What can you say about Luke 19.11-27?

As they heard these last things, he [Jesus] proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem (and because they supposed that the Reign of God was to appear immediately.) He said, therefore:

A nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten pounds, and said to them, “Trade with these until I come.”

But his citizens hated him and sent an embassy after him, saying, “We do not want this man to reign over us.”

When he returned, having received the kingdom, he commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by trading.

The first came before him, saying, “Lord, your pound has made ten pounds more.”

And he said to him, “Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a small matter, you shall have authority over ten cities!”

And the second came, saying, “Lord, your pound has made five pounds.”

And he said to him, “And you are to be over five cities.”

Then another came, saying, “Lord, here is your pound, which I kept laid away in a napkin. I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.”

He said to him, “I will condemn you out of your own mouth, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into a bank? — so at my coming I should have collected it with interest?”

And he said to those nearby, “Take the pound from him, and give it to him who has the ten pounds.”

And they said to him, “Lord, he has ten pounds!”

“I tell you, that to every one who has will more be given; but from him 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 slay them before me.”

13 responses

  1. What first comes to mind is, if they updated the monetary value to be in pounds, why have they not updated it to be in euros? Did they consider the exchange rate between pounds and shekels(or whatever currency they were using then)? Was this 10 pounds in today’s money?
    It seems the parable is modified with a couple of lines. The first being that the citizens hated the man and the second being that the servant basically says that the lord is a bad person who is undeserving of what he has. I believe we are being told, in a way, to ignore this man’s advice. Other than that, there is a phenomena where people that are winning tend to continue to win and vice versa with losing. This could also be an acknowledgement of that phenomena.

  2. Not ‘updated’ — ‘Luke.’

    Matthew says ‘talents’, and that’s the version people are most familiar with; this one’s a little different. Matthew doesn’t have the boss traveling to be appointed King; Luke doesn’t have: “And cast the worthless servant into outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” (The type of thing Matthew may be unduly fond of saying…) ‘A pound’ was serious money, a ‘talent’ even more so; a “servant” aka “slave” of a king could be a high-ranking official.

    Ah, glad you caught that part about: ‘The servant is saying this lord is a bad person who hasn’t earned what he’s got.’ That’s the kind of detail Herzog thought was key; ie ~We’ve got peasants hijacked into a monetary, commercialized economy with everyone under pressure to get more money than he started with — and that money has to have come from somebody. The obvious source is from charging interest — which the Torah forbids in the kind of neighbor-to-neighbor loans it recommends.

    And as Billie Holiday put it, “God bless the child, that’s got his own.” A little updated peasant wisdom, in that song.
    —- —- —- —-

    But people have traditionally thought this traveler was either ‘Jesus’ himself, or else YHWH. That puts a whole different slant on it.

    But still very problematic.

    Given that ‘a parable’, a good one, is likely to ‘mean’ many things at once –It’s still likely that Jesus had something in mind that would have gotten him killed sooner if he’d said it straight out.

    Can we have a guess on what that was?

  3. I know Aramaic speakers sought to speak infusing everything with multiple meanings. I don’t know if this was inherent in their culture or an actual feature of the language.

    I can make a case for the money being a symbol of faith, but that would mean the lord is Jesus and Jesus is being a dick. I’d rather not read it that way and don’t know why anyone writing the Bible would write it that way.

    Maybe it is saying through the servant (and parable) what Jesus and others could not say about economic injustice and holding your own or “speaking truth to power”. That sounds much more like the Jesus I know.

  4. Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic… Not very many distinctly different words. If two words sound even vaguely alike, chances are good they’re related.

    How do you talk about a complex idea in such a language? You put your basic words together in a metaphor, like for example “son of” == “alike”, “caused by,” “behaving like an obedient child of,” “on close & affectionate terms with” (Honi the Circle Drawer, approached by his fellow villagers to pray for rain, “because we’re like field hands and you’re like a son of the household.”) “House”, for that matter: “an actual house,” “the Temple,” “a dynasty”, “a family.”

    This is one reason the Bible has been so popular in translation; the poetic ways of saying anything whatsoever make a strong appeal even when a reader doesn’t entirely realize that a phrase is an idiom, not to be taken as literally as it would be in his own language.

    Hmmm, another live question: “What is ‘faith’!” Maybe worth posting in its own right! (?)

    Okay, Jesus is one of two main contenders for ‘guy traveling away.’ “Being a dick” because he’ll take away your faith if you don’t keep it worked up into a frenzy?

    Ursula Jane O’Shea in a talk about modern liberal Quakerism sees the money as symbolizing our ‘spiritual heritage’, & the parable as expressing: not the harsh judgment it looks like, but a ‘use it or lose it’ situation.

    “The Jesus I know.” Everybody knows what Jesus looks like. Early Roman statues of him were beardless, had him resembling their traditional god of healing. Dutch painters depicted this Dutch guy. But anyway, we’ve all got a basic feel for what kind of character Jesus is. Not “a dick.” (Except for people who think “God is like that, and if you don’t like it you can go to Hell.” My first college room-mate thought that was where I was going. Nothing personal; he’d rather I got Saved.)

    The Jesus in this book just left Herod Antipas’ territory, after friendly Pharisees from court came to visit: ~ ‘He says if he finds you hanging around much longer you’ll end up like John the Baptist.’ He’s on his way to Jerusalem, taking flack from prestigious religious authorities everywhere he goes, and has been saying he expects to die when he gets there. Crossan described him as ~’100% religious and 100% political’ because there’s no such distinction in the governments or the religions of this time. He’s been pretty outspoken, so far.

    another context

  5. Fascinating… I had had an impression some time back that God was guiding me to know that “faith” was another way of saying “known information” — Faith was not “Believing” as I had previously defined it but was simply FACTS.

    Actually I loved that insight because it points out to me that it is only when you know something — KNOW the thing — that you have that level of belief in it that holds power over you.

    Forrest’s prompted us to consider “what is faith?”

    As you guys have wisely observed, the servant KNEW the Lord to be a bad guy….something which then does (at least on some level) justify Jesus saying “I will condemn you…you KNEW I was a severe man….” — saying that the fact that this man could believe this so deeply as to know it as fact reveals his heart.

    The other servants likewise seem to have been rewarded in proportion to their own passionate handling of the money. (if they did more with it, they got more out of it)


  6. One thing this is pointing up, yet again — is that the meaning Jesus intended, and the meaning people get — don’t need to be the same for a parable to carry whatever message a person can best use.

    And I’m still wondering whether ‘faith’ should get a separate discussion sometime soon.

    “The servant knew the Lord to be a bad guy.” That is, you’re saying the servant gets condemned — because his image of God is coming out of a mirror; and the picture looks ugly because he himself is ‘a severe man’ who would like to reap where someone else has sown? Okay…

    I do believe the ” ‘Talents’ are ‘our talents’ ” interpretation is one that later readers really are supposed to find in this parable. “Don’t be timid with the goodies or you’ll lose them,” yep.

    Okay, then, for my next post I’ll want to raise a different question: ‘What did the people there think Jesus was saying?’

  7. Interesting discussion. May I throw a different perspective into the mix?

    As always, context is key, and the context here is in verse 11: The crowd was still listening to Jesus as he was getting close to Jerusalem. Many of them thought that God’s kingdom would soon appear, 12 and Jesus told them this story:

    He tells it because they thought (correctly) that the Kingdom was near, but, of course, they misunderstood what that would mean. Could it be that Jesus is saying that even after the Kingdom comes (or begins coming) things were not going to change dramatically?

    The economic system of that time was different from ours. Ours is founded on the supposition that wealth can be created, theirs was a “limited good” one. Therefore, for them, for one person to get rich meant others had to get poorer. That is why tax collectors were considered robbers, even “honest” ones. Thus they would have heard this and their first thought would not be ours of “use it or lose it” but rather “great, the world is not going to change even when the Kingdom comes!”

    1. The differences between ‘their’ economic system and ours are looking more and more like differences in degree, not in kind. Their form of wealth concentration was in metal and land ownership; ours in virtual play money & land. Some of us do increase the society’s wealth (as distinguished from merely charging more for the same stuff) but if you think that’s where most personal ‘wealth’ comes from, have I got a bridge for you! Seriously, we can entertain the possibility of a person making money without getting it at other people’s expense, and as you say, they couldn’t. It just looks like people have been kidding ourselves about how often that happens in our contemporary economy.

      Me, I’m still wrestling with what it means that ‘the kingdom’ was ‘near,’ ‘here’, or as NT Wright interprets one passage, ~’within your grasp.’

      The story’s setting is different in Matthew, who was presumably getting his actual information from the same ‘source’ document. In both cases, Jesus’ role as prospective ‘King’ of that ‘kingdom’ is looming in the background somewhere.

      “God’s return to reign over & protect Israel is about to happen; it’s arriving as we speak — and it’s going to look like the same ugly system you’ve always had. New Age, same garbage!”? That can’t be what you mean — but you’ll need to explain better for me to see it.

    2. Ummm! Maybe I am starting to get it?–

      ala John: “The kings of the gentiles lord it over them… ” but that is precisely what becoming King, in the way his followers expect, would entail.

      So he’s telling this in hopes of explaining that he can’t give them anything different by giving them more of the same?

      1. I think that what he might have been saying is more along the lines of “there is a change coming, and it will be a major one, but it will not immediately wipe out the old, bad way. Things will continue to look the same in a lot of ways, because the kingdom will not be the kind of geographically-based kingdom you are used to. Changed people, living in community with each other, will operate differently, but will still be in the midst of the old fallen world.”

        I think you are right in your last comments. What they expected was the same kind of system but with a better class of tyrant in charge. That would not work and was never his purpose. Instead he brings us something much harder but much better, a life not based on rules and law, but on principle.

        By the way, I think you are right also about the fact that the differences in economic systems are not so great in practice, it is more in their philosophical underpinnings and the attitudes those engender. Thus today we might be jealous of someone getting rich but we do not automatically suspect them of robbery, whereas that would be one of the first thoughts to someone in Jesus’ day.

        1. I can imagine Jesus saying that, but I really can’t see this parable saying it.

          In line with Wright’s observation that the ‘king’ or ‘master’ protagonist in a parable is typically ‘God’, I woke up this morning seeing this as another parable about “faith”. [We really should have a discussion of that word some time…!]

          If Israel will have shown sufficient faith when Jesus comes to Jerusalem (manifesting the active presence of God): That nation and their leaders will have made good use of the spiritual treasures they’ve been given, so that God can bring the kingdom in the form they yearn for.

          If they have not, then the kingdom will look like the same ugliness manifest in their current sufferings, in which their Kings are greedy and merciless human beings who ‘lord it over them’ like the kings of the gentiles.


          “R. Alexandri said: R. Joshua b. Levi pointed out a contradiction. it is written, in its time [will the Messiah come], whilst it is also written, I [the Lord] will hasten it! — if they are worthy, I will hasten it: if not, [he will come] at the due time. R. Alexandri said: R. Joshua opposed two verses: it is written, And behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven whilst [elsewhere] it is written, [behold, thy king cometh unto thee … ] lowly, and riding upon an ass! — if they are meritorious, [he will come] with the clouds of heaven; if not, lowly and riding upon an ass. King Shapur [I] said to Samuel, ‘Ye maintain that the Messiah will come upon an ass: I will rather send him a white horse of mine.’ He replied, ‘Have you a hundred-hued steed?’ ”

          [Babylonian Talmud]

          more? See my 2nd comment on Luke 19.28 etc http://wp.me/p25OCt-Rd

          1. If this conversation keeps going much longer, we’ll be reading vertically!

            OK, I have gone back and looked up one of the sources that led me to my conclusions about these verses. I’ll cite it here since they say it better than I can. This is from “The Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels” by Malina and Rohrbaugh, Fortress Press, 2003:

            “Having just told a story of a rich man who surprisingly shared his goods with the poor, Luke fears his readers might mistakenly think the theocracy Jesus proclaimed had arrived. Being near Jerusalem and the end of Luke’s travel narrative might suggest the same. To prevent that conclusion Luke now records a parable of Jesus featuring a rich man who is anything but a model of the kingdom. The good example of Zacchaeus is paralleled with the bad example of the nobleman who entrusted his pounds to servants and got the cooperation of at least two of them in an extortion scheme. Jesus tells the story lest anyone prematurely think that extortion had been eradicated by the forthcoming arrival of the kingdom.”

            And, a little later:

            “The story of the pounds comes at the end of a long section of the gospel in which Luke has interpreted discipleship as t he sharing of possessions. However, the parable indicates that nothing fundamental has yet changed, and there is still a long way to go. Conflict over exactly these issues is precisely what is about to erupt as Luke’s story continues. Hence Luke uses this episode to prepare his overeager readers for the things that are soon to come.”

            1. Yeah, one word lines do not make a discussion a poem!

              I liked Malina (& Rohrbaugh)’ _Social Science Commentary on Revelation_. & would probably like what they had to say on the synoptic gospels also. They bring out an important dimension of these writings that modern readers easily miss. William Herzog is another good writer on those aspects.

              But there was a lot of meaning to ‘Revelation’ that, say, Jacques Ellul saw & they didn’t.

              Every time I’ve read another book on the Historical Jesus I’ve been inclined to say: “Oh! Of course; that makes sense now!” But there has always been something that didn’t fit.

              Borg’s one-big-stew approach is at least inclusive enough to accomodate many different pictures of ‘what it’s all about.’ But so far, Wright is coming closest to a coherent whole.

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