Exercising Discernment: Following Jesus in Public

Luke 19:11-28

As the people there took in [the full significance of] this announcement, he gave them this parable because they were about to make their entry to Jerusalem and thought thereby that the [full manifestation of the] Kingdom of God was about to appear. Therefore he said:
“A certain nobleman travelled to a far country to receive his kingship and [with the intention] to return in due course [when this [honour] had been conferred upon him.]
“And he called his ten servants giving them ten pounds [one each] instructing them: ‘Trade with these while I am away and until I return.’
“But the residents of that place sent a delegation of seniors after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’
“And it came to pass that, upon his return, having received [deeds to] his kingdom, he summoned his servants, those to whom he had distributed the money that he might be advised about what they had gained [for him] by their trade.
“And the first came and told him:
“‘My Lord this pound of yours has made ten more for you.’
“And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant because you have been faithful in this small thing you shall have authority over ten cities.’
“And the second came and told him:
“‘My Lord this pound of yours has made five more for you.’
“And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant because you have been faithful in this small thing you shall have [similar jurisdiction] over five cities.’
“And another came saying, ‘My Lord, look here is your pound, which I had put away [for safe-keeping] in the linen closet. For I feared you because you are strict and demanding; you take up what you did not produce and you reap where you did not sow.’
“And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you rebellious servant. You know that I am strict and demanding, taking up what I did not produce and reaping what I did not sow. And why then did you not simply invest the money and give me the money plus cash-rate interest when I returned?’
“And to the ones standing by he said, ‘Take the mina from him and give it to the one who as ten.’
“And they reply to him, ‘But my Lord he has ten already!’
“And he says to them: ‘For I say to you: to everyone who has will more be given and to him that has not even what [he thinks] he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine, those who would not have me rule over them bring them before me and slay them right here.’”
“And having said this he continued on and went in front on his way up to Jerusalem.”

Luke’s language is precise. As they drank in Zacchaeus’s bombshell announcement, of his commitment to Israel’s Lord and to his neighbours, and of his resolve to maintain a just system of tax-collecting, Luke tells us that those present would also hear another of Jesus’ parables. We can too easily gloss over Luke’s words here by which he frame the account. Luke tells us Jesus told this parable:

Because they were about to make their entry to Jerusalem, and thought that the (full manifestation of the) Kingdom of God was about to appear … (19:11).

The crowd, the procession – we might even call it a “demonstration” – was preparing themselves with the expectation that Israel’s Messiah was in their midst. He was on his way to Jerusalem and whatever was to take place after Jesus’ arrival there they were evidently wanting to be part of it, to at least keep up with the action.

We, like Luke, interpret this event in retrospect. We know already what happened a few short days and weeks after Jesus’ arrival. So we are reading Luke’s account which is telling us how this event contributed to what came later.

So then, what do we make of this parable? And did the crowd hear this parable as Jesus’ warning about what he was about to do in judgement now that the Son of David was returning from a “foreign land”, having received title deeds to his throne?

It does not read like that at all. In fact it is not a parable along the lines of an answer to the question: “What is the Kingdom of God is like?” Are we to say that the rewards of the Kingdom of God are for those who trade in the system in which a king usurps his power and his wealth

… taking up what he didn’t labour over and reaping harvests of fields he has never sown?

Is the reward for those who cannot show rich pickings to be banishment from this Kingdom? But by contrast this King, this Son of David, we was then not on the path to bring retribution to those who concertedly and publicly opposed him. In fact what he continued to do and to teach in Jerusalem, right up until the end, was his concerted commitment to God’s Kingdom, a mission of mercy to encourage them to receive assurance of God’s mercy.

Alan Storkey seems to me to capture the right interpretation when he says of these words that Jesus put into the mouth of the returning king,

… as for those enemies of mine, those who would not have me rule over them bring them before me and slay them right away…

that they would have reminded his hearers of the retribution meted out by the family of Herod to any who stood in their way. The key to unlocking this parable is in the words Jesus puts into the mouth of the furious and manic overlord bent on holding on to his royal position at all costs:

To everyone who has full more be given and to him who has not even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him.

This parable is Jesus’ call to those who follow him to exercise discernment. It is also his warning to Zacchaeus (and the then up-beat Fellowship of Repentant Tax-Collectors – FRTC) of what, in truth, the Kingdom of God is not, and therefore is a prophetic warning of what they can expect in retribution from the kingdom of Mammon for their defection from the corruption.

Had we been there, We might have suggested to them the following:

By all means take no more than your are lawfully entitled to do, just as John taught you Kingdom of God practice for repentant tax-collectors , but remember what happened to John!

Zacchaeus in stepping off the treadmill of injustice was exposing himself to the fury of those who would not allow their grip on power to be challenged. He won’t be sharing in the spoils that have come to be associated with his employment. No more easy promotions, in fact no more promotions at all. As a “righteous tax-collector” he and his colleagues in the are in danger of their lives. And so this parable is Jesus’ “update” of what he had said earlier for those with ears to ear:

If any person would come after me, let him deny himself and every day again take up his cross, and follow after me … (9:23).

But he had also given on that earlier occasion an interpretative principle that his disciple’s should constantly apply to themselves:

For whoever would gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what is the profit for a man when he lists [into his account] the whole world [as a credit] while losing himself and is thus written off (9:24-5).

BCW

24 January 2017

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