When I consider the parables of Jesus, three words often come to mind:
Captivating: They capture my attention.
Provoking: They challenge my thinking.
Confusing: They leave me with more questions than answers!
The ‘parable of the pounds’ (also known as ‘the parable of the talents’) is a case in point. In Luke 19, Jesus and his disciples are inching closer to Jerusalem. There is excitement and tension in the air. Jesus’ followers were consumed with ideas of overthrowing the Roman occupiers by violent uprising and reinstating a Jewish Messiah. However, Jesus has been trying to consistently teach his followers that when they reach Jerusalem, he will suffer at the hands of the chief priests and be crucified. This was hard for his disciples to comprehend because they connected the coming Kingdom of God with a military overthrow and were expecting this Kingdom to materialise soon.
In response, Jesus tells them a parable about a man of noble origins who goes away to a far country to be appointed king. Before he left, the man called ten of his servants together and gave them ten silver coins or ‘minas’ (a mina was worth about three month’s wages). He tells the servants to “do business with these coins until I return.” Having been made king, he returned home and summoned his servants to find out how they put the silver coins to work. One servant’s efforts had resulted in ten more coins. Another servant had made 5 more. The newly appointed king commends their efforts and gives them increased responsibility. However, not all the servants were as busy or enterprising. Upon being summoned, one servant tells the king that he buried his coin because he said he was afraid of the king. He had perceived the king as a hard and exploitative man, who reaped where he did not sow, and therefore hid the coin. In response, the king condemns the servant as wicked, takes his one silver coin away and gives it to the fellow who has ten.
How do we make sense of this parable today? There’s a lot in it, much more than can be said in a blog post. But here are a few reflections:
Firstly, I think this is parable about being faithful. While the King is away, what will we do with the resources that he has placed in our responsibility? I think being faithful sometimes means simply getting on with it. Sticking with something. In other words, whatever the responsibilities or resources you find in your hands today, faithfully building for the Kingdom means getting on with the work in the good times and bad, trusting that your labour in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15).
And secondly, I’m struck by the perception the ‘wicked servant’ had of the king. In this parable, if we are to understand Jesus as the king who went away and came back, the wicked servant’s view of the king seriously contradicts the picture of Jesus that Luke paints in his gospel. Jesus is not depicted as a harsh or greedy man but someone who commands his followers to do good to those who hate them and love and forgive their enemies (Luke 6.27, 23. 34). What’s the conclusion then?
In this parable, I think fear distorts the image of the king. The servant buried his one coin because he was afraid of what the king would do to him if he lost it. I can resonate with that because I think fear has sometimes distorted my image of the divine. What role does fear play in driving us to bury our responsibilities into the ground? This parable encourages me to consider the resources and tasks in my responsibility today. To not allow fear to rule the heart but instead be governed by another 4-letter word: love. Love for the king and loyalty to him, while he is away, even if we cannot always see progress.