This parable is difficult to understand. Determining its meaning requires considering where it fits in the architecture of Luke's Gospel. It comes immediately after the story of Zacchaeus (19:1-10), with no change in setting. It is provoked when people with Jesus suppose "that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately" (v. 11). Just after telling the parable, Jesus draws near to Jerusalem and is hailed by his followers as king. Several other details should also inform the interpretation of the parable:
Some interpreters contend that the parable's nobleman represents Jesus as he proclaims the kingdom on the way to Jerusalem. They say the parable is a statement that eventually, in the future, Jesus will reward his obedient followers and punish his adversaries. However, there are problems with such an interpretation, particularly because it identifies Jesus with a character who is unduly harsh and exploitative (see v. 22).
Instead, the nobleman is probably a negative character, meant to illustrate the ways in which people consolidate their power, seek outrageous profits, and eliminate their opposition. In light of what will happen to Jesus after he enters Jerusalem as a king in the following scene, the parable's nobleman and his kingdom provide a foil to Jesus and his kingdom. The parable, in light of the immediate context (v. 11) and Jesus' imminent entry into Jerusalem, reminds audiences that God's reign will unfold in a very different way than the reigns of human rulers who rule through force and intimidation. The parable contrasts Jesus' authority with that of human authorities.
It is also possible that the parable is less about kingship, and more about greed and resistance. The massive profits made by the first two slaves suggest, in light of other Lukan assertions about wealth, that corrupt practices are involved. The third slave, then, faithfully issues a call to resist participation in unjust activities that fuel human lusts for power. This would mean that Jesus uses the parable to say that the kingdom of God is not yet coming in its fullness. Instead, his followers should expect to live in corrupt times and follow an ethic of resistance that remains faithful to Jesus' teachings and the characteristics of God's kingdom.
11 As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12So he said, A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. 13He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds,* and said to them, Do business with these until I come back. 14But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, We do not want this man to rule over us. 15When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. 16The first came forward and said, Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds. 17He said to him, Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities. 18Then the second came, saying, Lord, your pound has made five pounds. 19He said to him, And you, rule over five cities. 20Then the other came, saying, Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, 21for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow. 22He said to him, I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest. 24He said to the bystanders, Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds. 25(And they said to him, Lord, he has ten pounds!) 26I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over thembring them here and slaughter them in my presence.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011