As in other writings, it’s usually not my purpose to give an exhaustive presentation on any subject. Jesus uses most of the parables to warn against religion and religious thinking, either in the context of teaching the disciples and others, or confronting the religious elite. I’ve used a variety of parables in this series to illustrate this similarity, to the point I fear I would be simply repeating myself were I to continue. On that note, I have one more parable I would like to look at; important, I believe, because of its application to anyone who is serious about his or her pursuit of God.
The parable of the minas is found only in Luke 19:11-28, though it is similar to the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. To establish the context we need to go back to the previous chapter, where we see Jesus making His way towards Jerusalem for the last time (Luke 18:31). A huge crowd was following Him (18:36, 19:3), and anticipation was building that He would initiate His kingdom as soon as He reached the city (19:11, 37-38).
And, on His way as He comes into Jericho, we see the record of His encounter with Zacchaeus (19:1-10). The conversion of Zacchaeus is also important in establishing the context of this parable. The key to understanding the connection is found in verse 9, where Jesus says, "Today deliverance is come to this house." The verb "is come" is in the aorist tense, used to indicate simple, undefined action with no reference to the time of the action. Based on what Zacchaeus says to Jesus about giving people back all the money he had cheated them out of (which Jesus recognized as a repudiation of the ways of the world and an acceptance of eternal, spiritual values) (verse 8), Jesus makes this simple statement of fact regarding Zacchaeus’ deliverance. Yet, we know deliverance is not based on a single act in the past, but on a present lifestyle of submission and obedience.
Here I make another argument for the precision found in the Word of God and the way in which the Holy Spirit inspired the writers not only in their choice of words, but in the arrangement of their thoughts. When you follow the text Luke is describing events as Jesus makes His way towards Jerusalem. Jesus is fully aware of what the people are saying, what they are thinking and what they are anticipating as He nears Jerusalem. In addition to that, He has just spent a good portion of the day with the local tax collector in Jericho and had witnessed a wondrous transformation.
Then, Luke immediately launches into the parable of the minas, deftly crafted by Jesus to deal with two separate issues. The first, though it becomes obvious the people weren’t listening, is that His kingdom would not be forth coming, but delayed. The second is that Zacchaeus, even though the Lord had pronounced his deliverance, now had a responsibility to serve his Master and grow in the spirituality he had now begun to demonstrate.
Let’s look at the parable and I’ll show you what I mean. This is Luke 19:11-28.
11 "Now as they listened to what Jesus was saying, He told them this parable, because He was getting close to Jerusalem and everyone was thinking the kingdom of God would be brought forth immediately.
12 Then He said, A certain nobleman went into a distant country, there, to obtain for himself a kingdom and then to return.
13 But before he went, he called ten of his servants and to each he gave one mina, then told them, buy, and sell with these till I come back.
14 But his citizens detested him, so they sent an embassy after him to say, We will not have this man to rule over us.
15 Now when he returned after having received the kingdom, he called the servants to whom he had given the money so he could find out how much each one had gained by buying and selling.
16 The first one came and said, Lord, your mina has made ten more minas.
17 And he said to that servant, Well done, you’re a good servant! Because you have been faithful in this little matter, you shall be given authority over ten cities.
18 The second one came and said, Lord, your mina has gained five more minas.
19 And he said to this servant, You would be in charge of five cities.
20 Then another came and said, Lord, here is that one mina, which I have kept hidden in this sweat cloth.
21 I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man. You pick up what you did not lay down; and you reap where you did not sow.
22 He said to that servant, I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant. If you knew I was a harsh man, picking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow;
23 Then why didn’t you at least put my money in the bank, so when I returned I could have it back with the interest?
24 And he said to those standing there, Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.
25 And they said to him, but Lord, he has ten minas already!
26 Then Jesus said, I’m telling you that to everyone who gains, more will be given; but from the one who does not gain, even what he has will be taken away.
27 But, as for my enemies who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and kill them in my presence!
28 And after He had spoken these things, Jesus went ahead of them, on towards Jerusalem."
Before we go any farther, it’s interesting to note that this parable mirrors actual events familiar to those living in and around Jericho. Archelaus (Matthew 2:22), the son of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1-19), went to Rome to ask that his father’s kingdom be restored to him, as it had been divided between Archelaus and his brother Herod Antipas. The kingdom was not restored to its original size until several years later, during the reign of Herod Agrippa II (Acts 25 and 26). Though there are obvious double meanings here (the spiritual ones, I’ll explain in a minute), Jesus describes in the parable what actually took place. While Archelaus went to Rome, the citizens sent an embassy to Augustus Caesar promising open rebellion against Rome if Archelaus got what he wanted (verse 14). Rome, stretched to the limit of its ability to govern the lands it had previously conquered, began the process of replacing Archelaus, who did everything he could to exact revenge on the people who rejected him before he was eventually deposed (verse 27).
Let’s look at the parable. Jesus is the nobleman. The nobleman going into a far country to receive his kingdom represents Jesus departing this earth to await the formation of the kingdom He will later return to claim (this to deal with the first issue mentioned above – the anticipation of the crowd). The servants are His disciples. The minas represent the opportunity afforded all disciples for spirituality (to focus on the second issue – the need for all disciples, including Zacchaeus, to understand the requirement for spiritual growth). The citizens who rejected Him are the Jews who were determined to cling to their self-righteous religion (illustrating the rejection of both of these issues).
Now, we need to be a little more specific. The key principle in this parable is found in verses 13 and 15. In verse 13 the word "occupy" or "trade" in many translations ("buy, and sell" in the one above) is pragmateuomai, meaning "to trade", from which we get our English word pragmatic. The etymology here is, I think, important. The definition of pragmatic is 1. practical 2. testing the validity of all concepts by their practical results. Then in verse 15 the words "gained by trading" ("gained by buying and selling" above) is translated from the word diapragmateuomai, "to gain by trading". This is a picture of spiritual growth. In the parable the servants (disciples) were told by the nobleman (Jesus) to take what he had given them and put it to practical use for one reason, gain.
In a vital, life-changing relationship with God, there is a reality that must not be ignored; it must be embraced. It’s the reality of His plan and purpose. The real experiences with Him that make us realize our shortcomings and underscore our dependence on Him. The trials and tests He brings force us to make choices. It’s the personal, individual participation of God in our lives. And in those personal experiences we take what He gives us, apply them to our lives through our submission and obedience and (if we’re wise pragmatists) pay close attention to the practical result – we’re being conformed to the image of His Son. This is spiritual growth, the gradual death to self, the slow, painful, and yet exciting and joyful crucifixion of the flesh. These are the necessary changes that will make us stronger in our spirit and weaker in our flesh, more loyal to God and less so to the things of the world.
Let’s make a couple of applications here. Those servants in the parable who traded (applied what they were given) and gained (grew) were accepted, approved and rewarded. The one who hid what he was given and did not gain was rejected. Then what he had been given was taken away and given to the one who already had much more due to his faithfulness.
This is the principle of Matthew 13:12. "For whoever has (the desire for spiritual growth), to him more will be given, so he will have an abundance. But whoever does not have (that same desire), even what little he has will be taken away." If you doubt the validity of what you see in parentheses above, look at the context in Matthew 13 and you’ll see that Jesus is explaining the fact that there are those who want to hear truth and know God and those who don’t really care. The contrast between the two lies in the fact that those who don’t care show it by their indifference to truth and their resulting failure to understand in a practical way what they have heard (Matthew 13:13-15). They hear it, but they don’t apply it.
They may even have some semblance of mental assent, but no transforming experience. This is something typical in religion – they don’t disagree, they just don’t act on it. Their religion has convinced them that God is nothing more than a mental concept; therefore, knowing God is nothing more than a mental exercise. They’re wrong! The process of spiritual growth is specifically designed by God to take us to ever-increasing levels of reality and intimacy with Him based on our very real experiences with Him. This is what Paul expresses in the first part of Ephesians 3:19, and here I’ll quote the Amplified Bible: "[That you may really come] to know [practically, through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]:"
The same principle is expanded in Mark 4:24-25. "And then He said to them, Give careful consideration to what you hear. The diligence you show in applying it to your life will determine the spiritual maturity you gain from it, and even more will be given to those who understand this. And to him who has grown in this way more will be given, but to him who has not grown, even what little he has will be taken away." Again, my translation is different than the usual, but I’m only taking into consideration the context and figurative language used by Jesus to help you understand what He’s saying. I’m confident I haven’t changed His intent.
The point made in the parable, as well as the two references above, is that when we’re careful to apply what we hear, the result is spiritual growth. When we place no real importance on it, the opportunity for growth is lost, as are the potential for future opportunities in diminishing degree. In fact, this failure is much more serious than lost opportunities. Paul makes it clear the result of such failure is a downward spiral towards spiritual blindness and spiritual darkness (Romans 1:18-32).
So, why does Jesus tell us in Mark 4:24 to give careful consideration to what we hear? Because it should be obvious to us by now that He holds us strictly accountable for what He gives us. He expects us to use it and grow. And it’s just as obvious from this parable and many other places that there are consequences if we don’t. And here I have to make the application: being a true disciple of Jesus is more than simply not rejecting Him; it’s an active commitment to serve Him and grow. Participating in religious programs and perpetuating religious institutions has nothing to do with being a disciple. Doing nothing, except an occasional act of lip service, is not being a disciple. Spiritual growth through real, personal experiences with God is the key. And I’m bound to ruffle a few feathers here, but opportunities for spiritual growth are not found in the pursuit of religion. They’re only found in the personal, individual pursuit of God Himself.
And this brings us to another point brought out in the parable. Back to Luke 19, we see in verse 21 the man who hid his mina says that he feared the nobleman, saying he was both harsh (austere) and unjust (taking what he didn’t lay down, etc). Of course, in the symbolism of the parable these characteristics would be applied to Jesus. If they were merely the justifications of the servant trying to protect himself when his disobedience was exposed, that would be understandable. However, these characteristics, when applied to the Son of God, take on different meanings. God is strict and exacting (austere) in the way that He holds us accountable in the use of what He gives us. And, He’s sovereign (taking what He didn’t lay down, etc); so it doesn’t matter what we think about it, that’s still the way it is. Nowhere in the Scriptures do you ever find the servant telling the master what he can or cannot do, nor do you see the master asking the servant what he thinks. When it comes to God’s plan and purpose, our opinions are irrelevant.
God says what He means, and He means what He says. Our flesh may want to twist and bend it, the thoughts of men may be more appealing, and religion will try to convince us institutions and programs are more important. But the simple, immutable fact is that God intends to hold us accountable for every shred of truth we hear, an accountability that affects both time and eternity. If you’re listening to it, but not doing anything with it; if you’re hearing it, but your only response is to make excuses why you can’t do it, then you’re like the disobedient servant, in the process of losing what little you have.
There is one more issue that has to do with spiritual growth that I need to address, then, I’ll be finished. When it comes to spiritual growth, time is a test. There are those who worry about their progress, wondering, "Have I grown enough, or am I growing fast enough?" And to those I want to say, the issue is not how much or how fast, it’s your diligence and determination in time. It’s up to God how much you grow or how fast. It’s up to you to make sure you’re always paying attention and always determined to submit and be obedient. It’s up to God to give you the opportunities to grow (your minas), but it’s up to you to make sure you take full advantage of those opportunities when they come along.
You can’t force the issue; remember Who’s in charge. You can’t hurry and get it all over with; that’s not your decision. You can’t put God on your schedule; He’s not interested in being fit in to your life whenever or wherever it’s convenient for you. You can’t quit. The question is, will you endure to the end (Matthew 10:22)? God will do what He wants, when He wants. And what He is going to find out is, will you "take heed", recognize what He’s doing and obey? Time is a test! God designed time, and He knows how to use it. And make no mistake; if you remain submitted, He’ll use time to mold and shape you into what He wants you to be, right up to the instant you draw your last breath.