"Story Time: Ten Slaves and Ten Pounds"

LUKE 19:11-28

Jun 22, 2014

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            We started it on our twentieth wedding anniversary.  We decided on the "tens" that we would do something special, go someplace we've always wanted to go.  For our twentieth it was a trip to Maui, just the two of us.  That was a stretch for us back then.  We had a son a year away from college, and a daughter still in middle school.  We were trying to prepare for those college "maltuition" years which are tough.  Funny, we go to Hawaii every year now, but back then it was a trip that really tested our budget. 

            For our fortieth we intended to go to Australia, but that got derailed by a family wedding.  Maybe we'll do it for our "50th," God willing.  Our thirtieth anniversary trip, however, is the one I want to talk about this morning.  For our thirtieth we wanted to go on an Alaskan cruise, and we did.  Two other couples, four of our closest friends in Florida, went with us.  We renewed our vows on the trip, which we did on ship in a private ceremony with the captain of the ship.  We began planning the September trip, months before at the beginning of the year, which happened to be the year 2000 when a number of people thought the world was going to come to an end.  If it didn't come to an end, at least all the computers would stop working, but none of that came to pass, so shortly into the year 2000 we began planning our 30th anniversary trip to Alaska.

            The trip was great, but what was not so great, and what we did not know in January of 2000 or even in July of 2000, was that we would move back to Omaha the week after our cruise.  In early August of 2000 Trudy received a phone call from the President of CBS/Home real estate.  They were in search for someone to manage one of their offices and the president of the company offered her the job.  After 25 years of Trudy following me around the United States ... Omaha to Oregon back to Omaha to Florida ... I decided I would follow her.  I would take time to write and do conference speaking which I did.

            We had a great time on our Alaskan cruise, but the day after we got home was to be our last Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church of Maitland.  I was not looking forward to that Sunday.  We had made good friends there.  The church was the second best church I had ever served, you being the best, of course.  As great as each day of our Alaskan cruise had been, the good-bye Sunday loomed on the horizon.  As we inched our way closer and closer to Vancouver, British Columbia, and our flight back to Orlando, the cloud of dread got larger and larger.

            Now, let's crank those feelings up a thousand-fold.  This is the last parable Jesus will tell before entering Jerusalem where he will spend the last week of his earthly life.  Immediately after this parable comes Palm Sunday.  Before this parable were Jesus and the Twelve in the Galilee.  Before this parable were all those table talks and sermons in open country.  Before this parable were the seaside audiences and the desperately poor and ill pressing upon Jesus on the Sabbath.  After this parable Jerusalem awaits, with its temple, its chief priests and elders.  After this parable, Pontius Pilate and Caiaphus, and the cross await. 

            That's the historical setting of this parable, and prior to the two-pronged punchline of the parable, I want to make four preliminary remarks.        

            First, this is not the parable we think we know.  This is not the Parable of the Talents that Matthew records.  We are much more familiar with the Parable of the Talents, a parable often used for stewardship sermons or spiritual gift sermons.  No, this is the parable of the pounds, a pound representing about three months of wages in Jesus' time.  It's similar to the parable of the talents, but it is also different from the parable of the talents.  So let's not jump to any conclusions about the meaning of the parable.

            That leads me to the second preliminary remark I want to make.  This parable is different in that it is the only parable whose story is tied to an actual historical event.  I'm referring to the nobleman who went away to receive a kingdom, and whose subjects did their best to stop him from receiving it.   Something like that happened in the history of Israel.  After the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C., his son Archelaus travelled to Rome to petition the emperor to be made king over Judea in his father's place.  A delegation of some 50 citizens of Judea followed him to lodge their protests against this proposal, since the rule of Herod was so brutal, and they didn't want to take any chances with his son.  There is no evidence, however, that he slaughtered the 50 citizens of Judea who went to Rome to lobby against him.  Although it would not have been at all out of character for him to have done so, given what we know about his character and method of governing. Certainly the notion of a king carrying out such vengeance upon his opponents would not have shocked the sensibilities of people in Luke's day.

            The third preliminary remark I want to make is Jesus' rationale for telling this parable.  Note his wording.  Verse one.

 

            He went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.

 

            Jesus told the parable in order to address a major misconception, the misconception that the Kingdom of God would commence shortly after Jesus arrived in the holy city.  The idea floating around at the time was all the benefits, the freedom, the joy, the peace associated with the Kingdom of God was about to be theirs, if not within hours of entering Jerusalem, then certainly within days.  Jesus was telling them it was not going to work that way.  Instead, like the nobleman he would soon be "going away," and not until his return would the reign of God be complete.  It was sort of like the hire of Bo Pelini at Nebraska.  Some people expected the glory days to return shortly after he stepped foot on campus as the head coach.  Well, his entering Lincoln certainly has been an improvement over Bill Callahan, but not quite like many expected. 

            Then one final preliminary remark prior to turning to the punchline of the parable.  It has to do with a mark of a good story teller.  Notice ten slaves were given money, but Jesus only tells us what happened to three of the slaves.  Jesus did what some people are unable to do.  He doesn't need to tell us every detail to get the point across. 

            I'm sure you know people who take forever to get their point across, people who tell you the War and Peace version instead of the Cliff Notes version.  Trudy has a couple of agents like that in her office.  They will come with a problem and tell her detail after detail after detail.  They say in ten minutes what could easily be communicated in three minutes.  We've all met people who, if you ask them a question, just keep going and going and going, and there's nowhere to press the pause button. 

            OK, those are the preliminary remarks, and now for the punchline.  Actually, there are two punchlines based on the twofold nature of his audience.  I'm sure most of you saw the videos of the two pronged tornado that hit Pilger, Nebraska.  Well, this is a two-pronged parable, with a very eerie and sobering message, directed to two very different groups of people.  Note the beginning of the parable, "As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable."  The question, of course, is, "Who comprises the 'they.'"  "As they were listening ..."  Well, who was listening?  Well, we know the disciples are with Jesus, but that's not all.  We also have a crowd of people excited by, but not necessarily committed to Jesus, and this parable has a punchline for each group, one for the committed and another for the non-committed.  

            To the larger not-yet-committed audience he offers a warning.   The warning is that for those who refuse his lordship, for those who reject the reign of God, the return of the Son of Man will bring judgment and not joy, death and not life. 

            For years Jesus has been preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God.  In just about every encounter be it with sinners, or tax collectors, or Pharisees, or the poor, or the rich, or lepers, or children, or demoniacs, or Gentiles or women, he has been revealing the mind and will of God for the world.  He has been modeling and teaching how God's followers are to live and act.  His resurrection will shortly confirm and vindicate not only Jesus but also his presentation of God's way of the world.  To refuse God's way of living for something else is to reject God. 

            I venture to say this is the reason this particular parable does not rate highly in the polls.  If, indeed, we did a survey among Christians with regard to parables, not only favorite ones, but parables in general, it is likely that this story would be missing from the list entirely.  I say that because this one can't be sentimentalized.  There are harsh words here.  This one can't be sweetened with a little sugar from the bowl of pop-style religion.  This parable does not throw everyone into the welcoming arms of God.  This parable speaks directly, bluntly, even harshly as it lays its warning on people's hearts.

            According to the parable a day of reckoning, a day of settling accounts is coming.  This idea often appears in the Scriptures, but also in culture in general.  There have been two Day of Reckoning video games published by Nintendo.  Four movies have been given that title, the most recent starring that internationally respected Thespian Jean Claude Von Damme.  There have been three Day of Reckoning titled albums from three different heavy metal bands.  I suppose the idea of the Day of Reckoning does not go well with acoustic guitar.  Such an idea goes better with heavy metal.  In 2009 there was even a mixed martial arts event titled "The Day of Reckoning."

            This Day of Reckoning, this settling of accounts also applies to Jesus' followers, albeit in another way.  Verse 15 ... "When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading."

            The punchline for the disciples is somewhat different.  Yes, it too is a Day of Reckoning, but it's more a Nasdaq Report or a Dow Jones Report on our personal trading on the Jesus' Market.  Whereas the first reckoning comes as a warning to those opposed to Jesus, the second reckoning comes in the form of a call to faithfulness and accountability in the interim between the departure and the return of the king.   What we are doing with what God has given us.  How has our faith trading gone?

            Think about it.  Each of us has been given in equal measure a most intimate relationship with God.  This is our pound.  Gifts and talents have been given us in differing measures, but in this important gift of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ there are no advantages or disadvantages one has that others do not have.  Each of us received the pound when God took us to himself in baptism, washed us in the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and locked his promise on our hearts.  You heard that right.  We all receive in equal measure.  No one loved less than others.  No one is loved more than others.  "Trade with this.  Trade with your faith in me" the Master tells us, "until I come.  I don't want you to sit on your faith.  I want you to multiply the faith in yourself and in others."

            One of my mentors from afar, whom I actually got to meet a time or two, was a man named Bruce Larson.  For a time he was president of an organization called Faith at Work.  He was a Presbyterian pastor as well as a prolific author.  One of the high points of my life was when he complemented me on the One Anothering series of books, I had written.  Anyway, I like the way he put it.  He puts it more in acoustic guitar rather than heavy metal language.  Here's what he wrote in his commentary on Luke.

 

            If you are a Christian, you are someone in whom God lives.  You may look frail and imperfect, but somehow in that earthen vessel is a treasure.  We read in Scripture that all of creation, every known form of life in heaven and earth and the cosmos, is standing on tiptoe to see if you and I, God's most extraordinary creations, will find our inheritance.  Will we become those unique miracles that God had in mind at our creation and redemption.[1]

 

            That's our pound.  Have we increased it or decreased it?  Is it advancing or declining?  That's what the King comes back to find out.  Amen.


[1] Bruce Larson, The Communicator's Commentary: Luke, Word Books: Waco, TX 1983, p.277.