Of Lost Coins and Harsh Judgments
[Luke chapter 19, verses 11-27]
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When we last paused our studies of the writings of the apostle Luke, we were in chapter 19 of Luke’s gospel at the 10th verse. In the first portion of chapter 19 Luke relates the story of Zacchaeus, who was the biggest crook in town and who, upon encountering our Lord and Savior found himself hosting Him for dinner, and probably an overnight stay as well. Zacchaeus went from being thoroughly despised to having an audience with the Messiah, our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus, in the span of just a minute or so. How did this occur? It was because Zacchaeus repented of his sins before the Lord and then made restitution to anyone he had cheated. So here we have repentance combined with following through, even if it’s nothing more than issuing some major apologies (nope, no halfhearted ones, we all have to really mean it). This is how repentance is done, people, these are the guidelines we are to be following. First comes repentance, followed by genuine sorrow, then we put our words and intentions into action. With this in mind, let’s begin part 2 of Luke chapter 19 starting at verse 11.
“While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said, ‘A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work’, he said, ‘until I come back’. But the servants hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ 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 he had gained with it. The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’ ‘Well done, my good servant!’, his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has gained five more.’ His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’ “ (Luke 19, verses 11-19)
First of all, a ‘mina’ is equivalent to roughly 3 months wages in US dollars. Also called a “talent” in the King James version, whereas this quote is from the NIV Bible, my New Living Translation calls it “10 pounds of silver”, the point being that nobody today knows exactly how much this was, but suffice it to say it was a substantial sum. Notice the backdrop for this passage in verse 11. Jesus, the Twelve, and the large crowd that followed after them were following him to Jerusalem because they thought that – since he was the Messiah and they were all sure of that by now – he was going to establish his Kingdom upon his arrival. In reality, he was walking towards his crucifixion and death, and Jesus was the only one who understood that. He was also talking about himself in this parable. Jesus is the man born of nobility who would go away on a long journey, meaning, after he met his fate in Jerusalem on Passover, he would rise from the dead on the morning of the third day. Shortly thereafter, he would be taken up to heaven and would not return for a very long time.
This is exactly what Christianity faces today – Jesus has been gone for nearly 2,000 years, and it’s been a long wait, let’s face it. But that’s because this has been a test – a very long, arduous test. But, as Jesus said in Matthew chapter 24, “He who stands firm to the end shall be saved.” The ‘money’ in this parable symbolizes the good news of the Gospel, something that has more value than any amount of money could possibly buy! In the same way that the nobleman consigned ten ‘minas’ (or 10 pounds of silver each in the NLT Bible) to the 10 servants, Jesus gives all his followers a generous portion of the Holy Spirit to live inside them, dwelling there like the perfect roommate for each of us. But when Jesus returns he will be expecting us to have been faithful and productive to the best of our abilities. Those who faithfully discharge their duties as servants of the Risen Savior will be rewarded accordingly. Those who fail to do so, on the other hand, will be dealt with severely, as we will see in part 2 of today’s study, beginning at verse 20.
“Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept away hidden 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? Then why did you not 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 and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ ‘Sir’, they replied, ‘he already has ten!’ He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. 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, verses 20-27)
The third servant, who evidently had only received one ‘mina’ for an unspecified reason, did nothing whatsoever with what he had been entrusted with. The master got zero results from this third servant despite his expectations. This servant feared his master and found him difficult to work for. He didn’t invest his ‘mina’ out of fear of failure and the consequences if he did fail. So he took the easy way out, or the safe way if you like, making only a minimal effort to do only what was required and nothing more. This earned the servant the harshest possible rebuke short of physical punishment – at least for then. He would get his due later, as we shall see. So why, you’re probably wondering, did the master in Jesus’ story give that single ‘mina’ to the servant who had ten? Because that servant had been the most productive of them all, so it was to the master’s benefit that the servant received more.
“… to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away…”. Use faithfully what the Lord has given you and he will reward you with more. But as for the lazy, the fearful and those who are idle, whatever they have will be taken away from them and given to someone who isn’t the least bit timid about using whatever talent the Lord has given them to the best of their abilities. This reminds me of a lady who went to the same church I did quite some time ago. I played keyboards there with the band, as I have done with nearly every church I’ve been a member of. This lady’s husband was one of the guitar players and the lead vocalist. She had a beautiful singing voice, but she refused to sing with the band, pleading ‘stage fright’ and shyness as the reasons why. But there was more to it than that. This lady simply didn’t want to serve. She was content to just sit in the background, soaking up the service and the preaching while contributing nothing. Her husband gave freely of his musical talent every Sunday – we were not paid – but she would not. She was like the servant with the single ‘mina’, keeping her talent, which was considerable, all to herself. I don’t know if she ever repented of that or not, but I hope for her sake she did.
“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.” Remember, these ‘enemies’ were the remaining servants who had been entrusted with all those pounds of silver. It goes without saying none of them did anything with their ‘minas’ either. I mean, since they sent a delegation to the place of the nobleman’s coronation requesting that he not be made king, this gentleman knew of that and had spent the entire return trip plotting his revenge! In much the same way, there are many today who don’t want to make Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior, and who scoff at the very idea of anyone besides themselves being in charge of their lives. They self-identify as atheists or agnostics, as being non-religious, mistaking religion for faith in Christ. But whereas religion is adherence to dogma, tradition and laws, faith in Christ is Spiritual in nature, transcending books, laws and traditions. This is the ‘spiritual capital’ God has given each of us to work with. Moreover, if we don’t spend it in a way that is pleasing to him, God reserves the right to seize that ‘spiritual capital’ and give it to one who deserves it. And, He will be forceful about it as well, of that we can all be sure!
There is one final detail that bears examination, and that is the 2nd part of verse 27. This was the ultimate punishment for eight out of the original ten servants. Only two of them gave their master a good return on his investment. The other eight squandered their opportunity, and for all the wrong reasons, and it ultimately cost them all everything right down to their very lives. The nobleman had all eight, including the one who returned the solitary coin, put to death. Plus, he had them killed right in front of him. The nobleman was so incensed at their behavior, especially the part about the delegation the servants had sent behind his back, that he wanted to watch them all die. Remember the story of Lazarus and the rich man from chapter 16? The rich man called out to Lazarus from the fires of hell, asking for a cup of water to cool his tongue. But Lazarus saw the rich man in hell and took no pity on him. Lazarus stood there and watched the formerly rich man burn, and it must have felt good to him. In the same way, those in heaven, beginning with Christ on downward, will be able to see the fires of hell and those suffering therein. So it will be with all those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior. And next week we’ll move on to part 3 of Luke chapter 19.