The Parable of the Ten Minas
Once again, with the Parable of the Ten Minas (or the Parable of the Talents from Matthew), we find a parable that has deep layers of ambiguity where sinners will hear one thing and the false-righteous will hear another. This parable has been cited to support usurious lifestyles and to justify the rich's oppression of the poor. It has also been used to explain how some in heaven will shine brighter than others. But what did Jesus really mean by it?
The version in Luke and Matthew both are placed in the context of the "appearance of the kingdom of God." Jesus' disciples were always asking Jesus about the end times. Are we any different? They were hoping he would ride in with shining sword on a great battle horse and slay the Roman oppressors. However, we find in Luke just after the Parable of the Ten Minas that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a small colt moving toward his death on the cross. In that context, let's put on our sinner's ears and begin understanding the Parable of the Ten Minas from Luke.
While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas‘. Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’
“But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’
“He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
“The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’
“‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’
“The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’
“His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’
“Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’
“His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
“Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’
“‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’
“He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”
On first thought, most think the prince in this story who becomes king is Jesus. But what if this prince is actually the Devil, the prince of the world? In Ephesians 2:2, John 12:31, John 14:30, and elsewhere in Scripture, we learn who the ruler of the world really is. He is the Serpent. He is the taskmaster. He is ruthless and promotes those who are like him.
In a worldly sense, those who are rich become more rich. Those who cheat move higher on the worldly ladder. Those who have nothing, continue to have nothing. The poor Palestinians of Jesus' day understood this message clear as a bell. Once again Jesus is explaining about the evils of worldly wealth, but he's also answering the initial question, "Will the kingdom of God appear at once?"
He seems to be implying that the kingdom does not work that way. His answer comes by way of the subjects who "hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’" We find that these same subjects are then killed in front of the taskmaster. Who do these subjects represent? In the context of this interpretation, they seem to be the prophets who hated the evil one and longed for the true king, the Prince of Peace: Jesus Christ. But they could also represent the martyrs. So, the answer to "When will the kingdom appear," counterintuitively, is answered in this parable when we lok at what the taskmaster does to his enemies: the kingdom of God appears when the enemies of the prince of the world are killed. We enter the kingdom through the cross of Christ.
So, are we are called to be more like the subject who was given ten minas and who was promoted or like the subject who was given one minas of worldly wealth and humbled? We recall that the taskmaster returns looking for his share, a tax, on the minas he entrusted his subjects. Is it a coincidence that this parable follows the account of the tax collector Zacchaeus? And what does the sinner Zacchaeus do when his mind is relieved by the grace of Christ? He pays back four times the amount to those he cheated. Likewise, the sinner who buried the minas gave it back to its rightful owner. Wasn't it Jesus who patiently told his disciples to "give back to Ceasar what is Ceasar's and to God what is God's"?
Over the ages the Church's Fathers have also explained this parable with a spiritual interpretation. We must give to "God what is God's." Replace the term minas or talent with graces, spiritual gifts, faith or love. In this parable, the ending proverb is applicable in both a worldly and a spiritual sense. Jesus explains, "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away." In the Parable of the Sower we learn that the word of God "yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown." Likewise, as our faith increases and love increases, more comes our way. But if we hide the love and graces that are given to us by God, because we are afraid of the taskmaster, even what we have will be taken away.
In spite of the taskmaster of this world, we are to put our spiritual talents to work on a lampstand for the world to see. We are to return the worldly wealth to its rightful owner. Then, like Christ and his martyrs, we will embarrass and enrage the taskmaster. In doing so, we will take up our humble cross and truly learn what it means for the kingdom of God to appear. And like the sinner who calls longingly to his neighbor and king on the cross, Jesus will answer, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It seems to me that this parable (and the Parable of the Talents) is truly ambiguous in design. The one who loves money and oneself more than God will read it one way about worldly riches. Yet, we can read the same parable in a spiritual or heavenly sense. In this sense, the king is Jesus, while in a worldly sense, the king is Satan. With sinner's ears we hear one story. With self-righteous ears we hear just the opposite. It's beyond brilliant—it's the word of God.