Last time, I explained how Christians like me struggle to make sense of parables like Luke 19 in which servants are rewarded for good behaviour and good choices. The Calvinist in me is already nervous at the word ‘choice’ since the doctrines of predestination and total human depravity are so ingrained they crowd out everything else.
In this article, let’s look at the parable itself. As expected, there are unexpected moments both for us and the characters in the stories. It starts like this (in the ESV):
A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’
But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’
Let’s just pause there.
The servants are given resources. One mina each, which is a few thousand pounds in today’s money. Not a fortune. Not nothing. But the amount isn’t as important as the purpose. It is to be put to work. Be fruitful.
Now, if we call ourselves Christians, we are the servants in this parable. But what has our King given us? We could think about money, but one thought struck me about the finite resource of time? Will we spend our time in service of the King? Praying, writing a letter of encouragement, volunteering, calling someone, cooking someone a meal, just being present with members of our family or do we spend our time scrolling on social media?
We Need To Talk About Screen Time
Or is TV the problem? It probably is. According to media regulator Ofcom, Britons spent a third of their waking hours - five hours and 40 minutes a day - watching TV or online videos in 2020. That’s a lot.
Clearly the pandemic pushed us to our screens, but we need to get that under control.
It’s good to watch an episode of decent TV, but do we need to watch three in one sitting?
It’s called binge watching. Somehow this socially acceptable. Binge eating isn’t. Binge drinking, again, bad. Binge watching?
Let us bear in mind that the CEO of Netflix has said that their main competitor isn’t Amazon Prime or iPlayer – but the human need for sleep.
Are we using our minas of time well? How we use our time will be evaluated and rewarded because the king will return. In fact, here he comes now. Look busy:
When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business.
The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’
And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’
Let’s pause here again. How are we feeling? The first servant has made a 1000% return. The second servant has done well too.
It would be easy to be react resentfully saying, “I could never be that fruitful or productive.” Careful now. Don’t behave like the third servant. We’ll get to him.
Do we realise the effect we are having?
Consider this. Maybe using our mouths to encourage and our time to serve has a greater impact than we realise. You can probably remember one act of encouragement from a Christian from decades ago. It had a huge impact on you and the Kingdom of God.
We’re not wasting our time, serving our King. He takes those humble works of service and uses them to build his kingdom. So let’s stop worrying about saving the world (position of Saviour has been filled by: J. Christ) and get on with using the resources we’ve been given because we don’t know how Jesus will use them. But maybe we’ll see when he returns.
Here’s the biggest surprise so far. What is the reward for faithful service?
‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’
Run ten cities? That sounds like a lot of work. There’s honour and prestige, sure, but it’s mostly admin.
But this is what we were made to do. Adam was put in the garden to work it. For six days out of seven. That would have been an eternally delightful task, but our sin and God’s curse brought thorns and thistles.
Moreover, we do not work for its own sake or for our own satisfaction. It is in the service of our King. In the parable of the prodigal son Jesus tells four chapters earlier, the older brother says to his father:
‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends’
The father is too gracious to reply, “Oh, you’ve been working so you could celebrate with your friends. Not your father. Am I not your friend?” It’s a really ugly moment in that parable.
Christians don’t work and serve now, so we get to do our own thing our own away from Him later, in a place separate from God. That’s called Hell. And those who don’t want Jesus as their king will get their awful request granted. Servants of Christ get to be with him. A few chapters later, in Luke, what does Jesus say to the thief on the cross? “You will be with me in paradise.” The star attraction is not paradise. It’s Jesus.
Let’s get back to the parable.
Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’
He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’
And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’
‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’
The last line is certainly shocking to us today. It hardly feels like it belongs on the lips of the Jesus that many have in their heads. It feels more like King Joffrey in Game of Thrones, doesn’t it?
Kill Them, Kill Them All
I’m not sure that ending would have been so controversial at the time the parable was said. Justice was swift and brutal. Traitors weren’t endlessly tried by the media, then by a court, and then a court of appeal and then eventually imprisoned for life. They were executed in no time, as was Jesus. He was executed with thieves. Cleary theft was enough to merit the most painful and humiliating of deaths.
The more controversial moment is the reaction to the third servant who refused to allow his master to profit from his investment, wrapping up the money in a cloth and burying it. The King says to the servant, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’
The other servants don’t like this, saying ‘Wait! He’s already got ten!’ They bristle, as do we. But I wonder how they reacted when he says “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Eh? Seriously? What’s going on?
It’s Not A Reward
There are seven servants standing around not doing much in this parable. Maybe they are the ones objecting to this apparent injustice. But they don’t seem to understand what the minas are for. The minas aren’t a reward. They are resources to be put to work for the kingdom of God. The first two servants have shown they understand this and obey. The third servant does not and will not. How he lives now will affect his future. What he has done, or not done, echoes in eternity. No cities for him. No rewards. Just rebuke and regret. Christians need to bear this in mind, because Jesus tells quite a few parables like this.
But it will still be better for that third servant than the rebels who will finally be given their hearts’ desire: permanent separation from the perfect king. Heed that warning. Tell a friend.
If you want to see me preach a sermon along these lines, have a look here.
“Our mission statement needs to be seriously punchy,” said Lucius. “I mean, say what you like about the guy, King Herod’s got a really clear mission statement.”
“What, ‘Kill them. Kill them all’?” said Peter.
“Yeah,” said Lucius. “I mean, it’s a bit ‘killy’ for us. But there’s good repetition. It’s only five words. You’ve got to admit it’s snappy.”
The Church Times just ran a chapter from my book, The Gospel According To A Sitcom Writer about how I have found the Church of England is so obsessed with post-it notes they must be in the Bible. Read that over here - but wait! Why not have a look, but also click below to order a signed copy from me? And while you’re at the checkout, why not order a signed copy of The Sacred Art of Joking too? Could make a good present. A long with a CD of A Monk’s Tale for the car.