a harsh man who reaped where he didn't sow. But the master says, “I'm going to judge you by your own words.” He condemns him to have the mina removed from him and given to the person who's been most productive.

Then the conclusion of the parable is that the master, now the king, gathers up all the servants who were rather rebellious when he was away, didn't really want him to come back as king, and he had them executed; he had them judged. This story is quite vivid, and would be very meaningful and relevant to a first century audience, because they understood this whole process of being made king, and going to Rome in order to get the authority for kingship from the Emperor. It was their living experience. Jesus compares that reality to the fact that he's going back to the eternal world, the heavenly world, the right hand of his Father, through the ascension, and he's going to return with royal power, just like the nobleman returned from Rome with royal power, to rule the country.

Reflections

As we think about the significance of this, let's just make some observations and reflections. It's a very strong theme of Jesus' that there will be a messianic Kingdom and that the disciples will participate in it. This is taught in a number of particular contexts. For example, in Matthew 19: 28, Jesus says,

‘“Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne,”’ (that's a reference to the second coming) ‘“you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, ruling the twelve tribes of Israel.”’

Matthew 19:28, NIV

It's a similar verse in Luke 22: 29 - 30, making a similar point.

At the renewal of all things when the Son of Man sits on his throne, you will be given responsibility and authority and honour in that kingdom.

That's what he says to the twelve disciples, which is actually strikingly similar to what's going to happen to the faithful servants here. They're going to be given extensive responsibility in this Kingdom that's going to be launched when the King comes back. The disciples were often thinking about this Kingdom and wondering when he was going to return and when it was going to come into being. They really sincerely believed, for the most part, that it was going to happen immediately, when Jesus came to Jerusalem. That's why Jesus kept warning them and saying that this was not going to be the case. He's making a similar warning here. He's warning people, ‘the Kingdom of God in full power is not going to appear at once,’ to use the words of verse 11. They thought it was going to appear at once, but no, there's going to be a time gap while Jesus goes to ‘a distant country’. He'll be back.

Another aspect of the context of this is that, for the Jews there was a great urgency for them to respond to Christ, because their nation was going to be judged by its response to Christ after he had died and been raised again from the dead. This message of warning goes all the way through the Gospels. We've noticed it quite significantly in recent series, as Jesus is travelling south to Jerusalem on a number of occasions but it goes right back to John the Baptist in Luke 3: 9, when John is preaching, he says,

‘“The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”’

Luke 3:9, NIV

And then in Luke 3: 16, John answered,

‘“I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”’

Luke 3:16, NIV

This is a warning of judgement for Israel at this particular time. They were given the opportunity to be faithful servants, going back to the context of the parable, some would be and some would fail to be.

The more general point that we can make here about this parable, taking it away from the immediate first century context, is to say that it reminds us again of that ever-present theme in the Gospels that there are two comings of Jesus. I've said it on many occasions before, but it's very important for this passage. His first coming is not the whole story. Yes, he becomes a man, yes, he ministers in great power, yes, he heals the sick and casts out demons, yes, he preaches good news and causes a sensational response, yes, he dies a substitutionary, sacrificial, atoning death on the cross, yes, he rises again from the dead, yes, he ascends to heaven. That's an amazing story! That's the foundation for our Gospel. But if we leave it there, we misunderstand the wider picture. Jesus is going away for a time, he is returning in judgement and power to take direct authority over this world, to institute his own followers and disciples in positions of authority, to judge his enemies, and to bring in, what the Old Testament describes to us in general terms as the messianic age, the expression that I use to summarise some of those exciting prophecies. We need to have a strong focus on both the first coming and the Second Coming.

Our responsibility as disciples is to be like the faithful servants in this parable who, while they were waiting for Jesus to return, were completely faithful with the opportunities they have. Our job is to invest our lives, our opportunities, our talents, our finances, our relationships in advancing the Kingdom of God. You and I will be assessed by Christ when he returns, concerning the extent to which we have done that. I want to encourage you to really keep your focus on the fact the Second Coming is a reality, it's certain. We live in the intervening period. When you become a Christian, it's not a situation of just sitting back and absorbing the benefits of salvation and then pursuing your own private interests. No, our lives are to be given to advance that Kingdom, and we will be assessed on whether we've done that in days to come. Use your abilities, your opportunities, your finance, your job, your relationships, your ministries in the church for the best good. A great reward and public recognition is guaranteed for those who do that and that recognition will be given by none other than Jesus Christ himself, the King, when he returns.

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