American Christianity has been using the parable of the minas to encourage business owners to maximize profits, and pay tithes on those profits. While earning my BBA in entrepreneurship from America’s largest Baptist university I certainly heard my share of sermons on this parable. If you grew up attending church in America you have heard a sermon on this biblical text. You have heard the sermons about investing the spiritual wealth that God has entrusted to you and sermons about risking your reputation to advance the kingdom. You have heard sermons about the good and faithful servant who is blessed with more because of his savvy business acumen and sermons about losing God’s favor, at best, or your salvation, at worst, because you didn’t have the courage to invest the riches that the king, the master (God? Jesus? ) entrusted to you.
Or maybe this parable is meant to provide insight into what Jesus is saving us from, or about the economy of the kingdom of God, or Jesus’ mission to disrupt, and turnover the economic tables of this world, and his invitation to us to join the revolution?
I think so.
But first –
A little history lesson from the Jewish historian, Titus Flavius Josephus, who wrote The Antiquities of the Jews – in 93 AD.
Herod The Great, the Roman King of Judea, “…a man of great barbarity, and slave to his passions…”[i], was in Jericho at the time of his death.
Just before his death, Herod The Great, changed his will, indicating his wish that his son, Herod Archelaus, should inherit a portion of his kingdom, and the title, Tetrarch of Judea and Samaria[ii], but only Caesar could legitimize this authority.
Even before his authority was legitimized, the Jews began to submit requests/demands about the policy changes they wanted. Josephus states that: “Some made a clamor that he would ease them of some of their annual payments; others desired him to release those that were put into prison by Herod, who were many and had been put there at several times; others of them required that he would take away those taxes which had been severely laid upon what was publicly sold and bought.”[iii] Unsatisfied with Archelaeus’ response sedition arose among the Jews.
Before Archelaus could travel to Rome to have his new position confirmed by Caesar Augustus, he killed approximately 3000 Jews in the temple[iv]. These 3000 were “mourning” his father’s execution of 2 Jewish teachers and 40 Jewish students who had removed a blasphemous sculpture that Herod The Great had installed on the temple.[v]
The Jewish sedition grows, and disapproving of Archelaus as ruler, they send an “embassage” to Rome to submit an appeal to Caesar.[vi] Archelaus also travels to Rome to have Caesar confer his authority as Tetrarch of Judea and Samaria. During the proceedings the Jews from Jericho testify that his father, Herod The Great, had adorned his own neighborhood, and those of the Roman occupiers, but utterly destroyed the formerly flourishing Jewish kingdom that he ruled over. By Josephus’ account, Herod ran the country into poverty by “the annual impositions which he laid upon every one of them, they were to make liberal presents to himself, to his domestics and friends, and to such of his slaves as were vouchsafed the favor of being his tax-gatherers, because there was no way of obtaining a freedom from unjust violence without giving either gold or silver for it.”[vii]
Josephus described the Jews as being oppressed entirely with the imposition of taxes.[viii]
Tax collectors were despised by the Jews as traitors who sold-out to the Roman Empire at the expense of their Jewish community.
Though Zacchaeus means “pure” or “innocent,”[ix] he was the chief tax collector in Jericho.
According to Josephus, Jericho was an agricultural center, a commercial crossroad, and winter resort for Jerusalem’s aristocracy. Jericho is one of about 10 major cities in the region of Judea and Samaria.[x]
Now, knowing all that, read the text of Luke 19 from the New International Version keeping in mind that Jesus wasn’t a religious leader. In fact, he often spoke against religious leaders. He was a political leader with a very specific agenda: to disrupt the paradigms of human culture, governance and economics – that the kingdom’s culture, governance, economy would come on earth as it is in heaven–that was his prayer.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
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.[a] ‘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 they have 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.’”
Here are some of the question that I have from this study:
What does it take for salvation to come to Zacchaeus? Did he invite Jesus – or did Jesus invite him? Did he pray the “sinners prayer?”
What does that salvation look like? Is it theoretical? Or did Zaccchaeus manifest the reality of his salvation in a tangible, practical way?
What does Jesus save Zacchaeus from? The hell of his impoverished life?
How gracious is Jesus to tell a story that is so personal and relevant to Zacchaeus?
Can each of us expect a similar, personalized grace?
Who is the noble son who went to a distant country to be appointed king? Is it Jesus? Or maybe Archelaus?
Who are the servants, and what kind of work did the servants do? Are they servants of Jesus? Or maybe servants of Archelaus?
Does Jesus support the extractive economy of reaping where one hasn’t sown?
Do we expect God to judge us according to our own standards, by our own words? As the master in the story does?
Does the kingdom of heaven economy support usury or interest?
Who is more likely to have his enemies killed in front of him, Jesus, or Archelaus?
If Jesus is not the master/king in the parable then who is, and what government, economy, culture does he represent?
Who are the servants faithful to, and who is going to reward them? Isn’t it Archelaus?
Could this be a parable to encourage a tax-collector who was recently awakened to the reality of the King of kings, and his kingdom economy come on earth?
Is Jesus, through this parable, encouraging Zacchaeus to protest against the extractive economy of this world?
Could he be issuing a warning to those who disrupt the extractive economic system? That it may cost them everything – even their lives?
Is he saying, “Hey, I’m about to lose my life for disrupting the paradigms of this world?”
Is this parable an invitation to join the revolution, take a stand against the extractive economic paradigms of this world, and join Jesus in bringing the economy of heaven to earth?
[i] Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, Book 17; Chapter 8; Paragraph 1
[ii] Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, Book 17; Chapter 8; Paragraph 1
[iii] Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, Book 17; Chapter 8; Paragraph 4
[iv] Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, Book 17; Chapter 9; Paragraph 3
[v] Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, Book 17; Chapter 6; Paragraph 2-5
[vi] Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, Book 17; Chapter 11; Paragraph 1
[vii] Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, Book 17; Chapter 11; Paragraph 2
[viii] Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, Book 17; Chapter 2; Paragraph 1