Circle the Stories: Parables of the Great Parabler

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Valuable Coins, by Katie Snipes Lancaster

As they listened to this, Jesus told them another parable because he was near Jerusalem and they thought God’s kingdom would appear right away. He said, “A certain man who was born into royalty went to a distant land to receive his kingdom and then return. He called together ten servants and gave each of them money worth four months’ wages. He said, ‘Do business with this until I return.’ His citizens hated him, so they sent a representative after him who said, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ After receiving his kingdom, he returned and called the servants to whom he had given the money to find out how much they had earned. The first servant came forward and said, ‘Your money has earned a return of one thousand percent.’ The king replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good servant. Because you have been faithful in a small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.’

“The second servant came and said, ‘Master, your money has made a return of five hundred percent.’ To this one, the king said, ‘You will have authority over five cities.’

“Another servant came and said, ‘Master, here is your money. I wrapped it up in a scarf for safekeeping. I was afraid of you because you are a stern man. You withdraw what you haven’t deposited and you harvest what you haven’t planted.’ The king replied, ‘I will judge you by the words of your own mouth, you worthless servant! You knew, did you, that I’m a stern man, withdrawing what I didn’t deposit, and harvesting what I didn’t plant? Why then didn’t you put my money in the bank? Then when I arrived, at least I could have gotten it back with interest.’

“He said to his attendants, ‘Take his money and give it to the one who has ten times as much.’ ‘But Master,’ they said, ‘he already has ten times as much!’ He replied, ‘I say to you that everyone who has will be given more, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for my enemies who don’t want me as their king, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’”
Luke 19:11–27

Reflection: This is quite a story to chew on: money, power, discerning decisions, financial prowess, return on investment. We are taught to celebrate with the ones who can multiply riches and make more out of less. Do we instinctively celebrate with the King and the first servant? It is unquestionably impressive: a return of one thousand percent. Is it so excessive to be sensational or overdramatized? Maybe. Maybe not. In God’s realm, acorns grow into oak trees and practically microscopic mustard seeds grow into bushes big enough to house a flock of birds.

On a literal level, reading this parable offers a window into injustice. There is something about the one with more being given more that pings our inner child, who says “That’s not fair, she got more Halloween candy than me, more turns on the trampoline than me, a bigger Lego set than me.” The instinct to label what happens in this parable as unfair may be exactly what Jesus was hoping we’d do. Maybe this story reflects the “normal ruthless behavior of a first-century tyrant” as one scholar suggests. Maybe it is all part of Jesus’ warning that there will be no “imminent political or military liberation” nor will God’s kingdom arrive instantaneously. Even as Jesus approaches the sacrifices and horror of Holy week, there will continue to be unjust rulers. There will be some who receive more than their fair share. In this way of reading this parable, we hear Jesus reminding us that change comes only through the mystery of God’s kingdom, not by some human expectation.

But some scholars take a more parabolic reading, moving to the level of metaphor and symbolism, suggesting that in God’s realm, those who take risks are the ones who will be rewarded. “Hide it under a bushel, no, I’m gonna let it shine,” says the kids song. With the melody of “This little light of mine” humming in the background, we remember Jesus’ urgent call for sacrificial love and risk-taking acts of justice. This parable is happening in chapter 19 of Luke, so it is right on the cusp of Jesus’ Holy Week realities, a reminder that Jesus has life-giving sacrifice on his mind. He knows he is walking into Jerusalem prepared to face the violent reaction of the powers-that-be. His invitation to us is to take risks with him. If he is the king, about to depart and return, then we are the ones left in charge of the cities. Will we just hide God’s provisions under a bushel, fearful? Or will we put ourselves and our lives on the line for the sake of this gospel of love?

This is the tension and joy of parable interpretation. We have an opportunity to read the story in multiple ways and listen to the tug of God on our lives as we turn over these treasures in our hearts.

Open us up to your gospel of love
parable by parable
prayer by prayer
day by day.

April 15, 2022

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