The Parable of the Pounds - Part 2
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
Luke 19. 11-27. Part 2.
In Part 1 of our study of the so-called Parable of the Pounds, we considered the context and historical background of the parable, we noted several points of comparison and contrast between the parable and that of the Talents, and we provided an exposition of verses 11 to 15 of Luke chapter 19.
In the current article, we shall continue the exposition at verse 16. In so doing we will consider, in particular: (i) what happens to the three servants singled out for mention by our Lord; (ii) the significance of the minas (in particular the significance of the transfer of one of the original minas from one servant to another); and (iii) the meaning of the tantalizing words which Jesus put into the mouth of the nobleman, ‘From him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him’.
Verse 16. Although the nobleman had entrusted a mina to each of ten servants, the Lord Jesus draws attention to only three of these1 as examples of the various ways in which the minas were used – or not used!
The first two had performed extremely well. They had utilized their opportunities to increase the sums committed to them ten-fold and five-fold respectively, thereby proving themselves worthy of higher responsibilities.
The first servant was able to point to 1000% profit ‘earned’ (‘earned in addition’2) from his capital sum of one mina. Although such a profit may seem extremely large to us, it ‘was quite possible under ancient conditions with enormous interest and commission rates’.3
It is perhaps worthy of note that neither the first nor the second servant made any great claim for himself, but attributed the kudos for the profit gained to the mina itself. ‘Notice he did not say, I have been very diligent and persistent, and managed to make thy pound into ten. The pound did it itself’.4
This stands in contrast to the first two servants in the Parable of the Talents, who could both, in all honesty, claim, ‘I have gained five/two more talents’.5 To some extent, the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 10 bring together these two aspects of all true service for God, ‘by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me’. For, although we each have our responsibility and our part to play, ultimately God must have the glory of all our faithful service. We ought always to pray with the psalmist, ‘Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to your name give glory’.6
Verse 17. The nobleman’s, ‘Well done (‘excellent’), good servant’ implies his commendation of the servant’s faithfulness, which is added explicitly in our Lord’s parable of the Talents.7
The profit obtained by the servant was certainly very impressive, but his reward – authority over ten cities in the nobleman’s kingdom8 – was even more staggering, and out of all proportion even to what he had achieved with the relatively insignificant sum which had been entrusted to him. And yet, although in one sense (that of its scale) the reward was entirely disproportional to the service rendered, in another sense (that of its number) it was directly proportional to what this service had achieved. For the extent of the responsibility bestowed as a reward was directly proportional to the servant’s proven faithfulness and industry.
The application to the believer is obvious. ‘The parable clearly teaches that when the Lord returns to reign, His people shall reign with Him’, at which time, ‘the faithful will be rewarded . . . and the reward will be in terms of further responsibility and increased work . . . of joining with Messiah in His unimaginably vast new enterprises’.9
That is, ‘whosoever has faithfully and diligently made the most of the opportunities given by Him to serve His cause’10 in this present life will be given opportunities to serve Him in His kingdom on a far greater and grander scale than anything which can now be imagined. As one commentator expressed it, ‘The recompense, a city for a pound, just hints at the magnificent possibilities of the heaven-life, just suggests the splendour of its rewards’.11
It is clear from this parable that the degree of responsibility to be allocated to each believer at the Judgement Seat of Christ will depend on his or her faithful use of the resources committed to his or her trust during the period of the Lord’s absence. Those who have served Him well will be granted ‘an abundant entrance’ into His everlasting kingdom.12
Verses 18-19. A second servant had achieved half as much with his mina as had the first servant with his, and was rewarded proportionately. And the Lord we serve takes note in the present how well we serve Him, and will, ‘in that day’, take full account of this and will bestow His rewards accordingly.
‘He whom we serve notices both the quantity and the quality of what is done for Him . . . Thus Romans 16. 12 tells us of Tryphena and Tryphosa, who laboured in the Lord, and of the beloved Persis, who laboured “much” in the Lord. In like manner, Nehemiah 3 tells us of many who helped in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, but distinguishes some as working “earnestly”. The “much” and the “earnestly” should be pondered by all who would be well-pleasing to the absent Christ’.13
It is no doubt for this reason that the second servant did not receive the special commendation, ‘Well done, good servant’, which the servant received who had performed twice as well.14
Verse 20. But another servant (of a different sort15) had hidden his mina for the duration of his master’s absence. This servant had put away the mina which he had been given ‘in a handkerchief’ (‘a napkin’). To some extent, he would have been in good company in placing money there, for, at a later date, Rabbi Abba Arika ‘used to bind money in his scarf, sling it on his back, and place himself at the disposal of the poor. He cast his eye, however, sideways [as a precaution] against rogues’.16
But Rabbi Abba was not typical. ‘According to rabbinical law, burying was regarded as the best security against theft. Anyone who buried a pledge or a deposit immediately upon receipt of it was free from liability. On the other hand, if anyone tied up entrusted money in a cloth, they were responsible for any loss incurred as a result of their inadequate care of the entrusted property’.15
Our Lord’s immediate audience would likely have understood Him to say, therefore, that this servant failed to exercise even the most elementary precautions with respect to the property entrusted to him.
The ‘napkin’ (Greek σουδάριον; transliterated ‘soudarion’) was probably either a neck cloth used to protect the back of the head from the sun or a piece of cloth used to wipe perspiration off the face and neck.18 R. C. Trench suggests that, ‘The soudarion, which, not exerting himself, this lazy servant does not need for its proper use (‘in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread’, Gen. 3. 19), he uses for the wrapping up of his pound. That he had it disengaged, and free to be turned to his purpose, was itself a witness against him’.19
In that our Lord develops the case of this, the third, servant in far greater detail than the case of the other servants, it is clear that His parable is largely directed against the faults of which he is a notable representative.
Verse 21. The reason which the servant gave for having hoarded the sum entrusted to him was that he ‘feared’ his master, who, he claimed, was notoriously hard on his servants. By implying that, for this reason, he had been reluctant to take any risks with his master’s property,20 he virtually made his own laziness into a virtue and attempted to shift the blame for his inactivity onto his master.
And so, in order to excuse his indifference to the clear instruction of his master, the third servant did not hesitate to slander the nobleman’s character. For slander it he most certainly did. The Greek word translated ‘austere’21 means harsh and stern. To describe a man as such was to say that he was ‘a man who expects to get blood out of a stone’.22
The servant went on to charge his master with being the kind of man who took up what he did not lay down, and reaped what he did not sow (literal translation). It is claimed that ‘the metaphor is drawn from banking, and is used here to describe a person who seeks a disproportionately high return from his investments’.23 If this is so, what irony, that the man who accuses his master of expecting ‘a disproportionately high return from his investments’ has the cheek to offer him none!
Verse 22. We have to recognize, of course, that (i) the servant had not wasted his master’s goods as had the unjust steward,24 that (ii) the servant had not wasted his own goods ‘in riotous living’ as had the prodigal,25 and that (iii) the servant had not run up a staggering debt of 10,000 talents as had the unforgiving servant.26 And yet the servant is most properly described as ‘wicked’ because he had not done as he had been commanded by his master!27 For the man had not been left free to decide for himself what he would do with that which was his master’s.
But the nobleman was too shrewd for his servant and quickly saw through his feeble excuse. The man had condemned himself with his own words. It has been well said that he is ‘condemned by his crime, but self-condemned by his plea’.28 For, had his master’s character really matched the description which the servant gave of it, fear should have spurred him into action. The truth was that the servant was not fearful, but lazy. He was not prudent, but bone idle.
I note that this servant’s counterpart in the parable of the talents (the ‘unprofitable servant’) is cast into outer darkness amid weeping and gnashing of teeth.29 But here the servant is carefully distinguished by our Lord from the ‘enemies’ who are later slain.30 Yet the penalty he paid was serious enough . . . with its regret and loss. And though we are assured that failure to serve the Lord well will not cost the true believer his salvation, we know that it will cost him his reward!31
Verse 23. The expression translated ‘in the bank’ is literally ‘upon a table’, with reference to the table of the money-changer or the banker. Indeed, it seems that the origin of the English word ‘bank’ can be traced back to the Ancient Roman Empire, where a moneylender would set up his stall in the middle of an enclosed courtyard on a long bench called a ‘bancu’.32
Verse 24. One of the most intriguing features of the parable lies in its emphasis on what happens to the minas after they had fulfilled their obvious purpose of establishing how many cities in the kingdom should be allocated to whom, and in particular on the transfer of one of the original minas from one servant to another. For such details have no apparent connection either with correcting the people’s false expectation about the timing of the kingdom33 or with the historical background of Archelaus’ journey to Rome.
Indeed, as far as Archelaus is concerned, we have no historical evidence that he ever did, as he had promised before his departure to Rome,34 reward those on his return who faithfully served him35 during his absence.
The nobleman gave instructions that the single mina which had been hoarded by the third servant was now to be taken from him and handed to the servant who had gained ten by trading. Having once missed his opportunity, the servant is deprived of further opportunity in the future, and it is given to another who has proved himself willing and able to make full use of such. Trench comments well that ‘that very gift36 which the one forfeits the other obtains . . . one takes the crown which another has let go’.37
That the first servant still retained the ten minas shows that the faithful servants were rewarded, not only by being given authority to rule over cities, but by being given the profit which they had made – and presumably encouraged to use it to make further profit. ‘The servant does not lose that which he has gained, although it was for his master. He enjoys it. Not so with the servant who made no use of his talent; that which had been committed to him is given to the one who had gained ten’.38
Verse 25. At this point we hear the seemingly ludicrous comment which the Saviour put into the mouths of those who stood near the nobleman, ‘Master, he has ten minas’.39 I suspect that if we had been the bystanders in our Lord’s story, we might well have interjected, ‘Master, he has ten cities’, but certainly not, ‘he has ten pounds’. For who, we may well wonder, having just received jurisdiction over ten cities would care a fig about having one mina to add to those he still held? But that is precisely the point! Because, as far as the original listeners were concerned – and as far as we, the readers, are concerned – the teaching of the parable very much centres in that very mina!
Verse 26. In the INTRODUCTION above, I referred to ‘the tantalizing words which Jesus put into the mouth of the nobleman, “from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him”’.40 And how are we to understand such a paradox? How can something be taken from someone who has nothing?41
I suggest the clue to our Lord’s meaning lies in the arithmetic of verses 24 and 25. The servant who received ten cities is described, by both the nobleman and the bystanders, as ‘having’ ten minas. And yet we know that in fact he had eleven! Clearly, he still retained the original mina given to him in verse 13, because for him to have been deprived of that original mina would have been a punishment, as it certainly proved to be for the ‘wicked servant’ in verse 24. And to that original mina the first faithful servant had, according to verse 16, added a further ten minas, making eleven in all. I conclude therefore that verse 24 should be paraphrased, ‘take the mina from him, and give it to him who has gained the ten minas’, and that verse 25 should be paraphrased, ‘Master, he has gained ten minas’.
Armed with this key, the paradox of verse 26 is easily explained as meaning, ‘to everyone who has gained will be given; and from him who has not gained, even that which he has will be taken away’. In other words, the nobleman is simply pointing out that funds are entrusted to a man consistent with his proven track record. If a trader or merchant entrusted with capital shows a significant profit, people will eagerly offer him further capital; but a trader who reports no profit will have taken from him the capital previously entrusted to him, because the original investor will have no further need of such a man.42 In other words, ‘from him who has not gained – from him who has made no profit – from him will be withdrawn even that capital which he was originally given’.
The following suggested expansion of the nobleman’s words helps clarify the point: ‘To him who has added something of his own to what I entrusted to him, more of mine shall be entrusted and he shall have abundance. But from him who has added nothing of his own to what I entrusted to him, shall be taken away what I entrusted to him’.43
But why we must ask does the Lord Jesus focus such attention on a mere mina? What can the mina possibly represent that is so fundamentally important? Well, clearly the mina represents something which every servant of Jesus is given to use and invest, and something which can be removed and transferred to others. I suggest that the mina stands for the opportunities – the openings for service and for doing good – which we are all given. Although the details of our opportunities differ enormously, we each have in common a week of seven days and a day of 24 hours.
By means of this parable, my Lord wants me to know that, through the proper and diligent use of my present opportunities for service and doing good in this life and world, I can secure for myself a reward which will consist in part of further, increased and enlarged, opportunities and capacity for service in His manifested kingdom. He wants me to know that in part the reward for God-given opportunities which are grasped and turned to advantage now will be further opportunities then, on a vaster and more glorious scale than I can ever dream.
But, alas for me, there is more to the parable than that. For the servant who had his mina taken from him stands as representative of all those who do nothing of eternal value with the opportunities which God graciously gives them. And, by introducing this third character into His story, the Saviour is therefore telling me that my failure to exploit and use my God-given opportunities in this present world will lead inescapably to the loss of those opportunities of service which God would otherwise have readily given me to use for Him in His kingdom. That is, by my misuse – and even by my non-use – of my present opportunities, I forfeit what otherwise would have been mine in His kingdom. And that is no laughing matter!
In the day of review, the Lord is saying, He will determine the place I will fill – He will determine the scope for service I will be given – in God’s kingdom, not on any arbitrary basis, but on the basis of what I have done here with what I have been given. That is, my role then is being hammered out on the anvil of my life and service now.
For, make no mistake, that kingdom will be no place of idleness and ease. It will not be some form of ‘heavenly holiday camp’. From the very beginning, God made man to work. And, as I understand scripture, the rewards to be secured at the Judgement Seat of Christ will consist, not only of crowns,44 cities45 and commendation,46 but also in a wider sphere of activity – in increased and enlarged opportunities of serving Him. And, perhaps, the burning question which faces me today is, ‘Do I want to be the best that I can be for Him in His future manifested kingdom?’ ‘If so, then’, the Lord says to me through His parable, ‘take care how you live in the present. For it is your energetic use of the opportunities which I give you now that will prepare and fit you for greater things in my kingdom. But if you don’t make use of your opportunities now, you will not be given them then. Use them here or lose them there!’
In an earlier quotation, I alluded to our Lord’s admonition to the church at Philadelphia to ‘hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown’.47 Let us determine to so live here and now that no one is going to take our mina in that day!
In both of his letters to churches in Asia, the apostle Paul instructed the saints there that they should be ‘redeeming the time’.48 The word translated ‘redeeming’ used by Paul on those occasions is not the word normally used to express the idea of redemption. It is a commercial term meaning ‘to buy up, to purchase completely’ and comes from the background of the market place. Paul’s word picture is clear: ‘as prudent merchants, tirelessly buy up and use for yourselves all available opportunities of doing good and of serving God’. Such exhortations connect well with our parable, which is also largely set against a commercial background.
Verse 27. The parable ends on a sombre note. ‘Bring here’, the nobleman says, ‘those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay49 them before me’. Such violent revenge is not directly ascribed to Archelaus but it would certainly have been consistent with his known character and actions.50
Although in their interpretation these words doubtless received a partial fulfilment in the Roman-Jewish war of AD 66-70 when Jerusalem was destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed,51 I suspect they will receive their full and final accomplishment at our Lord’s second advent. Then God will deal with Israel, who have consistently rejected the Messiah during the period of His absence, in judgement, before He deals with the nation in grace.52 ‘When He returns in glory, the perverse nation is judged before His eyes. The avowed enemies of Christ, they receive the reward of their rebellion’.53
Although both (i) the hatred and antagonism and (ii) the fate of the nobleman’s ‘citizens’ feature in the story, our Lord’s parable centres rather in how he determined the roles and positions of responsibility of his servants in his kingdom, which was, as we have seen, solely on the basis of the degree of industry and faithfulness which each showed during his absence.
Immediately following His telling the parable, the Lord Jesus ‘went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem’.54 And from there, consequent upon His crucifixion and resurrection, He ‘went up (the same word) on high . . . far above all the heavens’,55 in His own words, ‘to receive for Himself a kingdom and to return’.56 You and I live during the interval between His going and His coming back. And the practical issue which faces us all is ‘what, if anything, are we doing with our minas?’
I smiled when I read some time ago that, according to an official American court record, in response to the lawyer’s question, ‘Have you lived in this town all your life?’, one witness answered, ‘Not yet’.57 There is, however, a serious point there. For, at this very moment, my life is an unfinished story. It is not too late for me to exploit for His glory and for the benefit of others those opportunities which the Lord gives me . . . yet!
For most of us, our opportunities are, in human terms, of an ordinary, mundane, and everyday kind. They are of the sort which Paul had in mind when he exhorted the Galatians, ‘Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith’.58
- Compare Luke chapter 14 verses 18-20, where the Lord draws attention to three individuals as representative of a larger number.
- W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, note (1) to the article ‘Gain (Noun and Verb)’.
- I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke in the New International Greek Testament Commentary series, page 705.
- G. Campbell Morgan, The Parables and Metaphors of our Lord, page 221.
- Matt. 25. 20, 22.
- Ps. 115. 1.
- ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’, Matt. 25. 21, 23.
- It should be noted that the servant was not given ownership of the cities, but the authority to administer their affairs on behalf of his master.
- D. W. Gooding, According to Luke, pages 300-301.
- N. Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke, page 475.
- H. D. M. Spence, ‘Pulpit Commentary’.
- 2 Pet. 1. 3-11.
- W. W. Fereday, Our Lord’s Parables, under ‘The Pounds’.
- ‘Note that this servant . . . is not praised by his lord as the first one’, N. Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke, page 478.
- The word ‘another’ translates the word ‘heteros’, which ‘expresses a qualitative difference and denotes “another of a different sort”’. W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, article ‘another’. The first two servants were profitable; he was unprofitable. They were good servants; he was a ‘wicked servant’, Luke 19. 22.
- The Babylonian Talmud, Kethuboth 67b. See http://www.halakhah.com/kethuboth/kethuboth_67.html. Rabbi Abba, also known as Rabbi Abba Arika, lived from AD 175 to 247.
- John M. Corbett, Anderson University – quoting from Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, page 61. See http://johncorbett.org/files/17/54/parable%20of%20pounds%20exegesis%20luke%2019.11-27.doc.
- Compare the use of the word by Luke in Acts chapter 19 verse 12.
- R. C. Trench, Notes on the Parables, page 519, footnote 3.
- But see the quotation about ‘inadequate care’ on verse 20 above.
- ‘Austhrov’ from which we derive our English word ‘austere’.
- Moulton And Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, volume I, page 93a.
- See http://sermons.logos.com/submissions/113007-The-Test-of-Stewardship#content=/submissions/113007.
- Luke 16. 1.
- Luke 15. 13 KJV.
- Matt. 18. 24.
- As with many others in our Lord’s parables, the ground of the unfaithful servant’s condemnation lay, not so much in what he had done, but in that which he had not done. Compare the priest and the Levite, Luke 10. 31-32, and those of the nations on the King’s left hand, Matt. 25. 41-46.
- Matthew Henry.
- Matt. 25. 30.
- Luke 19. 27.
- ‘If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved’, 1 Cor. 3. 15.
- Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commercial_bank.
- Luke 19. 11.
- Archelaus ‘spake kindly to the multitude . . . and promised them he would endeavour not to be behindhand with them in rewarding their alacrity in his service, after a suitable manner . . . he pretended to do all things so as to get the good-will of the multitude to him, as looking upon that good-will to be a great step towards his preservation of the government’, Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVII, Chapter VIII, Paragraph 4. He promised ‘that he would make abundant requitals, not to the soldiers only, but to the people, for their alacrity and good-will to him, when the superior lords [the Romans] should have given him a complete title to the kingdom’, Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book II, Chapter I, Paragraph 1.
- See, for example, some who, in the absence of Archelaus, faithfully fulfilled the charge he had given them; ’After Archelaus was sailed for Rome’, Sabinus, Caesar’s steward for Syrian affairs, ‘disposed of the castles in the manner he pleased; but those who kept them did not neglect what Archelaus had given them in command, but continued to keep all things in the manner that had been enjoined them’, Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, Book XVII, Chapter IX, Paragraph 3.
- Although, strictly speaking, neither the talent of Matthew chapter 25 verse 28 nor the mina of Luke chapter 19 verse 24 was a ‘gift’.
- R. C. Trench, ibid., page 287. Behind his reference to ‘the crown’ lies our Lord’s admonition to the church in Philadelphia, Rev. 3. 11.
- John Nelson Darby, Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, Volume III, pages 361-362.
- It is possible to read verse 24 as an exclamation by our Lord’s audience. If that is so, it shows just how keenly they had been following the parable, and, by implication, how effective our Lord was as a story teller. But, as I see it, the evidence points to the interjection as coming rather from the bystanders in the parable. Certainly, it is the nobleman in the story who has been speaking in verses 22 to 24, who will speak again in verse 27, and who, most likely, speaks in verse 26 – and who is therefore the most likely person addressed by the title ‘Lord’ (as it is literally) in verse 25. And we should note that the very same title appears as an address to the nobleman throughout the whole section; see its use in verses 16, 18 and 20.
- Although we normally associate the clause ‘I say to you’ with an authoritative saying of the Lord Jesus, it is not always so. We find it, not only on the lips of John the Baptist, Luke 3. 8 (|| Matt. 3. 9), but also coming from the lips of a character in another of the parables which Luke recorded; see Luke 14. 24.
- Compare our Lord’s use of a similar expression in chapter 8 verse 18, but there with the significant addition of the word ‘seems’; ‘Take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him’. There the Lord urged His disciples to listen carefully to what He taught them, because, if they proved to be indifferent and disobedient, God would reveal more truth to them, but, if they did not believe and act on what they heard, God would remove from them even that truth which they thought they possessed.
- Compare J. D. M. Derrett, Law in the New Testament, page 194.
- T. W. Manson, The Sayings of Jesus, page 248.
- 1 Cor. 9. 25; 1 Thess. 2. 19; 2 Tim. 4. 8; Jas. 1. 12; 1 Pet. 5. 4; Rev. 2. 10.
- Luke 19. 17, 19.
- Matt. 25. 21, 23; Luke 19. 17. ‘Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes . . . then each one’s praise (‘commendation’, ‘approbation’) will come from God’, 1 Cor. 4. 5.
- See note 35 above.
- Eph. 5. 16; Col. 4. 5.
- The word translated ‘slay’ occurs only here in New Testament; cf. its use in the Septuagint, Ezek. 16. 40; Zech. 11. 5. It is a strong word signifying ‘kill off’, ‘slaughter’, ‘cut down’.
- ‘Now Archelaus took possession of his ethnarchy, and used not the Jews only, but the Samaritans also, barbarously; and this out of his resentment of their old quarrels with him’, Josephus, Wars, Book II, Chapter VII, paragraph 3.
- Luke 19. 43-44.
- See Ezek. 20. 33–38, of which F. A. Tatford wrote, ‘The events . . . do not appear to relate to the past, but rather to Israel’s future experience under the hand of Jehovah at the time of the end and prior to their ultimate restoration to their own land’, Dead Bones Live; An Exposition of the Prophecy of Ezekiel, page 114.
- John Nelson Darby, ibid., page 362.
- Luke 19. 28.
- Eph. 4. 8, 10.
- Luke 19. 12.
- This anecdote purportedly comes from one of two volumes (‘Humor in the Court’ (1977) and ‘More Humor in the Court’ (1984)) written by Mary Gilman, the editor of the National Shorthand Reporter in the United States.
- Gal. 6. 10.