Published on December 1st, 2019 | by Stephen Barrington0
Jesus and the parable of the pounds, Luke 19:11-28. November 20, 2019 by Buckshot
Tena koutou katoa, nga mihi mahana ki a koutou. Warm greetings to all you’s out there, we see you. Today’s gospel text is Luke 19:11-28, the parable of the pounds. We have been reading through Luke’s gospel each day for a while now. Yesterday we read about the transformation of Zaccheus, including the redistribution of his ill gotten wealth while having lunch with Jesus.
Today we have the parable that Jesus spoke at the end of this meal, so no surprises that it is about money. For a lot of church history this parable has been talked about as if it was about God returning to judge or reward his servants. Sometimes we hear it on stewardship Sunday too as an encouragement to be faithful with our cash in support of our church. I am not so sure this is what Jesus was thinking that day at Zaccheus’ house.
To recap the story goes like this: a man of noble birth is going away to be made King, and to return after that. He is wealthy so leaves ten of his slaves or servants to look after his affairs. Some trade successfully turning their one pound or silver coin into ten. Miharo, amazing! Another one, afraid of the nobleman buries his coin in the ground. Eventually, the new king returns. Those who made their one coin into ten are praised and rewarded. The man who buried his coin is scolded, has it taken off him and given to one of the faithful servants who already has ten! Then the king executes his detractors. Wow…….what do we do with this story Jesus?
This cannot be a parable where the ‘man of noble birth’ is the “God” figure in the story – for a number of reasons. He is not a well-liked man, see v 14b. Our man who buried the coin describes him as “an exacting man: you gather in what you have not laid out and reap what you have not sown!” and finally in v27 he calls for those who do not want him as their king to be brought here to be executed in his presence’. Luke tells us Jesus stories about a gracious God, a generous and forgiving God who recognises that the ‘poor are blessed’. Luke’s God is not absent, not a thief, not an unforgiving ruthless killer……this nobleman who became the King cannot be a God figure.
So this story from Jesus has to be a warning to us about the reality of the economic system of his day; that we have just witnessed Zaccheus liberated from. It sounds very like our current neo-liberal system……where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and go to prison. Money is a contentious issue, essentially it is an amoral thing that can be used for good and ill, but it also seems to have a power like that mythical ring of Bilbo Baggins…
Our man who buried his coin is an interesting individual. He knowingly takes a great risk to critique his owners attitude to money. He knows that money planted in the ground cannot bear fruit like crops and trees – money can only ‘grow’ through trading. It can only grow ten times in value in a short time by usury (excessive interest), by insider trading, by extortion or some other financial trickery. He wants nothing to do with these practices, so plants his impotent coin in creative protest.
Recently one of our ‘celebrated’ prime ministers received a knighthood as recognition of his faithful stewardship of our economy and nation. His work increased child poverty levels to international lows, increased the wealth gap, demolished state housing for our poor and built more prisons for them which resulted in increased wealth for a few of his mates. This looks like the fulfillment of the new kings words in our story today – take the coin from the man who has one and give it to the man who has ten. v26, “I tell you, to everyone who has will be given more; but anyone who has not will be deprived even of what he has”. This is not a parable about the kingdom of God, but a severe critique of how the economy really works.
I struggle with these words, I have a house that I am paying off little by little – while my worker pays nearly four times what I pay on my mortgage to rent a crap house for his five kids, wife and mother! If we have money, we have the opportunity to invest and grow our wealth. If we don’t have enough to get a deposit, we pay all we have to increase someone else’s wealth. Those who have still collect all of the little that the poor have.
Many of the original hearers after the lunch in the crowd would be peasant farmers, connected to the land. They would have known personally that the bankers and traders of their day did no ‘real work;’ yet they profited by giving loans to poor peasants that they often defaulted on and ended up losing all they had – to the bankers!. They would have enjoyed the ‘coin buriers’ humorous critique.
It is also worth noting that our new King on his return does not dispute the description that he is exacting, reaps what he has not sown etc. The Kings only response is that our ‘coin burier’ is “wicked”, some versions say “evil and lazy”. These are the same cries we hear today from the rich about why the poor are poor! We have an election coming up next year and already the hopeful politicians are rolling out their policies to destroy the ‘gangs’ and take money off beneficiaries for being lazy or some other minor reason. Jesus was very aware of the reality of life for the poor and wants to open our eyes, and hearts, to this reality. He dreams of a Zaccheus transformation for us all.
The last verse in our reading today, v28, simply says that when he had finished this story he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. This is a clear message from Luke that Jesus is entering into solidarity with these persecuted poor to be killed and executed as an enemy of the economic kingdom described in this parable. This is the incarnational love of God becoming tangible and real.
We who wear the patch saying we belong to God (God’s Squad) are also on this road to Jerusalem still today. As we journey together in solidarity with our patch wearing brothers, may we not be afraid (but rather have faith in God’s ways!) to lay down our lives as we experience the hassle of this road. This parable is shocking, it is meant to be. It is not news we want to hear when we are privileged so it must be shocking to get our attention and draw us to change. As Zaccheus did at the lunch we read about yesterday.
It concerns me greatly that Bible stories like this one are used to support financial prosperity and that this is sometimes seen as a mark of faithful following of God’s ways. Ideas like this lead to terrible theology and economic practices that make us complicit in the oppression of the financially least among us. As friends of the ‘outcasts and sinners’ of the economic system may we lovingly embrace this road in solidarity, like Jesus has and be known as true friends because we are. May we be found willing to be tarred with the brush of being ‘lazy’, ‘wicked and evil’ because we choose to invest in people and the earth – and not a system that strips the poor of the little they have.
Big shout out to one of our members here who has stopped working to spend time with his young children, and another to my worker who stayed home last week to sort out some family strife. Let’s keep burying that impotent money in the ground and seek to truly invest in the ways of Jesus that bring love, freedom and hope to all.
Buckshot – Wellington chapter, New Zealand