Given that the king is clearly meant to stand for God and/or Jesus in the parable this plays into our deep-seated fears that perhaps he is harsh and unfair and will treat us badly. However, this is to read the parable with our cultural eyes, and to miss the real point because of a misplaced sympathy. If we look carefully the details of the parable make clear that the king is not harsh and unfair, but rather generous and just.
Sometimes when we read the Bible we find that our sympathies are drawn to exactly the wrong person. I was reminded of this when we were reading Luke 19v11-27 at Homegroup last week.
Our initial reaction to the “Parable of the Ten Minas” (which is very similar to the Parable of the Talents in the other Synoptic Gospels) is to feel sympathy for the servant entrusted with the mina, returns it safely to the king, but is then castigated as “wicked” and has the mina taken away from him. It seems unfair and we too readily jump to the conclusion that the king is a “harsh master” who expects too much of his servants and treats them appallingly. Given that the king is clearly meant to stand for God and/or Jesus in the parable this plays into our deep-seated fears that perhaps he is harsh and unfair and will treat us badly.
However, this is to read the parable with our cultural eyes, and to miss the real point because of a misplaced sympathy. If we look carefully the details of the parable make clear that the king is not harsh and unfair, but rather generous and just.
Note the following:
- The claim that the king is a “hard man” who “takes out what he did not put in” is not the way that the king describes himself, but the way that the servant seeks to excuse his failure. The king turns these words back on him and uses them as the basis by which he will hold him accountable. If the servant had truly believed the king to be a hard man who was so demanding and ruthless he would have at least deposited the mina with the bank to ensure some small return on the money. This would have been virtually risk free. Claiming that the king was hard man to justify doing nothing on his behalf is the equivalent of telling the teacher “the dog ate my homework”!
- The king’s behaviour to his other servants shows that he is generous. They have proved faithful in their service of him, and so he rewards them. Their reward is far in excess of the profit they have brought to the master. They were entrusted with a mina and received charge of cities in return. The fact that the king gives more to those who have proved faithful, but disproportionately to their objective achievement, is a clear indication that he is not a hard man but a gracious man.
- It is even clearer that the king/master is generous rather than hard in the parallel Parable of the Talents. In that version of the parable the master gives each servant a different sum of money in accordance with his ability. He does not expect more of them than is commensurate with their capacity. He commends each of them equally and invites them to join in his celebratory banquet. He rewards them identically for their faithfulness with what they had been given, not for their quantitative output. These are not the action of a harsh miser or ruthless exploiter.