For those of us who are familiar with the parable of the talents from Matthew’s gospel, reading through Luke can really get confusing in chapter 19 when we come to a familiar text used in a different, and can I say unfamiliar, way. The traditional teaching of the talents often prefers Matthew’s use of the parable and is a compelling way of urging believers to be about the master’s business. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus has just gone to Zacchaeus’s house and was turning his attention on Jerusalem. The new set up for the familiar story is found in 19:11
11 The crowd was listening to everything Jesus said. And because he was nearing Jerusalem, he told them a story to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away.
Ok…pause…in Matthew the parable of the Talents is told between two other teachings. The story before Matthew’s account of the parable of the Ten Virgins, and right after the story is a teaching that starts, “But when the Son of Man comes in glory…” So, clearly Matthew is addressing the idea of living life in preparation for the return of the bridegroom, the master, the Son of Man.
But not so with Luke, same story used for a different purpose. It is a story of the kingdom, but this time it isn’t referencing the going and coming of Jesus, but the story is now pointing to a political reality of Jerusalem and the occupied people. Listen to the start of the story:
19:12 He said, “A nobleman was called away to a distant empire to be crowned king and then return. 13 Before he left, he called together ten of his servants and divided among them ten pounds of silver, saying, ‘Invest this for me while I am gone.’ 14 But his people hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We do not want him to be our king.’
I know, I know, this could be Jesus…but for a people who thought Jesus was going to walk into Jerusalem and overthrow it and then free the people from their oppressors, this opening would be the opposite of their plans for Jesus. Of course, then there is the ending of the story after the familiar part about the three servants presenting their money back to the master:
19:26 “‘Yes,’ the king replied, ‘and to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 27 And as for these enemies of mine who didn’t want me to be their king—bring them in and execute them right here in front of me.’”
Luke is not pointing to the “end of days” or some eschatological event, nope, the story addresses an appointed ruler over the occupied people has returned to ask their allegiance to him. Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, will leave this audience and go to Jerusalem where he will be welcomed by palm branches by the people, but Jesus will be in tears over the realities of what will become of Jerusalem. The King has arrived in the city, but the King will be the only person executed. Enemies will be forgiven. The Kingdom of God stands in contrast to this nobleman made king and his Kingdom of tyranny.
So, the same story used in two different setting by two different writers; Matthew reminds believers of the responsibility we have because Jesus has invested in us and wants us to use our talents for the master’s good; Luke reminds us that the ways of earthly kings are oppressive and severe and we should long for a Kingdom that is different from what we have experienced in our world. The gospel story, meta-narrative, is one of longing for the reign and return of Christ Jesus, which both usages encourage us to pursue with everything we have!
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.