Wednesday of Week 33 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 19:11-28

Immediately following the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus comes a parable about the use of what God has given to us.

Jesus and his disciples are near Jerusalem where “they supposed…the kingdom of God was to appear immediately”. How right they were! It was indeed going to appear in Jerusalem, but not at all in the way they expected – with the political and military defeats of enemies. As the beginning of the Acts reveals, they “were hoping” that Jesus was about to restore the political kingdom of Israel. In time, they would learn that a kingdom of far greater significance was coming into being and that they would play an important part in its inauguration.

The parable which follows differs significantly from a similar one of the talents in Matthew (25:14-30). In Luke, too, there may be two parables fused into one – that of the coins and that of a disputed claimant to a royal throne (symbolising Jesus himself).

Jesus begins the parable by saying that a man of noble birth went to a far country to have himself appointed king and then return. This may have reminded his hearers of Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great, who went to Rome in the year 4 BC to get himself appointed king. On his return, he succeeded his father. It may seem a rather unusual procedure, but the Herods used to go to Rome in order to get appointed as rulers over the Jews.

Similarly, Jesus is soon to depart and in the future will return as king. During his absence, his servants are entrusted with their master’s affairs.

In the parable, the king, before leaving, gives ten units of money to each of ten servants and tells them to invest the money until his return. The coins are called ‘pounds’ (minas in some translations) and were each worth about 100 drachmas, where a drachma was the equivalent of one day’s wages. Each coin then was the equivalent of about three months’ wages. This is a much smaller sum than those in Matthew’s parable. The other difference is that there are ten people and each one gets the same amount. Recall that in Matthew’s parable there are three people who get respectively 10, 5 and 1 talents.

In the parable, we are told that the people despised this man and did not want him as their king. In fact, a Jewish delegation had gone to Rome protesting at the idea of Archelaus becoming king. In the same way, Jesus was soon to go away and return some day as King and Judge. While he is ‘away’, his ‘servants’ will be entrusted to take care of their Master’s affairs. But others will reject him completely.

When he returned, the new king asked each of his servants to give an account of their trading, as Jesus will do at the Judgement. One had made another ten units on his capital of ten, and he was rewarded by being put in charge of ten towns. Another had made five, and was rewarded with five towns. But a third came along with just the capital he had been given. He had not traded the money for fear of losing it, but kept it in a safe place. He was afraid of the king who, he said, took what he had not deposited, reaped what he had not sown.

The king was angry. He did not dispute his ruthlessness, but he said that the man could at least have lent the money and got some interest. He ordered the ten units be taken from him and given to the one who had already made ten. This man was obviously good at business. The lesson of the parable is spelt out by Jesus:

I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

The last sentence of the parable, in a way, describes a third set of people in the story. The first set consists of those who used their coin well and profitably. The second is the one who kept his one coin and carefully guarded it. But finally, there are those who did not want this man as king and these are executed:

But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to rule over them — bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.

They are the greatest losers of all and it probably points to those Jews who rejected Jesus as King and had their city destroyed, referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD. The punishment of those who rebelled and actively opposed the king was much more severe than that of the over-cautious servant.

The context of the whole parable is emphasised by the last sentence of today’s reading:

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

We are coming near the end of our story and the climax to which it is headed.

The parable points to all those who are being called by Christ. It is the final part of one large unit (Luke 18:18 – 19:28) which includes the story of a rich man with good intentions, but not able to respond to Jesus’ call, a prediction of Jesus’ passion not understood by the disciples, the story of a blind man who, after having his vision restored, becomes a follower of Christ, the story of another rich man who was willing generously to share his wealth with the poor, and ending with the parable of the proper use of what we have.

The first rich man claimed to follow the commandments (the Law), but wanted to keep his money safely in his own possession. He is like the man who buried his money and did not invest it in the love and service of his brothers and sisters, especially those in need. The other, Zacchaeus, generously shared his wealth with the poor. He had invested his money well – he had learned to see. Any one who can really see where Jesus is has no alternative but to go his Way. Finally, there are those who totally reject Christ and all that he stands for. Their blindness is total.

Today we are asked to reflect on the special gifts that God has given to each one of us and how we are using them for the benefit of brothers and sisters in need. What are our attitudes to money, to property, to professional status, academic or other qualifications or other gifts with which we are endowed? Where do we invest our gifts, our talents both inborn and acquired?

The message is clear: the more we invest, the more we will gain. We cannot stand still or just cling to what we have. The only way to gain is to let go, to give and to share. Good examples of this would be St Francis of Assisi or St Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa). It is an attitude very foreign to many people’s way of thinking, who feel that life consists of amassing more and more, that security is in having.

But the Gospel way is really the only way that makes sense. It is not in collecting, but in sharing that generates wealth, the wealth that really matters – freedom, security and peace.

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