The Parable of the Minas

Our Stepping Stones class studied the parable of the ten minas in Luke 19:12-27 this week. This story is of course very similar to the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, but they are actually different parables told at different times. Luke helps us see the setting for this particular parable when he adds that “they were getting close to Jerusalem by this time and expectation was building that God’s kingdom would appear any minute” (v. 1, The Message). Jesus begins his parable in an intriguing way: A royal prince departs on a journey to receive the right to rule his country. In his absence, he commits ten minas (about a four-month’s wage) to ten of his servants with the simple instructions, “Do business until I return.” Verse 14 then states, “But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.'” Jesus’ audience would have immediately remembered how, just a few decades earlier, Archelaus, son of Herod the Great, had departed for Rome to secure the right to reign in Palestine. His citizens promptly sent a delegation to Rome as well to oppose his rule. You see, Jesus was leveraging a story that his audience would have been extremely familiar with to teach them that God’s kingdom would not appear immediately and that the Son’s rule would be bitterly opposed. But, what really matters, Jesus goes on, is our faithfulness as we wait for Him to return. Hence, the servants with the minas.

So, we come to the first servant. The first servant takes the biggest risk of all and ends up increasing his master’s profits by 10X! The master is delighted and gives him ten cities to rule over. The second servant gains 5X and gets five cities. But then we come to the last servant. Verses 20-21 in The Voice put his words this way: “Lord, I have successfully preserved the money you gave me. I wrapped it up in a napkin and hid it away because I was afraid of you. After all, you’re a tough man. You have a way of taking a profit without making an investment and harvesting when you didn’t plant any seed.” Let’s pause for a second at verse 21 – “Because I was afraid of you.” You see, the first thing that goes wrong here is that the servant misunderstands the character of the Master. As a result, he is paralyzed by fear. (As Christians, fear should never be a part of our relationship with God! See Rom. 8:15.) The servant dreads that he will be punished for trying and failing. So instead, because he misunderstood the character and the purpose of the King, he refuses to risk anything for the kingdom.

Now, this may all seem a little abstract when we try to apply this lesson spiritually, but let’s remember what the “economy” of God’s kingdom is all about. It has nothing to do with money or financial resources – it has everything to do with people! The unfaithful servant in God’s kingdom is one who never took a risk to help and invest in his fellow brothers and sisters in this world. We have all kinds of excuses we can throw: “It’s not safe out there,” “I’m afraid of failing,” “I don’t want to get involved in their messiness,” “They might take advantage of me!” Like the servant, we may think we will be rewarded for “playing it safe” all of our lives and safely tucking away our spiritual blessings, but at the end of it, the Master will respond that we completely missed the point! It’s all about giving of ourselves and investing in others, just as Christ poured Himself out for us!

So how do we get to this place in our lives? Maybe we can start by spending time each day getting to know the character of our Master and the purpose of His kingdom. As our hearts grow more and more in harmony with Him, it will become only natural for us to live out His mission!

The Two Worshippers

After telling the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus told another parable to his audience – “this one addressed to people who were confident in their self-righteousness and looked down on other people with disgust.” I like how The Voice paraphrases this parable:

10 Imagine two men walking up a road, going to the temple to pray. One of them is a Pharisee and the other is a despised tax collector. 11 Once inside the temple, the Pharisee stands up and prays this prayer in honor of himself: “God, how I thank You that I am not on the same level as other people—crooks, cheaters, the sexually immoral—like this tax collector over here. 12 Just look at me! I fast not once but twice a week, and I faithfully pay my tithes on every penny of income.” 13 Over in the corner, the tax collector begins to pray, but he won’t even lift his eyes to heaven. He pounds on his chest in sorrow and says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

In the surprising punch line of the story, the publican walks away righteous before God while the religious Pharisee does not. You can imagine how shocked Jesus’ audience must have been at this surprise twist. I like how it says that the Pharisee prays “in honor of himself.” His position to God is one of arrogance and self-worship. He does not ask for forgiveness because he does not believe he needs any – and so none is given. The publican, on the other hand, approaches God only with his need. He has nothing to offer heaven and can only throw himself on the mercy of God. I found this thought from Christ’s Object Lessons intriguing:

“The Pharisee and the publican represent two great classes into which those who come to worship God are divided. Their first two representatives are found in the first two children that were born into the world. Cain thought himself righteous, and he came to God with a thank offering only. He made no confession of sin, and acknowledged no need of mercy. But Abel came with the blood that pointed to the Lamb of God. He came as a sinner, confessing himself lost; his only hope was the unmerited love of God.”

We should pay attention to the warning inherent in this parable. It’s a warning against the lie of self-sufficiency – the kind of “self-sufficiency” that disgusts God about the Laodicean church in Revelation 3: “ Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (verse 17). Sobering indeed. The bad news, of course, is that, because of our human weakness, we are completely incapable of curing ourselves of this disease of self-dependence and self-worship. But the good news is that we don’t have to try to cure ourselves:

“But no man can empty himself of self. We can only consent for Christ to accomplish the work. Then the language of the soul will be, Lord, take my heart; for I cannot give it. It is Thy property. Keep it pure, for I cannot keep it for Thee. Save me in spite of myself, my weak, unchristlike self. Mold me, fashion me, raise me into a pure and holy atmosphere, where the rich current of Thy love can flow through my soul. ” (Christ’s Object Lessons)

Lessons from a Persistent Widow

Luke 18:1-9 is the story of the tenacious widow who, against all odds, refuses to give up her cause. Even though the corrupt judge rebuffs her over and over again, she keeps persisting until she finally wears him down. What a lesson for us in persistency and dedication in our prayers! But remember that Jesus is not at all trying to compare our heavenly Father with this dishonest judge – rather, he reveals God’s character by a point of contrast. Jesus is basically saying: “Do you see how this dishonest judge finally gives in? Now, just imagine how infinitely more your loving Father will be willing to answer your cries to Him!”

I don’t know about you, but the real kicker of this parable for me comes in verses 7-8:“And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him…? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.” That’s a tough one in my mind – especially when it doesn’t seem like God is answering my prayers very “speedily” at all. But here’s the interesting thing: Jesus doesn’t seem anywhere near as concerned here with God’s timing in answering our prayers as with our faithfulness in continuing to ask. For Jesus the real question is: “But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (v. 8). As one insightful commentary puts it: “This parable teaches that the only legitimate reason to stop praying for something is the return of Christ” (bible.org). In other words, crazy as it is, it seems that Jesus fully expects us to keep praying for answers and interceding for others all the way up until His coming!  Christ’s Object Lessons challenges us this way: “There is no danger that the Lord will neglect the prayers of His people. The danger is that in temptation and trial they will become discouraged, and fail to persevere in prayer.” I’m not going to pretend this isn’t tough for us. Why would Jesus put such high demands on His people? Perhaps one reason is because prayer is the key to a relationship. If we think of prayers as our soul’s lifeline, as our connection with our heavenly Father, then the purpose of continued prayer takes on an entirely different meaning, doesn’t it?

In closing, I hope you will be blessed by these beautiful thoughts on prayer:

Not one sincere prayer is lost. Amid the anthems of the celestial choir, God hears the cries of the weakest human being. We pour out our heart’s desire in our closets, we breathe a prayer as we walk by the way, and our words reach the throne of the Monarch of the universe. They may be inaudible to any human ear, but they cannot die away into silence, nor can they be lost through the activities of business that are going on. Nothing can drown the soul’s desire. It rises above the din of the street, above the confusion of the multitude, to the heavenly courts. It is God to whom we are speaking, and our prayer is heard. (Christ’s Object Lessons)

Regarding Fairness: The Parable of the Vineyard Workers

I can’t wait to study our Stepping Stones lesson of the parable of the vineyard workers with you! If you have some time, please find a Bible and read Matthew 20:1-16… Now, let’s just imagine ourselves for a minute as the first group of workers. How would you feel after a boiling day in the sun as you watch the group of workers who showed up at the very last hour getting paid an entire day’s wages? Wouldn’t you be excited at the anticipation of an even better reward because of your diligent hard work? And then, bam, you end up getting paid the same amount as they did! How is that fair?

To really understand this parable I think we need to jump back to Matthew 19. Here Jesus and the disciples are having a discussion about how seeking the kingdom of heaven sometimes involves sacrifice. Peter then breaks the ice with a rather blunt question: “Look, we’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get out of it?” Isn’t it interesting how Peter’s question revealed a spirit very similar to that of the vineyard workers? Even after the years they had spent with Jesus, the disciples “still worked with the thought of meriting a reward in proportion to their labor” (Christ’s Object Lessons). So, Jesus told them a story that was sure to agitate them. How is it fair for a group of lazy vagabonds (i.e, them) who no one in his right mind would hire to get rewarded the same amount as those who have diligently toiled all day long – i.e., us!?

But the whole point here is that it isn’t fair! It’s grace! You see, we get caught up in this parable trying to figure out which group we belong in (nearly all of us will identify ourselves with the first group, by the way) and trying to determine how “fairness” factor works out for each party involved. But this parable isn’t about the workers – it’s about the awesomely generous vineyard owner! It’s about realizing that we are all in that last rag-tag group of social leftovers who no one else would give a shot. After an hour’s pittance of labor, we get paid off as if we had actually done something useful! Our reward has nothing to do with our effort but has everything to do with the character of the gracious vineyard owner. When we finally view this parable from that perspective, we see that things are absolutely not fair – and that’s the most exciting news we can hear!