Luke 19:11-27 – A Parable about Faithfulness and Opposition
SummaryIn response to speculation concerning the emergence of the kingdom of God, Jesus tells a parable about a human king who knows how to obtain and exercise power.
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:
- It is very different from the Parable of the Talents, which is found in Matthew 25:14-30. As they read in Luke and Matthew, the two parables cannot be considered the same or parallel.
- Since the parable's slaves are explicitly instructed to use their pounds for business purposes, the third slave is disobedient and not merely lazy.
- The third slave is not harmed for his disobedience, but only kept from ruling.
- According to the law of Moses, Jews were forbidden to collect interest (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-38; Deuteronomy 23:19-20).
- The Greek word translated "royal power" in v. 12 and v. 15 is the same word as "kingdom" in v. 11.
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.