Paralysis by analysis – Wednesday, 33rd week in ordinary time – Luke 19:11-28
We are told that Jesus breaks into another parable soon after the Zacchaeus encounter. Jericho was fifteen miles from Jerusalem and Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem for the Passover and it seems that many believed that he was going to establish His kingdom immediately. Therefore he told a parable to the crowd to show that the kingdom would not be established immediately as they had thought. Instead, according to what the Father had planned, Jesus must go to the cross first. There is a sense of departure in this story of Jesus; they were not to expect a coronation but rejection.
The parable seems to have two parallel story lines. First, the hostility between the king and the citizens who want to be rid of him. Second, the interactions between the king and his slaves. The latter receives the most attention. The parable of the unpopular king, while is a clear reference to the hatred that the Jews had for Jesus also had its roots in a historical fact. At the death of Herod the Great, his son Archelaus had to undertake a long journey “to receive kingly power.” He could not be king in Judea until his claims had been ratified by the government in Rome. Because of his unpopularity, a group of 50 Jewish subjects went to Rome to complain against his kingship. Archelaus killed his enemies on his return.
The parable has three types of slaves; the faithful ones who obeyed because they loved and trusted their master and wanted to please him. The unfaithful one who disobeyed because he ‘feared his master’ and the rebellious citizens who rebelled because they hated their king. To each of these slaves, ten pounds were given when the king went abroad. The ‘mina’ represented here by a pound was the equivalent of three months wages for a labourer or close to 100 denarii. Each servant was given ten pounds to do business with until the king came back. The amount was the same to signifying equal opportunity in spite of the fact that each slave was different.
The first servant had earned ten pounds with the one pound that had been entrusted to him. He had an awareness that the money was not his own (“your pound”) and he used it as best as he could in the advancement of his master’s interests and is given a reward of ruling over ten cities. The second managed to make a profit of only five pounds and for this he is given five cities to rule over. Although he earned less than the first man he was not reprimanded for his smaller profit. Instead, he was commended and his reward was to be over five cities
The third slave returns the pound with no investment; his ‘justification’ is that being afraid of his very harsh master he chose to play it safe. For Jesus there is no ‘safe position’. The only road to success is to take the risks of the first two servants. The third servant claims to be paralyzed by fear. In truth the servant didn’t feel that the master deserved to benefit from his labour. His spineless fear didn’t come from love or reverence for his master, but was tainted with contempt for him.
If he had a true regard for the master it would have provoked a desire to please the master by working to make a profit for him. The servant considered himself honest because he returned the pound with no loss; the master on the other hand called him wicked because he returned it with no gain. The third slave finds his words being used against him for his pound is taken away and given to the slave who brought his master the best results.
So what was the problem with the third slave? It wasn’t that the slave had nothing; it was that the slave saw what he had as nothing. The slave saw his ten minas as money that didn’t have much economic value, money that had no prospect of progressing or increasing. So he treated it as nothing. He didn’t value what was given him.
Without even realising it, a lot of us behave like this servant. We treat the things God has given us as nothing; we don’t value the blessings and mercies of God. Often times, we treat good health and divine protection as nothing. Going out and coming back safely home is seen as nothing important. We treat sleeping and waking up the next as day as one of those routine things.
The parable of the talents/pounds reminds us that nothing can excuse inaction. We must live our lives with an energy not focused on what we consider our worth to be, but what it can be. The fact that we may have fallen again and again on our life’s journey does not permit us to pause, let alone stop altogether.
Cowards will never build the Kingdom.