Reflections from the text: Luke 19:11-27
In Luke 19, Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem announcing the Gospel, that is the good news about the arrival of the Kingdom of God, and it is Passover time. If you are ever going to launch a revolution to overthrow pagan overlords and set the children of Israel free, the time to do that is Passover. That is, after all, when the first deliverance took place when Israel came out of Egypt. Jesus is saying the right things about the Kingdom of God and He is headed to Jerusalem at the right time so the people “thought that the kingdom would appear immediately.” (Luke 19:11). I think what this saying meant, generally speaking, is that the people anticipated Jesus entering Jerusalem and somehow driving out the Romans and the corrupt and compromised Jewish leadership with one powerful action (whatever that might be.) Once the Holy City had been reclaimed, maybe God would return to His purified temple and the revolution could spread out from Jerusalem into the rest of the Promised Land and into the rest of the world (Isaiah 2, Micah 4). But Jesus had warned the people that their expectations were misguided in a number of ways, (as ours often are today), yet they struggled to make the adjustment. I think that in general, Bible reading Christians understand that the disciple's expectations were misguided. However, we are very muddled and confused about what the right expectation actually should be. As a result, we are confused about the disciple's confusion. As we journey through Luke’s Gospel and now arrive at the doorstep of Jerusalem, what is it that we expect from Jesus? Granted that we know how the story ends, what meaning are we giving to that end story? Is it the same meaning that Luke and that Jesus gives it? All throughout Luke’s Gospel, we have seen Jesus do and say controversial things. Many of the controversial things Jesus did had to do with whom Jesus healed and whom He ate with. Concerning Zacchaeus, Jesus told the crowds “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9). Zacchaeus was one of those people that the crowd expected Jesus to drive out and instead Jesus went into and ate a meal at his house! Yet, at the end of the day, Israel was indeed delivered from an oppressor. In fact “he too is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9), and a son of Abraham is the opposite of an enemy. The crowd was angry that Jesus had invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house but the end result turned out to be okay after all. Nevertheless, the general expectation remained intact. And once more, Jesus is going to try to prepare the people for the shocking events that are going to take place. The little incident with Zacchaeus was just the tip of the iceberg. Jesus had gone in and spent time with a condemned sinner but now He is about to be crucified among the failed and condemned Messiahs. In an effort to prepare the crowds for this unimaginable event, Jesus tells a parable that was based on real-life events that the crowd knew. The Herod family was known as “the King of the Jews” and yet everyone knew they were only pawns of the Romans. They had no real claim to the throne. King Herod and his sons had to make trips to Rome from time to time to be reconfirmed by Rome as the King of the Jews. However, at times, the Jews sent their own delegations to Rome to declare “we don’t want this man to be our king!” and sometimes their voices prevailed. Jesus’ parable about a noblemen going away to receive royal authority is not a parable about money. Rather, it is a warning that a test of faithfulness is right around the corner. The disciples and the crowds had been hailing Jesus as the King of the Jews and believing in Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. But Jesus knew that they are not ready for what is about to happen next. He is going to “go away” and many people are going to doubt His claims when He does. Would they remain faithful? Or would they decide to back another horse? According to Dr. Ken Bailey (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes), any time a king left town in this ancient Middle Eastern culture, it was not at all a guarantee that he would safely return with his kingdom intact. There is always a rival waiting for a moment of vulnerability to appear. Leaving town is one of those moments. If the king left you in charge to carry out business in his name and yet, while he was away, a new person seized power, you would be in hot water. You might want to simply bury the money and wait to see if the king returns. That way, you can appear to be “faithful” to whoever comes out on top. This is kind of like the way many wealthy businesses in our country give campaign donations to both presidential candidates in order to have favor with whichever party wins. The point is, Jesus had been making a claim for the throne and many people had put their faith in Him, but He was going to make his decisive and fateful move at Passover in a way that nobody had imagined and in a way in which everyone’s faith would be tested. They were excited now but would they hang in there with Jesus when the bombs fall? The servants left behind by the nobleman in the parable represent Jesus' hearers. By carrying on business in the King’s name while He is away, the servants declare their loyalty as they throw in their lot with the King for good or for ill. But burying the money was a sign of disloyalty and an unwillingness to share the risks of the king. Those who would remain faithful to the king in his absence would find themselves rewarded with greater trust and responsibility in the future. But those without loyalty would be stripped of their share in the kingdom. The remarkable thing is that nobody would exactly remain faithful to Jesus when He “goes away”. Maybe you could argue that some of the women who are found at the foot of the cross had remained faithful but it was not as risky for women to be publicly present and sympathetic as it would have been for men. This is just the cultural reality, But the point is, when Jesus goes away to receive His authority, His followers will go into hiding instead of declaring their allegiance to Jesus and their faith in His Royal and Messianic claims. But these are not the people that the parable is aimed at particularly. The disciples will be genuinely bewildered by the events that will take place. The Pharisees, however, and the scribes and the priests, will declare to Pilate “we don’t want this man to be our King! Give us Barrabas!”(Luke 23:18). The Jewish leadership had their own ideas about the Kingdom of God that they wished to protect. Their places of honor and their vision for the nation were of higher value than the vision of Jesus and they were determined to protect it. But they were going to lose it all. It is a testimony to the incredible grace of God that Peter’s denial of Jesus and the disciple's abandonment of Jesus in the Garden would be minor and forgivable offenses. As far as Jesus was concerned, these shaky-kneed, frightened, disciples were His“loyal” followers. And it is these weak followers to whom “much will be given.” But to those who tried to protect their own interests at Jesus’ expense, “even what they have will be taken away.” This saying is parallel to Jesus’ words saying “those who wish to preserve their lives will lose it. But those who lose their lives will find it.” (Luke17:33). For Jesus and for Luke, the unexpected events that were about to take place was the way that God Himself was becoming King on earth, in and through the person Jesus. That is the meaning that he grants to these events. Will we remain loyal to this claim as the bombs fall around Jesus? Where have we placed our hope and where have we invested our loyalty today?