The crowd was listening to everything Jesus said. And because he was nearing Jerusalem, he told them a story to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away.
He said, “A nobleman was called away to a distant empire to be crowned king and then return. Before he left, he called together ten of his servants and divided among them ten pounds of silver, saying, ‘Invest this for me while I am gone.’ But his people hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We do not want him to be our king.’
“After he was crowned king, he returned and called in the servants to whom he had given the money. He wanted to find out what their profits were. The first servant reported, ‘Master, I invested your money and made ten times the original amount!’
“‘Well done!’ the king exclaimed. ‘You are a good servant. You have been faithful with the little I entrusted to you, so you will be governor of ten cities as your reward.’
“The next servant reported, ‘Master, I invested your money and made five times the original amount.’
“‘Well done!’ the king said. ‘You will be governor over five cities.’
“But the third servant brought back only the original amount of money and said, ‘Master, I hid your money and kept it safe. I was afraid because you are a hard man to deal with, taking what isn’t yours and harvesting crops you didn’t plant.’
“‘You wicked servant!’ the king roared. ‘Your own words condemn you. If you knew that I’m a hard man who takes what isn’t mine and harvests crops I didn’t plant, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’
“Then, turning to the others standing nearby, the king ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’
“‘But, master,’ they said, ‘he already has ten pounds!’
“‘Yes,’ the king replied, ‘and to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. And as for these enemies of mine who didn’t want me to be their king—bring them in and execute them right here in front of me.’” (New Living Translation)
The great humanitarian issues of this world are not only individual concerns but are also systemic problems.
And the majority of those troubles are us climbing the wrong ladder. It’s a booger to get to the top and find out all that energy was expended for a worthless chamber pot full of $%&!.
So, whenever we examine Holy Scripture, especially the words of Jesus, it’s necessary to pay attention and hear both the responsibility of individuals and the accountability which human culture has to ensure a just society and equitable structural systems.
In other words, evil resides in both the individual human heart and in the world’s operating system. Corporations, communities, and churches not only have sinful persons within them; sin also resides in the very ways we about business, interactions, even worship.
Westerners tend to read a story, like today’s Gospel parable from Jesus, with individualist eyes. Yes, it is about individual servants; and it’s also about community and culture – and ultimately about the kingdom of God.
The cost of Christian discipleship is high, demanding both personal and communal faithfulness to Jesus Christ.
Christianity is concerned for all of life – not just the religious parts but all the parts – both body and soul, personal and communal, church and workplace, individual minds and institutional education, healthy emotional selves and healthy public discourse. It all matters to God.
Whoever’s in charge makes a big difference as to whether right and just systems are followed, or whether corrupt and oppressive operations are the chief mode of ruling.
To illustrate the contrast, Jesus told a parable about systemic evil and whether one will be faithful to that or some other way of operating.
In the parable, the nobleman becoming the king is a reference to an earthly ruler, not Jesus. Before this worldly prince takes off to obtain more authority, he summons ten of his servants and gives them each ten pounds, or coins.
As the sort of person who rules in standard worldly ways, the nobleman fully expects the servants to operate just as he himself would: collect unfair taxes, squeeze the poor of what little they have, and generally do whatever it takes to make a profit. This, of course, is why the story tells us that the general populace hate the guy in charge.
This is not a parable about rejecting the Messiah or God; it is about authority and government, economics and politics, systemic oppression and structural evil. It’s about where our faith and commitment is truly placed.
The ruler is quite pleased when the first and second servants faithfully invest in the politics and economics of his worldly kingdom. So, the servants are rewarded for abiding by the system.
However, if you buck the system, like the third servant did, you’ll get condemned. That servant knew the sort of ruler he was dealing with and the kind of cutthroat system which was in place. And he wanted nothing to do with it.
The third servant in the parable is unfaithful to the unjust ruler and oppressive system because he is faithful to another lord with a different kind of system. This servant was prepared to accept the consequences of his convictions and his inaction. In a way, he was practicing civil disobedience.
As servants under God’s rule and reign, we are not to play along with worldly systems of injustice and oppression. If we want to be faithful Christian disciples, then we must live into the words and ways of Jesus; we must be prepared to pay the price for our commitment to an alternative kingdom.
Everyone has faith. It’s just a matter of whom and what we place that faith in.
Perhaps Jesus had the words of his mother, Mary, in his mind when he told the story. She was willing to accept whatever happens in a complete commitment and faith in God:
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38, NRSV)
Jesus was unlike any earthly ruler. Christ operated very differently than any worldly government. He and his teaching were in stark contrast to others:
God will bless you people
who are poor.
His kingdom belongs to you!
God will bless
you hungry people.
You will have plenty
God will bless you people
who are now crying.
You will laugh!
God will bless you when others hate you and won’t have anything to do with you. God will bless you when people insult you and say cruel things about you, all because you are a follower of the Son of Man…. So when this happens to you, be happy and jump for joy! You will have a great reward in heaven.
But you rich people
are in for trouble.
You have already had
an easy life!
You well-fed people
are in for trouble.
You will go hungry!
who are laughing now
are in for trouble.
You are going to cry
You are in for trouble when everyone says good things about you. (Luke 6:20-26, CEV)
In order to embrace Christian ethics, worldly practices have got to be jettisoned. To make room for the good, the just, and the right, we must let go of any and all ways contrary to our Christian commitment of following Jesus.
Are you willing to be the third servant?
Gracious and sovereign Lord God of all, in your mercy, hear our prayers:
Help us to be understanding and forgiving of all those we encounter.
Show us how to serve one another, to offer love, care and support.
Guide all those who are called to lead and advocate in the world.
Inspire our leaders, teachers, doctors, social workers and counsellors to be bringers of hope in all situations.
Protect all those who carry peace to other nations. Bless the food, care and shelter they provide.
Comfort those who live with grief. Help them see the light of heaven.
Heal all the broken-hearted and those with broken bodies and spirits.
Embrace those in pain and physical suffering. May they feel your abiding and close presence.
Watch over all who feel isolated and alone. Calm their fears and lead them into peace and freedom.
Strengthen and encourage all those who seek to serve and protect the vulnerable.
Lead us to be generous with our time, possessions and money.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers, and answer them according to your good grace and in your good time. Amen.