Hello, my name is David and I’m a member of the congregation here at Saint Barnabas. A big welcome if you are new here. Today we are looking at the last of Jesus’ parables in the Gospel of Luke.
We have a lodger staying in our house at the moment. He’s called Nick. He’s Greek, 27 years old and works at RoofEast - a rooftop bar near the Olympic park in Stratford. I really like Nick. He high fives my boys Ben and Frank every morning. He’s kind and respectful and after each long shift into the early hours he’s careful not to wake us up as he creeps up the stairs.
Nick is waiting. Waiting for the paperwork on his visa to be sorted. His girlfriend is in America. His friends and business partners are in Texas – they are setting up a chain of Juice Bars there. And Nick is stuck here. Largely alone. Working long, long hours.
What keeps him going is the thought that soon, very soon, his visa will arrive and he will join his girlfriend and friends in Texas where they can start their new business. In the light of this his long hours, his loneliness has a purpose – the more he can earn now, the more he can finance his new business. He has a future hope and that transforms and gives a kind of grittiness to how he lives now.
The parable of the Ten Minas speaks of a future hope. A future reunion that can transform and give meaning to the way we live our lives now. JESUS waits for us all – you, me, everyone in Hackney, all the people of the world – either at the end of our lives or when he returns as King. What will he say to you? Because really it (life!) boils down to that. What will Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world say to me David James Cawston? Will the things I value be valued by Christ? Will the things I ignored and left undone prove to be the very things that Jesus most treasures? The parable presents a surprisingly hard-nosed picture of judgement. It is clear that our lives will be assessed and I’d like to suggest this judgement operates on two levels. That is going to form the structure for this short talk. First, we are going to look at Jesus’ Judgement of his SUBJECTS – that is Everyone, and Secondly, Jesus’ Judgement of his SERVANTS, that is Christians. 1. JESUS’ JUDGEMENT OF HIS SUBJECTS It is probably natural when reading this parable to focus on the central portion, verses 15-26, which speaks of the three servants, their relative success in multiplying their masters’ money, and his subsequent judgement of their work. However this narrative is bookended (at the start in verses 11-14 and at the end in verse 27) by more problematic and obscure but equally important information. And in order to understand this we need to quickly look at a couple of contextual points: First; Jesus is nearing Jerusalem when he tells this parable and his followers are expecting the kingdom of God to appear when he gets there. Verse 11 says ‘…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.’ Jesus’s followers thought that his arrival in Jerusalem would herald a great reckoning when the Roman oppressors would be defeated and the Jewish people’s freedom restored. Jesus told them this parable to indicate that the Kingdom would not come for some time and that he would be going away and returning in judgement, just like the King in the parable. Second; This narrative of a man of noble birth travelling to a distant country to be appointed king initially seems strange. When our Queen dies will Charles get the Eurostar to France to be crowned king? It seems ridiculous to us but it would have been normal to Jesus’ listeners as they lived in a country occupied by foreign rulers. Indeed just a few years before this parable was told King Herod’s successor Archilayus travelled to Rome to be crowned governor of Palestine. Verse 14 tells us that ‘his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king’ and the exact same thing happened with Archilayus. He was so reviled that the Jewish people lobbied against him in Rome.
These opening verses present us with an absent King who is rejected by a large number of his subjects and that of course is a picture of Christ who, as he tells this parable, is on his way to the cross. On his way to being crucified by his subjects. The Bible tells us that all of us say in our hearts along with the subjects in verse 14 ‘We don’t want this man to be our king’. We reject God’s rightful rule over our lives and we fall short of his holy standards. And the result? Well it is there, starkly, in verse 27: ‘But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be a king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me’. That is the Judgement of Jesus. That if we reject him we face eternal separation from him. It’s a hard truth. I don’t know if you noticed the first few words of our passage? Verse 11 reads ‘while they were listening to this…’ That is it seems Jesus told the Parable of the Ten Minas whilst he was in the house of Zacchaeus. And that for me is helpful because the story of Zacchaeus is one that needs to be held in tension with the judgement in our parable. Zacchaeus, a man who betrayed his countrymen to work for the Romans as their chief tax collector and then betrayed them again by taking more from them than he should. He got richer as they got poorer. This is the man, reviled and full of sin, that Jesus sought out. He accepted him and ate with him. It’s a picture of grace and Christ’s offer to all. He says to you, me…everyone ‘I must stay at your house today’. Through my death for you on the cross I accept you, with all your sin which I have paid for. Our choice is to accept this free offer or reject it. You’ll notice that Zacchaeus’ change of behaviour – see there in verse 8 of chapter 19 he gives half his possessions to the poor and pays back those he has cheated four times the amount – comes in response to Christ’s saving love and grace. Some of you will know that we have a youth group here on Thursday evenings. TRU – The Room Upstairs. We have a short talk time and a few weeks ago one of the boys said this about life: ‘It’s like this’ he said ‘you have like a big chequebook and every good thing you do in your life gives you a little tick in a box on the chequebook and when you get to heaven you show this to Jesus and if you have enough ticks he will be pleased and let you into heaven’. It’s actually a very perceptive comment. I believed the same thing at his age but wouldn’t have been able to articulate it. Something in our hearts thinks we can earn our way into God’s good books. And there is the danger that a reading of the Parable of the Ten Minas perpetuates this myth. The first two servants win Christ’s approval but the third fails. The Bible is clear that no amount of good works can meet God’s holy and just standards. Each of us is fully and wholly dependent on God’s grace in Christ – so that no-one can boast. That is then the Judgement of Jesus. He holds out his offer of grace to all the Zacchaeus’s, all the sinners. Verse 27 of our parable makes the consequences of rejecting that offer clear.
So we’ve looked together at Jesus’ judgement of his subjects. Now let’s turn to JESUS’ JUDGEMENT OF HIS SERVANTS
Here in the form of the three servants we have Jesus’ judgement of Christians. We can broadly see the first two as one group – the ‘good’ servants and the third servant as the other - the ‘wicked’ servant. Let’s look at the ‘good’ servants first. What can we learn from them? You’ll remember my lodger Nick who I mentioned earlier. Nick who has a future hope (in Texas) that gives him meaning and hope and grit and determination in the present. Obviously his goal, whilst good, is not ultimate in the sense we are dealing with here. But I have to admit, my Christian life is not like that at present. As a follower of Jesus I know, deep down here, what is important to Christ, and what is not. I know what is of eternal worth and what is of the world. And yet so often the temporary things of this life crowd out Jesus’ voice. Prayer, worship, building up others, loving others, giving money, giving time, witness get replaced with ‘stuff’: TV, drink, ambition, laziness, lack of love, to name a few. I think this passage points to a few attributes and qualities that can help us be ‘good and faithful’ servants of Jesus.
First, there is a sense that what Jesus requires of us is to follow him in the small things. He says to the servant in verse 17 ‘…Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ It reminded me of Jesus’ miracle the feeding of the 5,000 (see Luke 9) where he takes the meagre offering of a small child and turns it into a feast for thousands. Jesus is able to take our small offerings and turn them into great things. Things with eternal significance. A prayer, a kind word, dragging yourself to church, telling someone about your faith, singing a song of worship, giving money to someone in need, forgiving someone, bearing a friend’s burden. These are small things, not recognised as ‘great acts’ by the world but infinitely important to our Saviour Jesus.
Secondly, be thankful. Perhaps months or years after the master leaving the first servant was doing very well. She had invested here money in a field, established a farm, which had produced crops, sold for profit which funded the purchase of a further portion of land and so on. Three years down the line she was a wealthy farmer respected by her competititors who she began to realise were overcharging and cutting corners to up their profit. When the temptation came to follow suit she was brought to her senses by the distant memory of her master counting out his coins into her hand before he left. What would he think of her when he returned? Would he approve of her cheating and lying and stealing in order to maximise his money? So often we forget that our money, our talents, our possessions, our friends, our family, our time, even our faith are all counted out into our hands by our Heavenly Father. Everything we have is a gift from him and that realisation should, could transform the way we live. That is why turning to God in prayer each day and THANKING him for things is healthy. Grace before a meal reminds us that ultimately our food comes from Him. Turning to him in prayer amidst our personal successes and failures acknowledges that these things are in his control and come from him, not us. Jesus counts out into our open hands our time and talent and all that we have. We can live lives of thankful service in response.
One final point before we finish with the third servant. You will notice that he wrapped his mina in a piece of cloth and buried it. A safe option! In contrast the other two servants invest their mina. And as anyone knows any kind of business involves risk. Generally the greater the risk the greater the reward or loss. Is there something of that in the Christian life? In Luke 9:24 Jesus says: ‘For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it’. Serving God involves an element of risk. When we tell people that we are a Christian we risk our reputation. When we give our money back to God via the church or a charity or someone in need we risk our financial security. When we chose to invest everything in have in following Christ, if it turns out to be untrue we risk wating our life. Jesus calls us to risky living. Just like Noah building a great carcass of a boat on a plain that hadn’t seen water in decades sometimes our faith can seem a step too far. The parable assures us that it will not be in vain.
So, finally, what of the third servant? There are two quick questions I want to examine together: 1. Who does the servant represent? And 2. What is the servant’s motivation? How can we understand him? Let’s return to the text from verse 20: ‘Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 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.’ 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?’ Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas’.
There is some debate amongst Bible scholars as to the status of the third servant. Who does he represent? Is he like those, in the Parable of the Sower in Luke chapter 8, who are found among the path or rock or thorns? Those who hear and accept the Jesus’ message but for different reasons fall away and are not saved? Or alternatively is the third servant a Christian who is left with nothing as a result of her fruitless life but still saved by grace? I would tend towards the second view. It seems clear from a reading of verses 26 and verse 27 that the judgement and fate of the third servant is different from the subjects in verse 27. The servant has his mina taken from him. The subjects have their very lives taken from them. The servant is left with nothing but the implication is that he is still saved by grace. I was reminded of a passage in 1 Corinthians which speaks along similar lines. 1 Corinthians 3: 9-15:
‘If anyone builds on this foundation (Jesus Christ) using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up the builder will suffer loss, but yet will be saved – even though only as one escaping through the flames.’
And finally what is the servant’s motivation? Is the master overly harsh with him? What leads the servant to view his master as a hard man? Imagine you are this third servant. You are called into your master – ‘here is a portion of my wealth’ he tells you ‘invest it until I return’. You return home and ponder. Why would I spend my time and effort earning an absent boss money? Just bury it. And if he ever does come back – he probably won’t, most people hate him round here – I can return his money. In the meantime I can get on with my life. Making my own money. Keeping my own money. Spending and enjoying my own money.
Is it this which is behind the servant’s complaint that the master is ‘a hard man, taking out what he does not put in, reaping what he does not sow’? The third servant expects that if his master does return he will take back his money leaving him with nothing. All that time and effort wasted just to make someone else richer. In fact the master’s return reveals him to be kind, encouraging and extremely generous. The first and second servants are rewarded for their small acts of service with exponentially greater gifts of position, privilege and responsibility – the rule of ten and five whole cities respectively. The fate of the third servants is a stern warning to us to invest all that God has given us in his service. It won’t be wasted it will be rewarded. If we channel our time into our own agendas at the expense of God’s we will be left with nothing.
Jesus Christ is not a hard, severe judge but a kind gentle Saviour, waiting for us, ready to greet you and me with the words ‘well done, my good servant!’. Our small acts of service will be rewarded with such generosity that our breath will be taken away. This parable pleads with us not to waste our lives and regret it. CS Lewis in his book the Weight of Glory says: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Invest your life in following Jesus and you will be richly rewarded! Let’s pray