Reading: Luke 19.11-28
As the crowds were listening, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, ‘A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, “Do business with these until I come back.” But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to rule over us.”
‘When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, “Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.” He said to him, “Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.” Then the second came, saying, “Lord, your pound has made five pounds.” He said to him, “And you, rule over five cities.” Then the other came, saying, “Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” He said to him, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.” He said to the bystanders, “Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.” (And they said to him, “Lord, he has ten pounds!”) “I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.” ’
After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
The parable Jesus is telling us today does not make easy reading. There is not a comforting conclusion. There is the stark reality of judgement and punishment. The absentee ruler entrusted his servants with much, and he expected them to provide him with a healthy return on his investment. Two of his servants lived up to his expectations, but the third was a sorry disappointment. The third servant was fearful and over-cautious. Fearful of the consequences of getting it wrong. Over-cautious to the point of doing nothing at all, other than carrying on with the life he understood and was comfortable with. It was that third, fearful, over-cautious and self-satisfied servant who was to be punished for failing in his calling to serve his lord.
This moment in Luke’s gospel comes just before Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the final week of his earthly life. In the coming days Jesus’ life and teaching will become even more dramatic as he tries to show humanity the path it should be following through this world. In the coming days Jesus will be reminding the Jewish community exactly what they should have been doing down the centuries, from the time of their exile to his coming into the world as the promised and long-awaited Messiah. When seen in this context the darker nature of this parable becomes more understandable.
When the Jews were freed from their slavery in Egypt they began a long journey through the wilderness. During that time they were supported and challenged by God. Very often they got it wrong. Very often they pursued their worldly ways in direct opposition to the word of God. However, God led them through that time in the wilderness and brought them to the Promised Land. God gave the Jews (his Chosen People) guidelines by which to live and flourish in his name. From time to time God sent prophets to act as his messengers and to remind the Jews of their responsibilities in relation to the God who created them in his image, and gave them so much. But … as the centuries passed the Jews either forgot or distorted the word of God and created a society that bore little relationship to the way of life God wanted them to lead. And then came Jesus.
In a little performed but powerful play called Green Pastures we encounter the Lord looking anxiously out from heaven. He is pondering the sorry state of the human race. As the scene unfolds, Gabriel enters and asks the Lord what he plans to do. As the Lord continues to ponder his answer Gabriel offers some helpful suggestions: what about sending David or Moses back? Or, how about Isaiah or Jeremiah? Eventually the Lord replies: I am not going to send anyone! This time I am going myself!!
The divine Jesus came into this world. He came to bring restoration and healing; he came to bring a new way of living out a meaningful relationship with God. It is our responsibility to live up to the challenge of Jesus’ teaching. It is our responsibility to prepare ourselves for the time when Jesus will return in judgement. So … we need to be constantly considering the question that we will be asked at the end of days: How have you used your God-given talents? Have you used them to further God’s kingdom, or have you buried them away and carried on following the path of self-interest and self-indulgence?