New Testament

THE PARABLE OF THE KING: LUKE 19:11-27 

11 As they were listening to this, He went on to tell a parable because He was near Jerusalem, and they thought the kingdom of God was going to appear right away. 

12 Therefore He said: "A nobleman travelled to a far country to receive for himself authority to be king[a] and then return. 13 He called 10 of his slaves, gave them 10 minas,[b] and told them, 'Engage in business until I come back.' 

14 "But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We don't want this man to rule over us!' 

15 "At his return, having received the authority to be king,[c] he summoned those slaves he had given the money to, so he could find out how much they had made in business. 16 The first came forward and said, 'Master, your mina has earned 10 more minas.' 

17 "'Well done, good[d] slave!' he told him. 'Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, have authority over 10 towns.' 

18 "The second came and said, 'Master, your mina has made five minas.' 

19 "So he said to him, 'You will be over five towns.' 

20 "And another came and said, 'Master, here is your mina. I have kept it hidden away in a cloth 

21 because I was afraid of you, for you're a tough man: you collect what you didn't deposit and reap what you didn't sow.' 

22 "He told him, 'I will judge you by what you have said,[e] you evil slave! If you knew I was a tough man, collecting what I didn't deposit and reaping what I didn't sow, 23 why didn't you put my money in the bank? And when I returned, I would have collected it with interest!' 24 So he said to those standing there, 'Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has 10 minas.' 

25 "But they said to him, 'Master, he has 10 minas.' 

26 "'I tell you, that to everyone who has, more will be given; and from the one who does not have, even what he does have will be taken away. 27 But bring here these enemies of mine, who did not want me to rule over them, and slaughter[f] them in my presence.'" 

Footnotes: 

a. Luke 19:12 Lit to receive for himself a kingdom or sovereignty 
b. Luke 19:13 = Gk coin worth 100 drachmas or about 100 days' wages 
c. Luke 19:15 Lit to receive for himself a kingdom or sovereignty 
d. Luke 19:17 Or capable 
e. Luke 19:22 Lit you out of your mouth 
f. Luke 19:27 Or execute 

NOTES:

  • v.11 As they were listening to him... That is, to the words addressed to Zacchaeus and the repentant sinner's response.
  • He was getting close to Jerusalem...This journey to Jerusalem by the prophet of God is the overriding literary device used by Luke to arrange his material in this section of the Gospel (9:31, 51, 53; 13:22, 33-34; 17:11; 18:31). Jesus is still in Jericho which is 27.75 kilometers from the Holy City. Jerusalem is 2,500 feet above sea level and Jericho is over 800 feet below sea level. Thus he begins his ascent to Jerusalem, with the "ascent" being capable of various meanings.
  • The people were thinking that the Kingdom of God would immediately appear...The verb is sometimes used to indicate a line of thought that is incorrect. It is also the verb that is used to express a general eschatological expectation. Jesus has already taught his disciples to pray that your kingdom come and at the beginning of the Acts (1:6) they will ask the risen Christ whether he is about to restore his Kingdom to Israel.
  • In Jewish thought the The kingdom of Yahweh Sebaoth would be revealed to dwell on Mt Zion and...the might of Yahweh Sebaoth would be revealed over Jerusalem. The parable that follows will take up some of these issues.
  • The Greek is literally translated as was going to dawn or be lighted up immediately. The parable is going to address this mistaken understanding.
  • V.12 The connecting word "therefore" (oun in Greek) is used in a responsive sense. Jesus is responding to their misconceptions.
  • A certain rich man (nobleman)...
  • Travelled to a distant land to acquire for himself the title of king... The language suggests that we are to think of someone like Herod the Great who received his kingdom from his imperial patron in Rome. He had to travel to the city and petition for it. He was to be a vassal king. Such a trip would be difficult and would take a considerable amount of time. The time reference in Luke is impossibly short while in Matthew we hear that he took a long period of time.
  • The Romans resisted the title of king for centuries but granted the title to some ethnic rulers in the eastern parts of their kingdom. In 40 BC Herod the Great was empowered to be king but he had to form an alliance with Rome and send troops to defeat the Parthians. After his death his son wanted to be ruler and travelled to Rome in an attempt to gain the title. In the end he was granted only the title of ethnarch.
  • V.13 As he goes he gathers together ten slaves and gives them ten minas. It was a small unit of money that would buy little. It was anything but a generous gesture on the part of the noble man.
  • They are to engage in business while he is gone. This is a command (imperative form in the Greek) and so they are expected to engage in business.
  • V.14 the workers hated him and sent a delegation after him... The word used for hate here is often associated with envy and has a message of harming another involved in it.
  • They send a delegation to the emperor (or whoever it is the nobleman is visiting) in the hope of convincing him not to give the title to their master. This is exactly what happened when the son of Herod went to the emperor. 3 Fifty citizens travelled ahead of him to make a complaint. According to Josephus, their motivation was hatred.
  • V.15 The master returned to find what they had done with the money he had given them... The man was successful in gaining the title. He returns and then settles back to examine what had been going on in his absence.
  • V.16 your minas has yielded ten minas... This is an impressive growth in his original investment.
  • V.17...Excellent/well done The master if thrilled with the efforts of the servant.
  • You have been trustworthy in little things.... His reward is to have authority over ten cities, to rule within the kingdom of the new king.
  • V.18.19 The second man came and .... This man too is praised by the master and like the servant before him, his reward is commensurate with the effort he put into doing business.
  • V.20 The other servant... This man had hidden his money in a handkerchief (literally a piece of cloth for perspiration), a sweat cloth (for the face and neck). In Matthew's version of the story, he buried his money in the ground.
  • This is meant to be a sign of his laziness or disobedience.
  • V.21 I was afraid of you... He is afraid because the master has a reputation for being a stern man. This word is often used of people who have roles in finance and government.
  • You carry off what you have not deposited (reap what you have not sown)... It is hard to reconcile this understanding with the generous master who has richly rewarded the servants who have already appeared before him.
  • V.22 I shall condemn you/condemn you... He is called a wicked or slothful servant. The master does not attempt to respond to the servants attacks on his integrity and defend himself. He judges him instead on a very minimalist understanding of what he was to do with the money left with him. He did not lose what the master had given. That was how he understood his task. The Master saw things differently. He has returned the money but without any productivity added to it.
  • V.23 put my money in a bank... He is condemned because he was disobedient. If he had only put the money in a bank it would have at least gained interest. He could have lent the money out for interest to the Gentiles (he could not lend it to the Jews for interest).
  • V.24 he said to his attendants.... The money is taken from the man who had returned his money and it is given to the man who had already been given authority over ten towns. He now has an excess of reward. The wicked servant, in contrast, now has nothing.
  • V.25 But he already has ten pounds... It is odd that here he is talking about pounds and the man has been given ten cities but the point is that the good servant has received an extra gift.
  • V.26 I tell you, to everyone who has.... It is not clear in this story just who is speaking - the king or Jesus but in the context it fits in with the comments of the king. He is commending those who have taken what was given and used it in obedience with his wishes.
  • In Luke 8:16-18 Jesus offers this teaching: No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.
  • V.27 however these enemies of mine who did not want me to rule over them... Here n Luke the punishment is meted out to others in the background and not to the wicked servant. It may be that what he has in mind is the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD. 

Commentary: 

This is the last episode in the travel story of Luke. It comes immediately after the Zacchaeus incident and adds further to what Jesus is telling his disciples about how they manage the gifts that have been given to them. It also serves as an introduction to what is going to be unfolding in the next chapter - the entry of the king (Jesus) into Jerusalem. This parable serves as a correction to the expectations that the end of the world (eschaton) is going to happen now, that it would appear immediately. There is a great deal more work to be done before that day arrives. 

There are similarities with Matthew's parable of the pounds but there are also some significant differences. In both parables the servants are urged to be vigilant for the return of the lord and to make good use of what has been entrusted to them. The major difference is the context. 

Luke uses the parable to combat the expectation of an immanent eschaton (v.11). This heightens the need for vigilance for the return is not going to happen today, or tomorrow. As they do not know the hour, best that they are on watch but also get on with the business that has been given to them. What is expected of them is proper conduct of life. The master goes off to a distant land and it is clear that his return is to be delayed. The question should be: what are we to do in the meantime?

The master is already a noble but is going off to gain the title of a king. He is hated by some of the citizens and these seek to undermine his authority. This is not found in the parable of Matthew. 

In the mouth of Jesus this parable was primarily about the scene of reckoning and had a focus on the cautious servant. Some commentators see him as representing the scribes to whom the word of God had been entrusted. But it is also likely that it is directed towards the disciples to whom the secrets of the kingdom have been entrusted. Jesus is admonishing them to do business with the secrets that have been entrusted to them. To keep this pressure on, the context also includes the knowledge that the master will return and that there will be a day of reckoning. 

By the time it comes to Luke the parable receives a further nuancing. There was a popular expectation that the Lord would return soon and that with him would come the judgment of the world and the end of time (parousia and eschaton). That this had not come created some tensions within the faith community and so a new understanding of what God was doing and how he was doing it had to be worked out.

The options from Luke's teaching to his Church are clear. The disciples can respond to the great gift of faith they have been given by living a life of obedience or by being disobedient to the command of the Master. The first two servants were obedient and were rewarded. The third servant is disobedient and it is worth nothing the way this disobedience is displayed: he replaces the teachings of Jesus with his own minimalist conception of collaboration and his own understanding of the master with the reality (as shown by the way he dealt with the others). Jesus is not someone to be shaped by the disciple. 

The master goes off to claim the title of the king and Jesus is about to enter his city as King. In his ascent to the city of his Father, he will be proclaimed king and according to this parable, when he returns he will (a) carry out a reckoning with his disciples on the basis of what they have done with the blessings bestowed upon them and (b) take vengeance on those who did not want him to be their king. 

Finally, in rewarding the man with authority over ten cities he goes further than any human expectations and also gives to him the pound he has taken from the third man. The human response to this is "But he already has ten!". The rewards that come with faithfulness far outshine any human hopes. We can never measure what it is that God gives as a reward. 

Further food for thought: 

The context is important. Just prior to this story, Jesus has been preaching about the Kingdom of God and his message has grown in intensity. Then we have this parable of a man who went off to be a king. Immediately after the parable we have Jesus proclaimed as king (19:38), accused of claiming to be the messiah-king (23:2) castigated as such on the cross (23:37,38) begged there for a place in his kingdom (23:42) and at the last supper bestows rule on the twelve, a rule he declares he had received from his Father (22:29) [sacra pagina]. For Luke, then, the understanding of Jesus as King is a crucial part of the setting for this parable. Jesus is king now, he will be king on the cross, he is the king reigning from the right hand of God and he will return again as king. 

This parable then is going to be a valuable teaching as the Church thinks about the apparent defeat of Jesus on the cross. If they can see Jesus as king on the cross, then they can find Jesus ruling in their lives, even amidst the turmoil and chaos. They also know that he will return and that their present experiences do not define the fullness of life, of history and the actions of God. 

This parable is a teaching about patience and what to be doing while disciples exercise that patience.