#84. Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:11-27)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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Text

Luke 19:11-27

[11] 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. [12] He said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. [13] So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.'

[14] "But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our king.'

[15] "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.

[16] "The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.'

[17] " 'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.'

[18] "The second came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned five more.'

[19] "His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities.'

[20] "Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. [21] 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.'

[22] "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? [23] Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?'

[24] "Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.'

[25] " 'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!'

[26] "He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. [27] 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.' "


Exposition

The Parable of the Pounds, as it is often called, speaks to us disciples about our productivity as well as other important lessons. Let's look deeply into the parable and see what God will say to us through it.

When Will the Kingdom Appear? (19:11)

Jesus is in Jericho, about 17 miles east of Jerusalem, on his way to his destiny, his "hour" in Jerusalem. He has just brought salvation to Zacchaeus the tax collector.

"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." (19:11)

There is wide speculation that the Kingdom is about to "appear," Greek anaphaino, "cause to light up, cause to appear,"[1] and will take place when he comes to Jerusalem. One reason Jesus tells this parable is to explain that the coming of the Kingdom will be delayed.

Travelling to Be Appointed King (19:12)

"He said: 'A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.' " (19:12)

Jesus is telling this as a "story," a parable. But his hearers in Jericho would have immediately brought to mind the story of one of Herod the Great's sons, Archelaus (mentioned once in the Bible in Matthew 2:22).[2] The word "noble birth" is Greek eugenes, "pertaining to being of high status, 'well-born, high-born,' "[3] and "to have himself appointed" is the common Greek word lambano, "receive," here having the meaning "take into one's possession, take, acquire." Archelaus went to Rome to receive his appointment as king over the opposition of his subjects who had also appealed to Rome. [4]

Jesus probably intended this reference to receiving a kingdom as an allegory. Of course, Jesus can't be accused of evil character, nor can the allegory be pressed too closely. He is about to finish his ministry at Jerusalem, which means his death and leaving this earth. Jesus seems to intend us to see these points of comparison:

  1. He promises to return, now with full recognition of his status as King, to reign in the Kingdom of God.
  2. The reference to "a distant country" means that he cannot be expected to return very soon.
  3. Jesus is hated by the leaders of Jerusalem -- not because he is an evil ruler, but because as Messiah he threatens their power and righteousness.

Small Investments in 10 Servants (19:13)

"So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.' " (19:13)

In some translations the denomination of money is called "pounds" (RSV, KJV). The NIV however simply transliterates the term "mina," from Greek mna, "a Greek monetary unit equal to 100 drachmas,"[5] worth about 3 months wages or $20.

The phrase "put this money to work" (NIV) or "occupy" (KJV) is Greek pragmateuomai, "do business, trade."[6] The RSV translation, "trade with these," and the NRSV translation, "do business with these," render the idea well. The servants were given money to invest and work with to see how much they could increase the amount. Since each was given a relatively small sum, the nobleman's purpose was not increasing his wealth so much as testing to see which of his servants would be worthy of greater responsibility in his kingdom when he returned.

What do these small investments represent? I believe they represent the spiritual gifts, abilities, "talents," and knowledge that he has passed on to his disciples -- to you and to me. The real question is what we will do with the portion he has entrusted to us.

Comparison with the Parable of the Talents

The Parable of the Pounds (19:11-27) has a number of similarities with the more familiar Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Here are the main differences:

 

Luke: Pounds

Matthew: Talents

Benefactor

Nobleman who becomes a King

Wealthy man

Coinage

Mina (about 3 months wages, about $20)

Talent ($1000)

Distribution

One to each servant

More to some than others

Hatred of citizens

Mentioned

-

These are similar but different parables. Jesus, who repeated his teachings constantly in town after town, obviously told this basic parable in two different ways, depending upon what he was seeking to emphasize. However, the primary point of each form of this parable is nearly the same.

Hated by His Subjects (19:14-15a)

"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." (19:14-15a)

Jesus is hated, too. His enemies include the Pharisees, the scribes, the chief priest's family, and members of the Sanhedrin. Each of these groups will, in the next week, redouble and refocus their efforts to see him killed. Yes, sadly, Jesus the Messiah is hated by the leaders of his subjects. But his appeal for Kingship is not to his subjects but to his Father:

"... He humbled himself
and became obedient to death --
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:8-11)

The return of Jesus as King will be his Second Coming.

Looking for His Servants' Gain (19:15b-16)

"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.' "(19:16)

After the nobleman arrives home, he calls his servants in Greek doulos. It is possible the word could mean "slave" here, but in this context it probably carries the meaning "subject" in a positive sense, in relation to a superior human being.[7] Since they are given cities to rule, they aren't likely to be slaves.

The King is seeking to learn of the gain, the increase, the fruit of his servants' labors. We see three words in these verses that relate to increase or gain:

  • "Gained" in verse 15b is Greek diapragmateuomai, "gain by trading, earn." [8]
  • "Earned" in verse 16 is Greek prosergazomai, "make more."[9]
  • "Earned" in verse 18 is the common Greek word poieo, "do, make," here with the idea of "to produce something material, 'make, manufacture, produce.' "[10]

Rewarding the Faithful Servants (19:17-19)

The first servant who has increased his investment ten-fold reports happily. And the king, too, is pleased.

" '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.' " (19:17-19)

"Well done" is Greek euge, an adverb that means "well done! excellent!"[11] The king isn't really concerned about the amount of money earned -- he calls it "a very small matter." Rather, he is interested in the faithfulness demonstrated by the increase. "Trustworthy" (NIV) or "faithful" (KJV) is the common Greek word pistos, "worthy of belief or trust, trustworthy, faithful, dependable."[12]

The king's reward to these productive servants is not monetary, but in greater responsibility proportional to their demonstrated faithfulness and ability. They were faithful in a very small thing. Their faithfulness has shown their ability to take on more. "Take charge of" (NIV) or "have authority over" (KJV) in verse 17 centers on the Greek word exousia, "the right to control or command, authority, absolute power, warrant."[13]

The Wicked Servant's Excuse (19:20-21)

But one of the ten servants is not so eager to please.

"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?' (19:20-23)

The unproductive servant is bold -- I'll give that to him. But he sounds almost like a Marxist accusing his master of Capitalism. "Laid away" is Greek apokeimai, "to put away for safekeeping."[14] The practice of keeping money laid away in a cloth is attested to in Rabbinical writings, but was regarded as unsafe in contrast to burying money in the ground.[15]

In verse 20 the servant refers to his master as "hard" (NIV) or "austere" (KJV). The Greek word austeros (from which we get our word "austere") means "punctilious, strict." In contrast, the master calls the unproductive a "wicked" servant, from Greek poneros, "morally or socially worthless, wicked, evil, bad, base, worthless, vicious, degenerate."[16]

The master faults the wicked servant for not even taking the simplest and most conservative steps to get some increase on the money by depositing it with the banker. "On deposit" (NIV) or "the bank" (KJV) is Greek trapeza (from which we get "trapezoid" and "trapeze"), "table," specifically the table on which the money changers display their coins, hence simply "bank."[17] "Interest" (NIV) or "usury" (KJV) is Greek tokos, " 'interest' on money loaned."[18] While Jews were forbidden to receive interest on money loaned to the poor, some other kinds of business loans were legal for them.

The Faithful Will Receive More (19:22-26)

The wicked servant has not been merely lazy, but has deliberately done nothing that will benefit his master. There is no second chance for deliberate rebelliousness.

"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 he has will be taken away.' " (19:22-26)

When the king gives the unused mina to the servant who has ten already, someone questions his action on the basis of fairness -- or perhaps need. "He already has ten -- he doesn't need another." But the king is distributing his gifts on the basis of faithfulness and capability, not fairness or need. After a trial period, the king now expects of his servants a track record of faithfulness and productivity -- that they can use his gifts.

How about you and me? How have we used the gifts God has given us? Have we put them on a shelf because we were too busy with our own activities? Have we become discouraged? Have we become angry with God and therefore rebellious?

Why do the rich get richer? Why do successful people become more successful? Because they take full advantage of everything they receive -- and every little bit more makes them more successful. Losers, on the other hand, talk like victims, and either spend everything you give them or put it away fearfully for a rainy day. God expects you and me to have faith enough to succeed, and then succeed again and again. Investing God's gifts takes faith as well as love for our Master.

Punishment for His Enemies (19:27)

"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." (19:27)

This seems pretty strong. The word translated "kill" is Greek katasphazo, "slaughter, strike down."[19] The listeners in Jericho recalled how King Archelaus slaughtered his enemies, and recognized how the parable was true to life.

You are not God's enemy when you fail. He loves you. He is there to encourage you to try again as he did Peter (John 21:15-17). But you are God's enemy when you set your will against his and refuse to use productively what he has given you. That is a dangerous place in which to stand, as an enemy of God. 

Ultimately, this parable is not about the present. It is eschatological and applies to the time of Christ's Return. If you sense in yourself laziness or rebelliousness against God, there's still time to repent and change your heart -- but you can only count on "today" in which to do that.

Lessons for Disciples

There are a number of lessons to be found in this complex parable:

  1. Jesus is going away for some time, but when he returns he will come as absolute King.
  2. He has given "money" to us to see which are the best managers who will bring the greatest increase -- and to find out which of us are faithful to him.
  3. He will reward his servants according to what they have accomplished.
  4. He will punish his enemies. There is no room for rebellious subjects in Christ's Kingdom.
  5. Those who have something when he comes will receive abundantly more. But if we have nothing when he returns, he will give us no more.

I am struck by the small amounts the servants have to work with -- $20 or so -- and the huge rewards they receive when the King returns -- several cities! It reminds me of the Apostle Paul's teaching of the "earnest" or "down payment" of the Spirit which we have now, which is just a token, a guarantee, of the huge inheritance we will receive at Christ's Coming.

"Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession -- to the praise of his glory." (Ephesians 1:13-14)

The nobleman about whom Jesus speaks in the Parable of the Pounds is the Lord Jesus himself. He has been exalted as King and will return in glory -- soon, I believe. And you and I, my brothers and sisters, are the servants who have each received something to work with, to trade with, to bring some return on investment. What you and I will do with what we've been entrusted is still an unfinished story. It's not too late to put all of our talents and abilities to work for Him. Not too late yet.


Prayer

Father, thank you for trusting me with gifts and abilities and opportunities that come directly from your hand. Forgive me for wasted time and opportunity. Help me to learn how I can be most productive for your Kingdom in this New Year. I DO love you Lord and want you to be able to count on me as a "good and faithful servant." In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.


Key Verse

"I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away." (Luke 19:26)


Questions

JesusWalk: Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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  1. This parable has some allegorical elements. Who is represented by the hated nobleman who becomes king?
  2. In the Parable of the Talents each of the servants had substantial sums to work with. In the Parable of the Pounds each has only $20 or so. Why is Jesus emphasizing this test of faithfulness as a "small matter"? (19:17b) What is large by comparison?
  3. Why was the master so delighted with the servants who earned 10-fold and 5-fold on his tiny investment? Was it the money or something else? (19:15-19)
  4. What do the unproductive servant's words tell us about his character? (19:20-21) Why was the master so disgusted with the unproductive servant who never traded with his portion? (19:22-23)
  5. In what way does this Parable promise us more if we need it to develop the Lord's work? What are the conditions? (19:26)
  6. When you talk about the fruit of your service for God, do you sound more like a victor or a victim? Why? How will that change?


References

Common Abbreviations www.jesuswalk.com/faq/abbreviations.htm

  1. BDAG 74-75.
  2. Archelaus erected a magnificent royal palace in Jericho and built an irrigation aqueduct there.[Josephus, Antiquities 17.340 (17.13.1).] Archelaus was a terrible king. A few days before his father Herod's death in 4 BC, his father had executed his heir and made Archelaus successor to his throne. Herod divided his realm between his three sons: Archelaus (receiving Judea, Samaria, and Idumea); Herod Antipas (receiving Galilee and Perea); and Philip (receiving Gaulanitis, Trachonitis, Batanaea, and Panaeas).[L.I. Levine, "Herod the Great," Anchor Bible Dictionary 3:169.] But there was squabbling between the sons, so each of Herod's sons went in turn to Rome to establish their kingship and then return with full authority.

    When Archelaus went to Rome to appear before Caesar Augustus, a delegation of Jews also came to Rome to appeal to Caesar not to let Archelaus be king over them. They recited all his misdeeds before Caesar. Apparently, Caesar was partly convinced, because he gave only part of the land to Archelaus to rule, promising to give the rest -- and the title of "king" -- if he proved himself just in his reign.[Josephus, Antiquities 17:188-90 (
    17.11).] When Archelaus returned from Rome, he proved what a terrible king he was by massacring 3,000 of his subjects.[Morris, Luke, p. 274. Josephus, Wars, 2.10-13.] He was finally deposed by the Romans for misgovernment in 6 AD.
  3. BDAG 404.
  4. BDAG 583-585.
  5. BDAG 654.
  6. BDAG 859.
  7. BDAG 259-260.
  8. BDAG 235.
  9. BDAG 878.
  10. BDAG 839-842.
  11. BDAG 404.
  12. BDAG 820-821.
  13. BDAG 352-353.
  14. BDAG 113.
  15. Marshall, p. 706. Cites Jeremias, Parables, p. 61.
  16. BDAG 851-852.
  17. BDAG 1013.
  18. BDAG 1010.
  19. BDAG 528.

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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