Luke 19:11–27: The Parable of the Ten Minas
In this passage Jesus passes on another parable. (I often say something along the lines of “this is a well known parable,” but I think all of Jesus’ parables are well known, so I should stop saying that.)
As has been the case all along, Jesus is aware that his followers—even his closest followers, the Apostles—are confused about the nature of His Kingdom. What’s it going to look like? When is it going to happen? So, “because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (verse 11), he tells them this parable.
The parable starts with a nobleman, who is going away to “receive for himself a kingdom and return” (verse 12). In preparation, he calls ten of his servants, gives them each a mina (about three months’ wages for a labourer, according to the ESV footnotes), and instructs them to take care of things while he’s gone.
Not everyone is on board with this nobleman taking over the kingdom, however:
“But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’” (verse 14, Jesus speaking)
Regardless, their pleas don’t have the desired effect: when the nobleman returns, the kingdom is his (so I’m now going to refer to him as the “king,” though Jesus doesn’t).
Upon his return, the king calls his servants to ask them how they’ve managed the minas he gave them, and the first couple of servants he talks to did very well. The first used his mina to make ten more, so the king rewards him by putting him in charge of ten cities. The second did pretty good too, turning his mina into five, so the king rewards him by putting him in charge of five cities. Another of the servants, however, didn’t do as well:
“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.’” (verses 20–26, Jesus speaking)
Following this, the king has the ones who’d sent the delegation (because they didn’t want him as their king) brought to him and slaughtered.
Receiving the Kingdom
Going strictly by the story told in the parable, I don’t know what it means that the nobleman is going “to receive for himself a kingdom and return.” But translating the parables to what Jesus is saying about himself, it’s very clear: Jesus had to leave his life on earth, paying the price of our sins, in order to receive His Kingdom. He did, and he has. He hasn’t returned yet, however—which is the point of why he told this parable.
This parable is similar to the parable of the talents (in Matthew 25), though not the same. It seems that it’s a metaphor Jesus liked, so he used it in a couple of different ways. In both cases, however, he’s telling the parable for the same reason: to illustrate that we won’t know ahead of time when the “master” or the “ruler” is going to return, so we should always be ready. We tend to focus on the lesson of being wise and making the best use of what He has given us—which isn’t a bad lesson!—but in this passage the explicit reason Jesus is telling the parable is to correct the current thinking, that He is going to immediately bring about the Kingdom of God:
As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. (verse 11)
In the minds of the people around Jesus at the time, the Kingdom of God appearing immediately meant the overthrow of the Romans, and Israel becoming an independent nation again. Taken in that context, what points are Jesus making with this parable?
- The Kingdom of God was not coming back immediately—at least, not fully. (See a larger discussion of this in the post on Luke 17:20–37.)
- Given the nature of Jesus’ Kingdom, some might not be so eager for it to come. Or, another way to put it, those who were eager for the kingdom to come would have been well served to better understand the nature of the Kingdom before they started looking forward to it.
- Regardless of anyone’s feelings on the matter, Jesus is King. We may or may not like the nature of His Kingdom, we may or may not like the fact that He is King in the first place, but He is, and the Bible articulates the nature of His Kingdom. It’s our task to deal with those facts.
- Personally, I feel that the more we truly dig into the nature of His Kingdom, and who He is, the more we realize how good it is, but we have to come to terms with the truth of the matter before we can decide on whether we like it or not. Many of us do the opposite: we decide we don’t like it (whether based on good information or not), and then decide that, because we don’t like it, it can’t be true.
- Again, given the focus on the timing of Jesus’ return, how is that tied to the minas (or the talents)? The lesson on “doing the best with what He has provided” makes logical sense, but what does that have to do with timing? At least in part, the point is that we should do the best with what He has provided now.
- If I have natural abilities in certain areas I should use those abilities for His sake. Could those abilities benefit from some training or some schooling? Quite possibly, and I’ll be better able to use them once that has happened, but in most cases I should start using those abilities sooner rather than later. (Exceptions would apply; if I have abilities as a doctor I probably shouldn’t be attempting open heart surgery until I’ve had the proper training. But if I have abilities as a musician I don’t need to have intensive schooling and experience to use my abilities in the Church. Wisdom is required, but if we’re waiting to use our gifts it should be that we’re waiting for the right reasons.)
- I shouldn’t decide that I’m going to serve Him a little bit now, and then fully serve Him when I retire. True, I’ll have more free time when I retire (perhaps retired readers are rolling their eyes at that statement), and when I retire I should use that time wisely, but it’s also true that by the time I retire I may not have the same health or strength I do now, and it’s also true that I might not even make it to retirement—many things could cause me to go home to Him before I even get to that point—so I should serve Him as best I can all the time, both now and when I retire.
Regardless of why this would happen in real life, in the parable the “citizens” of the kingdom don’t want this nobleman to be their ruler, so they send a delegation to voice their concerns. Since the “nobleman” in this parable is obviously Jesus, we can read these “citizens” as the Jews of Jesus’ day who wouldn’t have wanted Him as their ruler, or, pushing the point further, anyone who doesn’t want Jesus as their king. (It’s best not to try to push the metaphor too far, however. Things get silly if we picture people petitioning God and asking Him not to put His Son in authority over them. We should think of this as more of a generic sentiment than anything concrete like an actual “delegation” to God.)
In the parable, the king has these people brought and slaughtered in front of Him. If this seems harsh, we should stop and revisit the Gospel in our minds. The “Good News” of the Gospel is only “good” because of the bad news that we are saved from. All of us must face God when we die, and one of two things will happen: either we’ve followed His Son, and we will go to be with Him forever, or we haven’t, and we’ll be cast out into Hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Whether we like it or not is irrelevant; this is what’s going to happen. Whether we think it’s fair or not is irrelevant; this is what’s going to happen. Our focus should not be on whether we like it or not, but on whether it’s true or not.
That being said, coming back to the point on whether it’s “fair” or not, it’s true that it’s not “fair,” but in the opposite way of what we think: the people who are cast into Hell are getting what is “fair,” whereas those of us who will go to be with God forever are not getting what is “fair.” It would have been fair to cast us into Hell as well, but instead Jesus took our sins upon Himself. It’s not “fair” that I’ll be with God forever, but it’s true, and I’m thankful for it. That offer is open to everyone, not just me.
I’ll reword something I said above, though: it’s not wrong, as a Christian, to wrestle with these topics. It’s not wrong to say, “This doesn’t feel fair to me, and I’d like to understand it better.” Or, “I can’t believe that this is how God has structured things.” Given the right attitudes, those are very natural reactions, and the thinking Christian should wrestle with them. As with so many topics in the Bible, it’s not a matter of whether or not we tackle these topics, it’s how we tackle them. Take, for example, Zechariah and Mary in Luke 1; an angel appears to both, and gives a very similar message: Zechariah is going to have a son even though he’s old, and Mary is going to have a son even though she’s a virgin. Both extraordinary situations—even more so for Mary than for Zechariah—and both ask the angel how this could be. But there’s a definition difference in attitude from both Zechariah and Mary:
- Zechariah: “I’m going to have a son? Yeah right! How’s that supposed to happen?”
- Mary: “I’m going to have a son? Wow! How is that going to happen?”
Both are seeking answers, but Zechariah is seeking from a place of doubt in his God, and Mary is seeking from a place of trust in her God.
If I don’t like the idea of Hell, and I don’t like the idea of Jesus telling a parable in which the “King” (i.e. himself) has his enemies slaughtered, it’s fine for me to seek to try to understand better. But as I’m seeking, I should also trust in God, should know (from the whole of the Scriptures) that He is good, and righteous, and loving, and holy, and try to understand things from those perspectives. I should trust that even if I don’t figure it out He knows better than me, and I can trust Him to do what is right.