Monday, October 13, 2008

What Do I Have to Offer? (Luke 19:11-27)

October 12, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell
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In September we studied 2 Timothy 2 and what it means to be a Jesus-follower or disciple. In October we are considering “Four Questions for a Jesus-follower.” Last week, we dealt with a first question: “Who is My Neighbor?” Today we will ask, “What Do I Have to Offer?” The following weeks will take up “How Can I Be a Part?” and “What Will it Cost Me?”

Today we look at a parable, a story Jesus told, which probably sounds a little familiar, but maybe not quite what you remember. It is close to the more-familiar “Parable of the Talents,’ but is really told in a different context and for a different purpose. Because of this similarity, I have never paid it much attention; but, I have realized that this is an important story in its own right because of what it has to teach us about being a Jesus-follower. It addresses the question, “What Do I Have to Offer?”

Why Did Jesus Tell This Story? (v. 11)

Parables are stories with a teaching point. They always have a context and that context is always important to “getting it” – understanding the point of the parable. In the case of this parable, that context and its importance are given in the text.

Look at verse 11. There are two important bits of information there about the context. The first is “while they were listening to these things.” This refers to the preceding text, which is the story of Zaccheus. The last verse of that story is Jesus saying, “Today salvation has come to this house… for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” The story of Zaccheus is a story about a man who encountered the person and grace of Jesus and who responded in faith and action, paying back over and above what he had stolen from people. Zaccheus is a man who responded to Jesus in faith and obedience. Keep that in mind as we move into the story of the ten minas.

Also in v. 11, we are explicitly told why Jesus told the parable. It was “because he was near Jerusalem and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.” We have talked before about the “Messianic expectation” of Jesus day. There was a belief and a hope that God would send His Messiah, or chosen one, to restore the political strength and independence of Israel. There were a whole set of prophecies and signs associated with this belief and many of those signs centered around Jerusalem. One of Jesus’ central teachings was about the “Kingdom of God” and just as people hoped the Messiah would lead a restored Israel, they believed that the restored Israel would be the Kingdom of God on earth. Jesus was aware of this expectation, often teaching to correct it, and he told this particular parable specifically because of the proximity to Jerusalem and the tangible expectations of those around him.

The short version of what he consistently taught – and this parable is no exception – is that there was indeed a coming Kingdom, though it was a spiritual Kingdom rather than a military/political kingdom. He also taught that the Kingdom was come NOW – with His ministry and presence – but also NOT YET. There was a future component still to be awaited in hope and faith. What this parable does is describe the NOT YET of the Kingdom and the what-to-do-in-the-meantime question of all who were looking to God in faith.

As we are still living in the NOT YET time, this parable has direct application to each of us as we try to understand what it means to hope in God, trust and follow Jesus, and as we ask “What do I have to offer?”

Finally, the parable distinguishes at least three different types of “citizens” of the kingdom in the story, pointing us to some application for our own lives and reality. We’ll consider the parable from the viewpoint of these three groups.

Group 1: Servants of the House

The first and obvious group in this parable is the group of ten servants. In the story a nobleman was going to a far country to become king and then return. He called together ten slaves and gave each of them a mina in order to “do business until I return.” Now a mina was 100 days wage. The instruction was to engage the world, investing, buying and selling – in other words, to do the work of the household in his absence.

Already there are differences between this parable and the similar parable of the talents. A mina is a much more modest sum than a talent (at least 60x the value of a mina). Also, each servant is given the same amount. In Matthew, the talents were distributed “according to ability” while here the minas are not. Even without the confusing overlap between the monetary “talent” and our word “talent” for gifts and abilities, this parable seems to steer away from an ability-based distinction.

When I first read this parable, I thought the main point would nonetheless be similar to the parable of the talents – that God has given us gifts, talents, and resources, which we are to use to serve Him. I thought it would be a stewardship passage. And that aspect is here, to be sure. The two servants who the master praised wisely invested the minas and multiplied them. Nonetheless, the focus here does not seem to be on stewardship per se, but on knowing and obeying the master. Jesus is describing what servants of God are supposed to do in the NOT YET of waiting for the coming Kingdom. We are to “be about the Father’s business” – and simply that. I’ll return to what that looks like at the end of the sermon.

But having noted that this parable is not just a lesson on stewardship, let us consider what Jesus is saying here about the landscape of this world between his ministry and the final judgment of God. Let’s look at two other groups of people identified in this parable.

Group 2: Hostile Resistance (v. 14)

There is a group in the parable that is set against the ruler from the get-go. Look at verse 14: “But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’” In this, Jesus is recognizing that some of those waiting for God’s Messiah have opposed him from the beginning. One’s mind goes quickly to the scribes and Pharisees who so openly opposed Jesus and worked to discredit him and eventually kill him. They were not strangers to the kingdom, but were not ready to see a “local” as their king.

As we consider the implications of this group in the parable to our current reality in the NOT YET of the Kingdom, the teaching from Romans 1:18 and following comes to mind. We have all the “proof” we need of God’s existence in nature around us, yet some stubbornly refuse to yield to God, and cling to self-rule and demand autonomy. In some ways this parable illustrates in story form the theology of Romans 1.

This group appears again at the end of the parable, in verse 27, where the end has come, and the King executes judgment against his sworn enemies. So we are to understand that God’s grace and mercy are part of the NOT YET that we live in, but that God’s judgment is coming and there will be a time when being God’s enemy will cost everything.

Group 3: In the Dark

There is a third person described in this parable, and that is the third slave. In the parable of the talents we mostly leave thinking this person wasn’t a good steward and failed with the task given to him. That is true here as well, but the slaves reason plays a much more prominent role. In the parable of the talents, the unworthy slave simply feared the master and played it safe. Here, the slave is afraid, but also mischaracterizes and even libels the master, describing him as “an exacting man” who “take[s] up what you did not lay down and reap[s] what you did not sow.” In other words, he makes the master out to be unfair and a thief.

The master seems to play along, but finds the slave unworthy, saying that he failed both the actual task and the one he imagined himself to have. In other words, even if the master were an unfair thief, the slave should have invested the mina in order to multiply it for the supposed money-loving master. And the master takes away the one mina and gives it to the first slave, who made ten out of one. And that’s really the end of the transaction with the one slave because the focus shifts back to those gathered around, who find the master’s action unfair – see v. 25, “But master, he has ten minas already.”

The story goes on and turns to the fate of the hostile resistance when the master returns in power.

The Need for Salt and Light: our mission

What do we make of all this? The Parable of the Talents always reminds us that to whom much is given, much is required. But does this parable have the same lesson? I think the focus is different here.

Jesus is speaking to those who are expecting the immediate coming of God’s Kingdom, and with that comes judgment of those not right with God. This story also comes right on the heels of the encounter with Zaccheus where a scoundrel and a criminal – surely one not right with God – seemingly “finds the Lord” late in life and is blessed and honored by Jesus.

This parable simultaneously answers the question of what followers of Jesus are to believe and do during the NOT YET of waiting for Jesus’ return in glory and the question of people coming late to the party. Let me explain…

There are some who trust and obey God. We are not perfect, but it’s not about us or our abilities or our rightness. Rather, like the servants and the minas, God has given us what we need to be faithful and obedient. Because of Jesus, we have what we need. And Jesus has simply said, “Come, follow me.” So every person who has trusted in Jesus has their mina. It’s the same for every Christian. We have hope; we have forgiveness; we have the Holy Spirit and the fruits and gifts that come with the Spirit; we have God’s Word. Every one of you who trusts in Jesus has those things – that’s your mina.

There are some folks who are hostile to God. They are no less created in God’s image or inhabitants of this world that God has made. But, like we would be apart from Jesus, they are hostile to God’s rule in their life. And barring a miracle or Jesus breaking through that hostility, their fate is as certain as the enemies of the master in the story.

And then there are a whole host of people who live in the dark. Like the unfaithful slave in the story, they may have a wrong view of God. They may be misinformed, and even appear hostile to God because they believe God is hostile, unfair, or a thief. Those attitudes are tangled in with some of the big questions about “How could God do this?” and “Why did this happen to me?”

This landscape of people living in the NOT YET was entirely appropriate to the Zaccheus encounter, where someone assumed to be an enemy of God encountered the truth and the person of Jesus and proved to be a “faithful servant.”

This landscape of people living in the NOT YET describes the world we still live in, and it ties in to our core mission of being a searchlight church. Look again at the verse right before our parable. There it is in verse 10: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”

How will they know the truth if we don’t tell them? How will people know that God is not exacting and unfair, but gracious and loving, unless we show them? We are salt and light because the story of humanity isn’t over until it’s over. We are living in the NOT YET, and so it is not too late for anyone.

What do I have to offer Jesus? What shall I do with the mina which he has entrusted me?

I will follow him, seeking to love those he would love and serve those he would serve. I will be a light to those who are in the dark for the sake of making his name known. I will be light because he is light. I will be salt because he is salt. That is what Jesus asks of us in the NOT YET.

What will you offer Jesus?

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