Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Bible study

The daily lectionary reading for this morning was Luke 19:11-27, the Parable of the Pounds, as opposed to the Parable of the Talents as related by Matthew. Here it is, in case you don't have it handy in your brain:

As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, ‘A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, “Do business with these until I come back.” But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to rule over us.” When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, “Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.” He said to him, “Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.” Then the second came, saying, “Lord, your pound has made five pounds.” He said to him, “And you, rule over five cities.” Then the other came, saying, “Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.” He said to him, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.” He said to the bystanders, “Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.” (And they said to him, “Lord, he has ten pounds!”) “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. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.” ’

Here's the thing: I don't think the Lord in the parable is Jesus. This is not a "yoke is easy" kind of a guy. Jesus is not known for telling people "from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away;" that's a quote from the master in the story, not Jesus' words. Jesus's words are "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven" and "Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation." (Luke 6;20, 24)

Jesus is telling this parable in Luke right before he enters Jerusalem before his crucifixion. If we are going to equate Jesus with anyone in this parable, shouldn't we equate him with the "wicked slave" who doesn't please the tyrannical master, but instead tells him to his face that he is a harsh man? Then again, it's not an allegory, but a parable; there's a lot more here than who is good and who is bad. I just resist the notion that we ought to be slaves to someone who is as clearly cruel as the master in this story.


qoe said...

This parable is rather a description of the current socio-economic trend, isn't it? Definitely there are more shades of meaning to this story than one can find at first glance, or by listening to a mere snippet in the pews of a Sunday...

Truth is, this parable's meaning has been disputed for longer than ever.

Is the "money" really money?

If we think of the "money" invested in each "servant" as Life-As-Endless-Possibility, then one can see the story from a perspective whereby the investment of Life was was wasted on the "servant," who not only did nothing with it, but dishonored it, having from the outset hardened his heart against the "lord".

The key to this passage is the line before the story begins, where it says Jesus made a further comparison having to do with his being near to Jerusalem and the disciples' belief that the kingdom of God would appear at any second. That, taken with the discussion in the previous chapter about "who can be saved" brings, I think a clarity to the parable-- namely, that those who Truly Live, in constancy and faithfulness, honoring God, will be given a life beyond this existence.

Those who do not Truly Live are slaughtered in the parable, but if looked at through this lens, any who do not take the gift of life and Live are dead already.

LKT said...

Yes, indeed, I missed to obvious non-allegorical part, which is that this is not about the money. My main problem, though, is the facile assumption that Lord=Jesus, because I don't find this Lord particularly worthy of respect, much less love. Must continue to ponder...

qoe said...


The assumption here is that the lord is terrible. What text in the passage supports this? Only the line that reads "But the people of his city hated him, and sent messengers after him, saying, we do not want him to rule over us." This is jsut the very kind of grumbling of the sort that people will engage in at the office when the boss is out (or so I found during my time in the corporate trenches).

This parable, of course, partly serves in this part of the Gospel as a foreshadowing tool. If you substitute "Orthodox Jews, Pagan Romans, Zealots, Pharisees, etc." for "people of the city," I think that you can readily see that the Jesus is indeed the "lord" who has gone to a "far off country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return." There is no back-story in the text to let you know what the "lord" might have done to the displeased "servant" (could he be the analog to the unfortunate Judas I.?) or to the people of his city. I'm thinking that the servants who take what I am choosing to call "the gift of life" and make something of it are analogous to the disciples who embrace the teachings of Jesus and who are expecting, as He does, the Kingdom to come at any moment.

Here is how part of the story can be rewritten in less oblique terms:

"Jesus, here is your gift back, which I return untouched. I am afraid of you because you are a man of truths that threaten the way I live, think and feel, and I cannot deal with it. You may have been granted a grace you have not made and you may reap benefits from a higher power, but I can only believe in what I see."

"He said to him, 'you will be judged according to your own testimony. If you truly knew me to be a man of truth, then you would have found faith in what I had said, and know that the grace I have been granted and the benefits from a higher power, things that I cannot show you proof of, are things that you could share in if only you would believe.

"'If you did not believe, then why did you stay with me as a disciple? Why did you not walk away? Why did you throw away the gift of life, given freely by God? I expected to return and find you thriving in the light of the Way."

"And he said to those who stood in his presence, 'take the gift that he rejects away from him and give it to one who honors Life '"

"They said unto him, 'Lord, this other man already has so much Life!"

"He replied, 'I say to you: To everyone who has received and embraced the gift of Life, more Life shall be given, and from him who has not done so, even the miserable condition that person complacently identifies as life will be taken away."

"All those who have paraded about as my followers and have lied about accepting the truth and the way should be banished from Life to the antithetical condition they prefer to believe in."

Okay, I have taken a great deal of license with my rewriting of the text. Please forgive me for being such a fanciful numbskull and complete jerk.