There are a number of passages in the Bible that are difficult to stomach. Last night during our bible study, we hit upon one of them. It was lodged in my mind and I have not yet put it to rest. It is the last verse of the Parable of the Ten Minas, “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me,” (Luke 19:27). Below are a few translations of the verse. They are all pretty consistant. Below the translations are some commentaries trying to explain what this text means. Some feel more satisfactory than others, but it still did not rest my mind. So I will offer some of my thoughts in seeking to understand this verse. First, I want to make a few comments about parables. Second, I will focus on the structure of The Minas. Third, I will briefly compare The Minas to two other parables so that we can gain a little wider context, and I will offer a suggestion in terms of how to sit with this difficult verse.
It has taken me a while to understand better what a parable is. Pastor Walter Kim of Park Street Church gave a good sermon on this. And the chapter explaining parables in How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth was helpful as well. I will summarize a few points. Parables are stories that are imbedded in time, culture, and history. That’s why they are often difficult to understand when we just pick it up and read it. Parables often involve telling secrets about God which means that many will not understand. It was a form of revelation. Parables are also prophetic in that it calls the listener to repentance and to response. An example of this is seen in the interaction between the Prophet Nathan and Kind David (2 Samuel 12). Many of the parables leaves the listener uncertain of the ending and begging a response.
In the Parable of the Minas, a good amount of historical context is needed to understand what is going on. One can talk about the Roman oppression of the Jews, the messianic hope of the Jews, the concept of a nobleman going to receive a kingdom, money, finance, and business in 1st century Judea, and probably a few more we can talk about in this passage. That goes beyond the scope of this post, so we will focus in on one aspect of this parable, the structure.
A (Nobleman leaves)
B (Minas are given)
C (Delegation sent)
A’ (Nobleman returns as king)
B’ (Minas are accounted for)
C’ (Enemies punished)
There is a parallel structure in the two halves of the story, and we see that each element of the story is accounted for. (And we are safe to assume that the nobleman is referring of Jesus.) In the first half, each element is left open-ended. Will this nobleman get his kingdom? What will the servants do with the money? What will happen to the delegation? Will they be successful or unsuccessful? And so in the second half, we get answers to the above questions. The nobleman is made king and the first thing he does is settle business. For the listeners, it then raises more questions. What will he do with his servants? Since he got “promoted,” it’s likely they will get promoted. We see that the king rewards the servants who have been faithful. Even though he takes the mina from the unfaithful servant, we are left wondering, “What does he do with this servant?” And lastly, he doesn’t forget about those who hate him. Their actions are also accounted for. The listeners are left wondering, “Do these enemies ask for mercy? Does the king give them another chance?”
Parables teach us something about God, so what can we learn? We learn that Jesus will be made king of a kingdom. This reveals Jesus’ authority and how mankind is not on equal footing with God. We learn that he will reward the faithful with more responsibility. He will also take into account those who were for him and those who were against him.
Parables also call people toward repentance and call people to response. So what is this parable calling people to? With each element of the story, it builds in tension and severity. How do you view Jesus? Is he king? Is he not? Have you been faithful with the resources and the gifts that God has given you? Or have you been faithless and negligent? If God were to take an account of your life, would he say “Well done, good servant,” or would he take your mina away and give it to another? And when Jesus returns, would you be on the side of the king or would you be his enemy?
In a simplified summary, one can say, “God gives to people what they deserve.” But is that all? We will take an extremely quick look at 2 other parables, The Parable of the Prodigal Son, and The Parable of the Wicked Tenants. In the Prodigal Son, the father, representing God, gives to the younger son what he doesn’t deserve, and the emphasis is on repentance and mercy. The question the listeners are left with is, “How will you respond to God’s lavish love?” In the Wicked Tenants, God is the owner of the vineyard and Jesus is the son that he sends. Here, the tenants kill the son, and God doesn’t get what he deserved. The emphasis is on reversal and redemption: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” The question the listeners are left with is, “If you deny God what is his, what do you think he will do with what you think is yours?”
What we begin to see is that there is a complexity to the nature of God, such that just one story is not enough. One lesson is not enough to teach about who God is and his relationship with mankind. This God is a God who gives people what they deserve, doesn’t give people what they deserve, and also didn’t get what God himself deserved, most obviously in the death of Jesus.
How I sit with the last verse of The Minas is this, that the choices and the actions we make in our lives matter. They shape us to either love God or to hate God. As in the parable, we either receive Jesus as king or we reject him. That last verse is a stern and severe warning to all who listen. It is a reality check: “Your life is not a game; it’s more significant than you can fathom, so don’t fool around.” But this also needs to be tempered by the other qualities that we learn about God, his mercy and redemption. God will receive people who turn back to him. He can turn our mistakes and sins into life. And that goes for you and me. I can sit in the tension of this last verse because judgment is not all of who God is. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance,” (2 Peter 3:9).
NIV (1984): 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.
NLT: And as for these enemies of mine who didnt want me to be their king—bring them in and execute them right here in front of me.
ASV: But these mine enemies, that would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.
NRSV: But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.
ESV Study Bible: 19: 27 But as for these enemies of mine may allude to the destruction of Jerusalem in a. d. 70, but it also forecasts the final judgment of those who reject Jesus.
Expositor’s Bible Commentary: The nobleman’s anger (vv. 26- 27) is not intended to attribute such behavior to Jesus himself. Rather it does picture the kind of response one might have expected in Jesus ‘day, especially from the Herodians. It also reveals the seriousness of flouting the orders of the King whom God has appointed Judge (John 5: 22; Acts 17: 31; cf. 1 Peter 1: 17).
TNTC: The story finishes on a note of frightening severity. Those who rejected the nobleman and sent their embassy after him (14) are not forgotten. Safely installed in his kingdom and with accounts with his trading servants finalized, the nobleman commands the destruction of those he calls plainly these enemies of mine. They have set themselves in opposition to him; they must take the consequences. T.W. Manson has possibly the best comment on this: ‘We may be horrified by the fierceness of the conclusion; but beneath the grim imagery is an equally grim fact, the fact that the coming of Jesus to the world puts every man to the test, compels every man to a decision. And that decision is not light matter. It is a matter of life and death.’
TNTC: (12) The nobleman going to a far country to receive a kingdom reminds us irresistibly of a vassal making a pilgrimage to Rome to be made king. Herod the Great had received his kingdom that way. In his will he divided his realm between three of his sons, all of whom in due course went to Rome to press their claims. Archelaus had been left Judea with the title king, but the people detested him and sent representatives to ask that he be not given the kingdom. He had given them good reason for hating him. At the first Passover after his accession, for example, he had massacred about 3,000 of his subjects (Josephus, Bellum ii. 10-13). He was a thoroughly bad ruler. But the emperor confirmed him in the place of authority, though he denied him the title ‘king’ until he should prove worthy of it (which he never did). There would be special fitness in an allusion to Archelaus in this region, for he had built a magnificent palace in Jericho and also made an aqueduct for irrigation purposes (Josephus, Antiquities xvii. 340). We should probably take the references to the kindgom allegorically Jesus was about to finish his course at Jersualem and that mean leaving this earth. But he would return in due course, having been given the kingdom. The reference to a far country shows that he cannot be expected to return very soon.