Luke 19: 11-27
The Parable of the Ten Pounds
11 As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. 13 He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds,[a] and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ 14 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.’ 15 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. 16 The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ 17 He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’ 18 Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ 19 He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’ 20 Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, 21 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.’ 22 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? 23 Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ 24 He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ 25 (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) 26 ‘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. 27 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.’”
28 After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
A pastor once had a group of children gathered around for Children’s Time during the service. Not surprisingly, the pastor, almost without fail week in and week out, to illustrate a point, would tell a story about Jesus. The kids came to expect it! So, on Sunday, the pastor was looking to illustrate a point and asked, ‘Does anybody know what’s small, furry, has a bushy tail, and runs up trees looking for nuts?’ All the kids were silent, quizzical looks on their faces. Finally, one little boy said, ‘Well, I know the answer should be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me!'”
To illustrate a point, Jesus himself regularly turned to parables, casting a vision for the people about what the kingdom of God is like.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Sometimes, parables point not only toward a truth about The Kingdom but specifically describe a characteristic of God.
God’s & God’s kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work. Others we hired very late in the day. The owner decides to pay the workers who worked all day the same amount as those hired at the final hour. The owner had been fair to those who worked all day and profusely generous to those who worked but an hour. It didn’t go over so well. Yet, such is the nature of our generous God, the Great Reverser: God treating the first and the last the same.
Or, God’s love is like that of a father whose affection does not wane even though his son blew ALL his money and returned home empty handed. Gracious love for the child who stayed AND for the one who wandered far afield. God is like that radically loving father! In parables, God’s the master, the father, or the mother, or the owner.
Biologists who study the brain tell us that our God-given mind is set up to, without our even thinking about it, make connections and fill in the blanks. Roses are red, violets _____ ______.
Likewise, when we hear a parable, we QUICKLY KNOW who is assigned which role.
Today’s parable of the nobleman who went away, leaving ten slaves with a pound each is one in which we’re quick to assign roles. The nobleman, as usual, is God. The one who made a “times ten return” is the most faithful, 5 times return, we assign the “pretty darn faithful” title, and the one who buried the pound has no faith and appropriately earns the ire of the nobleman.
That’s the story. Although it’s a little uncomfortable, we get the meaning.
The idea of a nobleman that the slaves really DID NOT LIKE…who requires that the unfaithful is brought into his presence and killed…that imagery is hard to align with our understanding of God but, we’ve heard, sometimes MUCH IS DEMANDED and JUSTICE IS HARSH.
Maybe something that is gray, furry, and LOVES TO climb trees to look for nuts really isn’t Jesus.
And maybe a nobleman who goes (selfishly, we might say) to a distant land to acquire power for himself….
Maybe a nobleman who is demanding to the point of harshness and cruelty…
Maybe the nobleman who, when things don’t go HIS way orders slaves to be slaughtered in his presence…
Maybe THAT nobleman really IS NOT the holy, the just, the loving, the righteous God that we know and worship. (Maybe the bushy-tailed nut-lover is not Jesus.)
But, if the nobleman’s NOT God, then what IS the point of the story? Richard Rohr’s interpretation of this passage makes what is cloudy and confusing much more clear.
And, first, I have to “put it in the context!”
Our story begins with these words, “As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem,” and today’s parable ends with this, “After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” This story is not book-ended with references to Jerusalem by accident.
This story is about Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem. In fact, what happens IMMEDIATELY AFTER THIS STORY is Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (the Palm Sunday entrance!)…Jerusalem, the place where he will be put to death by the Powers That Be for NOT GOING ALONG WITH THEIR SCHEMES….Roman, Jewish, Otherwise.
Our parable tells a similar story.
The harsh, demanding, power-seeking landowner is not God after all but the representation of those greedy, scared powers that can’t think of a better way in life and will kill those who do not comply THEIR will!
The first and second slave who were rewarded by the ruthless landowner, one with ten towns and one with five? Those are the ones who play along with the games of the day, who follow the rules, corrupt as they may be, without question because they’ve been told that they’re doing what’s right.
The “other” slave who would not play by the rules of the system is…Jesus. He’s the one, isn’t he, who as he marches into Jerusalem, is ultimately brought into the presence of the rulers and killed?
This story makes me immensely uncomfortable…on many levels! First of all, the faithful way of Jesus means Jesus is walking toward his own death and probably does not mean anything much brighter for those who follow him. Ask the first century martyrs!
The parable highlights, at least, that when Jesus follows in God’s way, he meets resistance for being faithful. And, it means, that the same will be true for those who are his followers, his disciples…they will meet resistance for being faithful. Moreover, it probably means that if we’re not meeting some resistance for following Jesus, we’re not being as faithful as God would have us to be.
Yet, let me be quick to say that meeting resistance DOES NOT EQUATE WITH faithfulness. Hateful religious extremists might teach, “A sign of people’s resistance to you is a direct corollary to your faithfulness.” That is NOT what I’m saying.
But, if this parable is true not only for Jesus but for his followers also…when we follow God’s law of love, God’s ways of mercy, God’s acceptance, and God’s justice, we must expect to run into resistance…for in the end of the day, many are more driven by fear that love. And that fear shows up in the form of a hatred that will harm others to get its way.
Many are more driven by separating that uniting.
Many are more driven by absolute certainty than the complexity and murkiness that is inherent in living in our world these days!
Many are more driven by a need for security than a genuine desire to be faithful to God…to build up a community of love, a community of equals, and a household of God.
Now, as citizens of our country and as people of faith, we ALL have varying degrees allegiance…to God, to government, to the financial systems of our days…
We all have varying comfort zones for just how much we can stand against what’s not right.
People around Jesus were similar, we know. People struggled with how to be faithful to their One True God while living under the thumb of a Roman Occupation that required submission to the Emperor’s reign.
In these weeks that lie ahead, as we follow Jesus’ footsteps into Jerusalem, let’s first of all, read along with the story by picking up reading in Luke, chapter 19 and read all the way through the end of Luke’s gospel…to Easter and beyond.
Let’s pay attention…to how Jesus relates to the “powers that be,” political and religious.
Let’s pay attention…to where he gives in…and where he doesn’t.
Let’s pay attention to how he holds fast to his calling, his life, his identity.
And, let’s pay attention to the gifts of…and the consequences of faithfulness.
In today’s parable, Jesus is saying, “Playing by the rules and the expectations of a system that’s broken is not faithfulness to God!” As Jesus headed to Jerusalem, his challenge, and his calling, were to hold fast to his beginning…his baptism…in which the Voice said, “You are my son, the Beloved.” How does he hold fast to that identity headed to Jerusalem?
And, how might we hold onto our identity…children of God…in a way that we do not follow the World’s Ways but hold fast to God’s Way for us, here and now? God grant us strength for our journey in this wilderness. Amen!
 Matthew 13