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The final parable of the Jerusalem journey highlights the disciple's stewardship in the interim between Jesus' death and return. It continues the theme of his preparation of the disciples for life after his departure. His servants must recognize that the consummation of the kingdom is yet future and they are accountable for their service in the meantime. Those who reject Jesus' kingship face judgment, whether they reject that kingship directly or view the King as harsh rather than gracious.
The motive for this parable is explicit. Jesus wishes to correct the view that because he was near Jerusalem the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. Of course what is meant here is the decisive demonstration of regal authority that Jews expected of Messiah and that the disciples were still asking about in Acts 1:6. Luke wishes to steer attention away from that event to the responsibility that disciples have in the meantime.
The story is simple enough. A man goes to a faraway land to receive a kingdom. This portion of the parable portrays Jesus' departure in resurrection to receive the kingdom at the side of the Father, a major Lukan theme (Lk 24:26; Acts 2:36; 5:30-31; 7:55-56; 13:33-34; 17:31; Stein 1992:473). In the meantime certain servants associated with Jesus are called together and given a mina each—about one hundred drachmas, or three months' average wage. They are to trade with the money and are responsible to make it grow in value. Some of his subjects, however, want nothing to do with the leader and send a delegation to ask that this one not be chosen to rule. Those who refuse the rule are the Jewish leaders, while the servants represent all those who tie themselves to Jesus.
The servants need to be carefully described, since a key to the interpretation of the passage lies in their identity. Some assume that these are all genuine believers because Jesus calls the servants to himself. If so, the rejection of the third servant would mean either loss of rewards upon entrance to heaven or loss of salvation—a choice that generally depends on one's theological tradition. But the third servant's attitude is crucial to an understanding the parable. This third servant views the owner as harsh, even a lawbreaker, by reaping that which he does not sow (Josephus Against Apion 2.31 216). He would exact large sums of money from those who serve him. He would run over people. Now this servant's portrait of the owner suggests an attitude contrary to trust and faith. Though this man serves the master, he is not really allied to him. The failure of his stewardship is no surprise in light of this attitude. This servant represents a person who has only an association with the Master. Perhaps the individual illustrated here is Judas.
The parable's story is simple. The master returns to evaluate the stewardship of his servants. The first servant has gained ten minas for his one, a 1,000 percent increase. This man has been totally faithful. The reward is more service—responsibility for ten cities. The second servant is also faithful. A 500 percent increase is his contribution. He gets five cities. In contrast, the third servant has done nothing to invest his money, for reasons noted above. He does not think the king is worth laboring for, because the king would rob him. Commendation and more service follow faithfulness, but what follows such a harsh rejection of stewardship?
The master accuses the man of hypocrisy. If he knew the king was a hard man, then he should have at least put the money in the bank so it could earn a little interest. At least there would have been something to collect! So Jesus calls this slave wicked (porneros). His mina goes to the first servant, who has been faithful. The third servant ends up with nothing. As Jesus says in conclusion, "But as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away." These words echo 8:18. It matters little whether this conclusion is the word of the master or Jesus' commentary, a detail that is disputed; the point is the same either way. Those who have nothing receive nothing. In fact, they lose whatever they thought they had. The stubborn slave is the "odd man out" who appears in so many of Jesus' parables (Mt 13:29-30, 41, 49-50; 18:32-34; 22:11-13; 25:41). Some are associated with Jesus only superficially, and their lack of faith will be revealed at the evaluation of their life's stewardship.
In contrast, the faithful are rewarded: "To everyone who has, more will be given." Jesus acknowledges faithfulness with commendation and more service. To use the Lord's gifts is to prepare to serve him further.
One group remains to be dealt with, the rejecters. They will be slain. Their rejection is total. The parable follows the reality of ancient politics. Refusing the rule of the one in power often meant paying with one's life. Here is the judgment of God. For the leadership in the short term, this would mean Jerusalem's destruction in A.D. 70 (19:41-44). But in the long term there was a more permanent rejection to face. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of a judging and rejected God.