The Parable of the Ten Minas
This is clearly a separate parable from Matthew’s parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30). “It is more likely that Jesus made more than one use of the basic idea.” (Morris) In Matthew, Jesus focuses on the stewardship given according to each one’s ability (Mt. 25:15, “to each according to his ability”). In Luke, one mina is given to see if they are fit for larger tasks. Hence the statement, “you have been faithful in a very little.”
19:11 — The reason our Lord gave this parable is “because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.” This came after the previous account (“As they heard these things…”).
The parable illustrates the stewardship required in the interim. Many perhaps thought the imminent return precluded activity and diligence. Nevertheless, this interim period is the time in which we are to be faithful.
19:12 — The “nobleman” clearly represents Christ. This nobleman was to receive his kingship (and not just some static kingdom). The departure meant that an interim period required stewardship. “Two interesting historical analogies may have provided background for this allusion. Both Herod the Great in 40 B.C. and his son Archelaus in 4 B. C. went to Rome to receive confirmation of their rule. Herod received the kingship of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea. Archelaus received not ‘kingship’ but only the title ‘Ethnarch.’” (Stein)
19:13 — Minas “is a much smaller amount than Matthew’s talents. A mina was worth about a sixteenth of a talent or about one hundred drachmas, i.e., about three months’ wages.” (Stein) The nobleman gives clear direction to his servants. There is no doubt what he is requiring. This is particularly important when we read of the third servant’s response. Presumably, each servant received one mina with which to work.
19:14 — Jesus adds to this the story to make it the example very similar to his. These citizens did not wish to have the nobleman rule over them. The Jews likewise did not wish to have Christ rule over them. Both reject their Lord. “Jesus is the perfect King and nothing can interfere with his kingship. But we should not miss the point that people rebel against all he stands for.” (Morris)
19:15 — The nobleman has received his kingdom and has returned as Lord. This parallels what will happen to Jesus who will be exalted as Lord and will one day return.
19:16-19 — The servant recognized that the minas was not his and that the Lord’s mina had earned ten more or 1000%. There is no boasting here. He is one of the three who is mentioned out of the ten. The nobleman rewards the faithful servant with ten cities. Interestingly, he says that the servant had been “faithful with very little.” If he can show that much industry from such a small amount, then he is a trustworthy servant who can handle more. More importantly, like Adam would have been rewarded (had he obeyed), the servant will receive far more than his deed; the reward was greater than the work! It is what Augustine called “rewards of grace.”
The second servant produced 500% for which he will receive five cities. No commendation is made like the first. But it is clear that the reward of grace means that he has his master’s approval. “Here the master shows both his generosity and his fairness, since the servants all received the same amount of capital to trade with, yet some have worked harder than others.” (Milne) “The reward is not rest, but the opportunity for wider service.” (Morris)
“All Christians will be saved by Christ, yet their work for Christ is another matter, it may pass muster or suffer loss in the fire of Christ’s testing examination (1 Cor. 3:11-15). Their special responsibilities in the future kingdom will depend in some way on the quality of their service for Christ in the present kingdom.” (Milne) This author also rightly summarizes two important truths that must guide our understanding of our future standing. One, “No servant deserves to be in Christ’s employment; everything is due to Christ’s pity and generosity (Matt. 20:1-6).” Two, “No servant deserves a reward since no one ever lives up to what Christ has the right to ask of us (Luke 17:7-10).” (Milne) But a third truth should be mentioned. No servant should highlight what he did; let his master do so (see below in “Lost in Translation”). They do not say, “I did this for you.” Rather, “Your mina produced this.”
19:20-21 — This third servant simply gives back what was given to him. He had not heeded the command, “Engage in business until I come.” (v. 13) Not only had he failed to heed the command, he is now blaming his failure on his master’s harshness. “In his defense the wicked servant sought to paint a negative picture of the character of the nobleman.” (Stein) “Taking up what one did not put down and reaping what one did not sow are evidently proverbial expressions for making gain through other people’s efforts.” (Morris) Bock says, “The king takes from others what he did not work for.” (Bock) Plummer states the dilemma in these words: “If I earn money, you will take it; if I lose it, you will hold me responsible.” (Plummer)
His assessment is certainly not true. The master rewarded his servants disproportionately to their labor. They received far more than what they did. The nobleman was generous and not severe.
Basically there are two classes listed in this parable, those who were faithful and those who were not. This man sufficiently portrays unfaithfulness. “The third servant stands for all those people throughout Christendom who have enjoyed an outward relationship to the church and the gospel. Yet these individuals have never made any return on these privileges and opportunities by trusting, loving and serving Christ personally. They are like land that has received the fructifying rain, but only produces thorns and weeds.” (Milne)
We learn how one’s prejudice and wrong understanding of who Jesus is will impact our behavior. Some view his as this wicked servant; others view him as indulgent and soft. Either way, they both misunderstand him and respond accordingly to their spiritual condemnation.
19:22-23 — “The nobleman judged the wicked servant on the basis of his own presuppositions.” (Stein) The logic of his response is quite penetrating. “If you indeed knew I was that way, then why in the world did you not fear and do something?” Not only did this man lie, he also was foolish. He failed to act on his pretended understanding. The minimal effort to invest would have been sufficient. Even that was neglected.
19:24 — The one who served faithfully will even be more blessed. Once again, the nobleman’s generosity is evident, contrary to the worthless servant’s mischaracterization.
19:25-26 — This interjection raises the question of the nobleman’s generosity and sense of equity. Yet, he will reward them disproportionately to reveal his generosity. “The smallest gift must be put to good use. In the Christian life we do not stand still. We use our gifts and make progress or we lose what we have.” (Morris)
19:27 — Jesus has dealt with those who profess to be his disciples, now he will address his enemies. “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 no light matter. It is a matter of life and death.” (T. W. Manson) Bock says, “When Jesus returns, which category each person falls into will be revealed—and there will be no counterarguments.” (Bock)
Lost in Translation
Most translations offer everything we need to accurately study the Bible; they are trustworthy and faithful. But in a paraphrase rendition of this passage, the writer missed a significant point. When the servants came to their Lord, they stated something quite clear and emphatic. In v. 16, the servants stated first and foremost that it was “YOUR” mina (vv. 16, 18, 20). It was not their mina but the Lord’s. This is something we all can easily recognize in the translation. The verb however is very important to these verses. To highlight its significance, let me offer the difference between the ESV translation and the MESSAGE paraphrase:
ESV, “Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.”
MESSAGE, “Master, I doubled your money.”
The Grk. is very clear. The verb is in the third person (προσηργάσατο) and not the first. “Your mina, IT (that is, your mina) made ten minas more.” The MESSAGE changes it to the first person, “I doubled your money.” The original [which the ESV (and most translations) rendered correctly] emphasizes YOUR MINA; that is first in position in the sentence after acknowledging the “Lord” (Κύριε, ἡ μνᾶ σου δέκα προσηργάσατο μνᾶς.).
The first person is not used by the first two servants; they do not refer to themselves — they do not mention “I”. The first person comes out in the third servant. Yet, even he acknowledges it is the Lord’s mina (your mina, v. 20). Then he then states what HE did, “I kept laid away in a handkerchief…” This response by contrast is quite stark. He mentions himself and thus the contrast highlights something important. There is something to be learned here.
The first two servants reveal something of their humility. Their Lord’s gift produced the work; they do not highlight what they did. They dare not mention or boast about what they did — the Lord’s gift worked and their Lord must get the glory. The third servant either by way of excuse or by way of boast, mentions what he himself did. Believers must not do that; they must say what the first two servants said. They must say with Paul, “it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). We don’t want to overreach and make too much of the grammar here but I believe what we have highlighted is warranted from the text. We love to highlight what we do. “I did this, I did that!” How often I find myself sinning like this. Should we not say, “Lord, you have blessed me and gifted me in such and such area and look what you have done — you have enabled me to do such and such. Lord, I should have done more but what good has been done has been your work of grace and I dare not take credit!” “Lord, your mina has made more minas. May YOU be praised! We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty. [Lk. 17:10]”
[NOTE: These annotations come from the notes I kept on the gospel when I preached through Luke a few years ago. I have posted this portion because I recently noticed the translation issue and added to the document the portion entitled “Lost in Translation.” Portions of this file have been given to a few people in our church; it is my desire to get the entire file uploaded over the years. These annotations were for personal use and study to serve as the basis for my sermons on Luke.]