Sometimes I think we miss the point of some of Jesus’ stories because the language and the setting and the culture is foreign to us: primitive, agrarian, pedestrian even. Too simple for us, removed from the expressions, land and commerce of two thousand years ago.
So what if we re-examined some of them with what we think of as more elevated language, civilized locale, and sophisticated economy? Would they make more sense to us?
“Again, it will be like an investor going on a journey, who called his fund managers and entrusted his assets to them. To one he gave five billion dollars in cash, to another two billion dollars, and to another one billion, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five billion dollars went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two billion dollars gained two more. But the man who had received the one billion went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his employer’s money.
“After a long time the employer of those fund managers returned and hear their year-end reports that very evening. The one who had received the five billion dollars brought the other five. ‘Boss,’ she said, ‘you entrusted me with five billion dollars. See, I have gained five more.’
“Her employer replied, ‘Outstanding work! Vision worthy of an excellent fund manager! You have been bold with a few investments; I will put you in charge of many assets. I want you to be the keynoter at the annual stockholders’ meeting!’
“The one with the two billion dollars also came. ‘Boss,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two billion dollars; look, I have doubled your investment.’
“His employer replied, ‘Great work! Instincts of an excellent fund manager! You have been courageous with a few investments; I will put you in charge of many assets. I want your report to follow the keynoter!’
“Then the one who had received the one billion came. ‘Boss,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a stingy guy, expecting returns where you have not invested and collecting dividends in markets where you have not capitalized. So I was fiscally responsible and went out and deposited your billion in the vault. See, here is what belongs to you. Although it’s worth a little less, due to inflation … and the volatility of the markets … and taxes. About half-a-billion, really. And that’s not my fault, you know.’
“His employer replied, ‘You insolent, cowardly doofus! So you knew that I expect returns where I have not invested and collect dividends where I have not capitalized? Well then, you should have at least put my money in a low-rate CD, so that when I returned I would have it back with interest.
“‘Take the billion from him and give it to the one who has the ten billion dollars. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And fire that worthless fund manager, escort him outside into the darkness, and give him a weepy romance novel to chew on while he’s in the unemployment line.’ ~ Matthew 25:14-30 (KBV*)
Okay, maybe not perfectly word-for-word in line with the original, but I’ve read versions of the Bible that are just as free with their interpretation.
Does it help?
Maybe. It’s very American! But does it carry the original intent of the story?
Matthew’s version of the story is part of a trilogy Jesus relates: Ten wise, ten foolish young ladies. Five talents, two talents, one talent. The sheep who shepherded and the goats who did nothing. – All in a very pointed setting of judgment; and all about planning ahead, watchfulness, faithfulness, courage, willingness to risk, generosity, and an expectation of the day of His return.
The version in Luke 19:11-27 is just what the doctor ordered – chronologically – between Jesus’ visit with Zacchaeus the collaborator/tax agent who had personal integrity, and His triumphal procession into Jerusalem. The parable of the minas is even more brutal in its judgment scene than the story of the talents; the faithless inaction of the one-mina servant seems to tick off the king so much that he orders those who opposed his reign to be slaughtered in front of him. (v. 27)
The purpose of the parable as Dr. Luke states it was not so much economic instruction as eschatological teaching – and that big word “eschatological” just means that Jesus would go away and suddenly return in judgment:
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. ~ v. 11
To get to the bottom of these stories, there are things we need to remember.
First, the kingdom of God is all about sowing seed and reaping a harvest (Matthew 13:1-43). So if we remove the metaphor that the worthless servant uses to describe his “hard” master – reaping where he does not sow – we miss some of the point of it.
Second, the whole purpose of using parables is to conceal from those who have less and reveal to those who have more (Matthew 13:10-17). Have less of what and more of what? The answer Jesus gives seems to be discernment. Those who have a good deal of it – who genuinely want to understand the deep truth about grace that Jesus is trying to communicate to them – will be given more. Those who don’t will be given less discernment of grace, and will read into His stories whatever they want to – or will just shrug Him off as indecipherable.
That key phrase appears, as you have probably already noticed, not only in the cycle of parables in Matthew 13, but also the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and the parable of the minas (Luke 19:11-27): “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”
Puts a whole different light on them, doesn’t it?
Would you like to know what this tells me about Luke’s parable of the minas?
“A Son of noble birth – Son of God, Son of Man – went back to eternity because it was time for His coronation as King – and then to return to the earth. So He called ten of His servants and gave them ten measures of blessing. ‘Put this grace to work,’ He said, ‘until I come back.’
“But in eternity, some of His subjects hated Him and sent a delegation of angels 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 grace, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
“The first one came and said, ‘Sir, You empowered me to encourage ten others; to give them what You have given me. Now five of them believe and are sharing with ten others – and five of them believe already. Your grace at work in me has redoubled itself.’
“‘Well done, my good servant!’ his Master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take My grace to ten cities.’
“The second came and said, ‘Sir, You also empowered me and Your grace at work in me has also doubled through five believers – so far!’
“His Master answered, ‘You take My grace to five cities.’
“Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is Your grace; I have kept it laid away in a cloth-bound book. I was afraid of you, because you are 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 at the very least deposit my grace in cloth-bound books given to others, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
“Then He said to those standing by, ‘Take his grace away from him and give it to the one who has ten measures of it.’
“‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’
“He replied, ‘If you want a task done, give it to a busy person. I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away.’ Then, with His eye still fixed on the wicked servant, He told the bystanders, ‘But those enemies of Mine who did not want Me to be King over them — bring them here for My judgment and let them be obliterated in front of Me.’ ” ~ Luke 19:11-27 (KBV*)
How do you read it?
*Keith Brenton Version