The Gospel of Luke

This devotional is written by Matt Coombs. Matt is one of the leaders at St Mary's and is married to Pip.

Luke 19:11-27

The Parable of the Ten Minas

11 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. 12 He said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.'
14 "But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our king.'
15 "He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
16 "The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.'
17 "‘Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.'
18 "The second came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned five more.'
19 "His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities.'
20 "Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 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.'
22 "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? 23 Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?'
24 "Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.'
25 "'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!'
26 "He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.'"

Reflection

A wealthy lord travels to a faraway land to be crowned king. Most of his people hate him and wish to reject his royal appointment (Luke 19:14). While he is away, he tasks three servants with the job of investing his money. Two do so and make decent returns, but the third is afraid of the risk and chooses not to invest and simply keep his masters cash in a safe place. The man returns as king and rewards and promotes the two servants who invested his wealth and punished the third who didn't and commanded his enemies to be killed.

*Double-thumbs-up-cringe-face*

Jesus tells this parable immediately before going to Jerusalem, where he is to be crowned king but is rejected by his people. (FYI - when you get stuck reading the Bible, it's often helpful to read the chapters before and after to get the context!) So Jesus is speaking about himself, he is the nobleman in the parable, and the crowd who will eventually shout for him to be crucified are those who oppose him as King.

The context is Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, pilgrimaging with all the other Jewish people for the Passover festival, a large crowd is gathered and he is speaking about what is about to happen. It is a parable of warning and judgment upon those who are listening.

For us, reading this today, the challenge put before us is to decide if Jesus is God's appointed king and will we serve him, or oppose him.

Citizens in God's kingdom are responsible to work towards God's goals and purposes. The king expects his servants to invest his money. The risk-averse servant is singled out as unfaithful. No detail is made about what would have happened if the other two servants had lost money on their investments, but the implication is that all investments made in faithful service to God are pleasing to him, whether or not they achieve their intended payoff.

A couple of questions to reflect on today.
In what ways are you investing in God's kingdom? (Financial investment, relational investment, compassionate investment...) Are you all-in or playing it safe?
What does risk-taking for the kingdom look like for you, particularly in our current lockdown?

Okay, so the devotional bit is over, but I think you'd feel short-changed if I didn't address the elephant in the room - that final verse.

But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.'" (Luke 19:27)

Judgment, punishment, and hell is not something that we like to dwell on much. We prefer, unsurprisingly, to emphasise the grace of God, and the love of God, and the mercy of God. All of which is true, however, it is a mistake to do this whilst omitting the justice of God.

The righteous tend to suffer at the hands of the wicked during this life – Jesus in his death is the pre-eminent example. He was vindicated at the resurrection and rewarded with his seat at God's right hand. The Hitlers of the world who spread misery and pain, especially for the weak and vulnerable, and who reject Jesus' way of life and gospel, will get their comeuppance.

Now, to the modern mindset, eternal damnation is an abhorrent, politically incorrect proposition. Nowadays many Christians doubt the traditional view and prefer instead what is called "annihilationism": sinners are simply destroyed. There are good biblical and theological reasons for holding to annihilationism. Indeed, much of the imagery in the Bible suggests that hell is about destruction.

God is the giver of life (Gen 2:7), and people have a choice to choose God or not. Or as Jesus is saying in today's text, to accept him as king or not. Therefore, to not choose God is to choose un-life (I'm sure there is a better way of putting that!). God doesn't force us to love him, worship him, or obey him because otherwise, that choice is meaningless. As a genuine pure love (neither controlling nor smothering), God's love allows the world to go its own way. If we are all forced into "salvation" at the expense of our freedom then we are little more than robots and our "salvation" is nothing at all. So if we don't choose the giver of life the alternative is un-life or destruction. Rejection of Jesus and the gospel will inevitably lead to separation from God.

But there is more to this than that...

In the original texts, the word for hell is 'Gehenna'. Of course, Gehenna doesn't mean anything to us, but everyone in Jesus' day knew that this was the name of the rubbish dump just outside Jerusalem. Gehenna was a massive fire where all the rubbish of the city was taken to be burnt. So when the first people heard the word hell, they'd think about their rubbish turning into smoke and ash. So it's a bit like hell is an actual place in our world. When we see abuse - that's hell. When we see poverty - that's hell. When we see terrible things around the world - that is hell. So hell is something that happens now. Jesus' prophetic message of judgment was motivated principally by deep compassion for his people, for their present and their future experience of "hell on earth". Today too, people's immediate need is for rescue from addictive destructive behaviour, depression, dysfunctional relationships and isolation, poverty, sickness, and hopelessness.

The final thing I would say about this is that Jesus takes no delight in people being under judgment. If you do enjoy speaking about judgment, I personally think there must be something wrong with you. You may have come across those people at Oxford Circus with megaphones shouting catchy phrases like "Turn or burn!". For me, this completely misses the tone with which I see Jesus speaking. The crude image of God happily tossing humans into a fiery pit is best left to Twitter and YouTube comments. Jesus wept over this coming tragedy (Luke 19:41-44). He wept over it! (This is why I said earlier it is good to read the chapters around a difficult text.) Jesus often speaks in strong, provocative, dramatic terms, (gouge out your eyes if you're full of lust being a good example) to grab the attention of his listeners. Jesus is the most loving person to ever walk the earth, and yet he can speak about hell, and judgment, and punishment. Like a parent who gives a strong warning to their child not to touch the hob, or put fingers in plug sockets, Jesus doesn't speak about these things because he wants to scare them or twist their arms, but because he's alerting them to the consequences of what happens when we don't receive his grace and mercy.

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