I always presumed this was a parable about stewardship of our talents.
We must use what God has given until Jesus returns. After reading Jesus
and Politics by Alan Storkey, I had a better understanding of the context
underlying the parable.
Jesus told the parable of the Minas in the house of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:2). Zachaes
was a chief tax collector. He would have controlled all the taxes
collected from part of Jericho, maybe the entire city. In Roman times, tax
collectors were not benign impartial civil servants. They would often have
had paid for the position. They would extract as much money as the get,
pay what Rome demanded, and keep the rest for themselves. Tax collection
was a path to riches. Only a ruthless man could hold this job, as he had
to squeeze tax out people who could not afford it. He would become very
rich for his efforts, but would be hated by the people.
Luke explains why Jesus told the parable. This one does not being with
the usual expression, “the kingdom of God is like… ”.
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 (Luke 19:11).
Many healings and the repentance of key people like Zacchaeus led many
people to believe that the kingdom was go to appear straight away. Jesus
knew he was going to the cross, so he did not want them to be
disappointed. (Some of the disciples still had this view in Acts 1:6.)
The parable gives important insights into Jesus thinking about the
Kingdom. He had said all along that it is at hand. He would inaugurate the
Kingdom by dying on the cross. However, it would take some time for it to
be established throughout the world. Many of his followers would have to
suffer persecution first. Like yeast, the kingdom would take some time to
permeate the whole of society. On the other hand, he probably did not
expect it to take 200 years, but he did not realise how slack the Church
The main character in the parable is a rich nobleman, who went to
another to be made king.
A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself
appointed king and then to return (Luke 19:12).
The usual interpretation is that the nobleman represents Jesus, who has
gone to heaven and will return to be made king at a future date. A close
study of the background to the parable shows that this view is wrong.
Storkey points out the story Jesus told was based on a
recent incident in local politics. When Herod the Great died, his will
divided his territory among his three living sons. They had gone off to
Rome to dispute the will with Caesar, because each wanted the entire
kingdom. Some Pharisees also went to Rome to dispute the will and ask for
a Jewish king. Caesar accepted Herod’s will and sent them all home with
a third of the kingdom. Herod Archelaus, the son who controlled Jericho
was so angry when he returned that he rounded up a large group of the
Pharisees and had them crucified. Jesus listeners would have understood
this historical allusion.
The nobleman had gone to a far country to be made king. This should
ring an alarm bell. A ruler in a far country does not have authority to
impose on a king on the local people, unless he is an emperor controlling
a large empire. This shows that the nobleman was a collaborator with the
evil empire. Only God could appoint a king in Israel. By going to the
emperor to be made king, the nobleman was denying God’s authority and
honouring Caesar’s authority.
The nobleman gloated about his evil character.
I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in,
and reaping what I did not sow (Luke 19:22).
He admitted that some of his wealth was undeserved. He had become rich
by stealing from others. He was also ruthless and violent.
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 (Luke 19:27).
This man did not just want his enemies killed. He wanted to enjoy
watching them be killed.
The nobleman was an awful character. He was a collaborator, a thief and
extremely violent. This man does not represent Jesus. Any interpretation
of the parable that assumes that the nobleman is Jesus is a dreadful
insult to his character.
Veiled Political Statement
The nobleman in the parable actually represents the devil. He will gain
authority that he is not entitled to have. He will use that stolen
illegitimate authority to destroy the honest man and the citizens of the
kingdom who object to his claims to power. When the enemy has failed to
destroy Jesus by putting him on the cross, he will turn on Jesus followers
and try to destroy them as well. As long as the devil is allowed to hang
on to his illegitimate authority, he will persecute Christians who
challenge his authority.
The parable is a veiled political statement. Zacchaeus and his friends
were all tied up in the local political system. They had collaborated
Rome. Many had become rich through theft and violence. Jesus was reminding
the people that those who collaborate with political power and empire are
dangerous. Challenging the servants of political power will always be
This is a parallel to the unjust judge in the parable of the persistent
widow in Luke 18. In this parable, Jesus had already provided the solution
to this problem. The persistence of the saints will gradually the enemy
down, and he will have to surrender his false authority to the Kingdom of
The nobleman had called ten servants and given each of them a mina to
take care of. A mina was coin worth about three months wages. When the man
returned as king he called his servants together to see what they had
achieved. The first servant had earned ten minas.
The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.'
'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have
been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities' (Luke
There are two things to notice about this response.
We assume that the servant had done well, but this needs a closer
examination. The nobleman would have been away for less than a year, yet
the servant had turned one mina into ten. That was a thousand percent
interest. He could not have got that sort of return by planting and
harvesting a crop.
Jesus listeners would understand that only people who could make this
sort of return were loans sharks and crooks. In those times, it was common
practice for unscrupulous people to make loans to poor and despite people.
When the borrowers failed to repay the loan their property would be
The first servant understood the character of his master well. To get a
thousand percent return he must have reaped what he did not sow or taken
out what he did not put in.
The reward of ten cities is telling. The king was not making his
servant king of ten cities. He would not give up that sort of power. He
was giving him tax collection rights over ten cities. The main role of
kings like Herod was to collect money for the Roman Empire. The king was
appointing the servant as a chief tax collector, just like Zacchaeus. From
the king’s point of view, the servant was the perfect man for the job,
because he had extracted a thousand percent interest from the people who
borrowed his mina. That was just the sort of ruthless attitude that an
effective tax collector would need.
The second servant had only produced a 500 percent rate of returns.
Because he was not as ruthless, he was only given tax collection rights in
The Other Servant
The third servant was different. He had guarded the mina carefully.
Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth
This servant had done nothing wrong. He had cared for the coin that had
been entrusted to him. The king complained that he could have taken the
money to bankers and earned interest. This was a shallow claim. The
bankers in Jesus time were notoriously ruthless, looking after the rich
and robbing the poor. If a servant had entrusted the coin to a banker, he
would not have been able to get it back. Hiding the coin was a safer
option for a poor person. Despite being innocent, this man was castigated
as a wicked servant.
This servant represents Jesus. The cloth that he wrapped the coin in
was a “suderion”. This is a cloth for snot, and for cleaning dead
bodies. This pointed forward to Jesus death. He was innocent. He had done
nothing wrong, yet he was unjustly and placed among the wicked. His
suffering would inaugurate the kingdom.
Suffering to Kingdom
Jesus was explaining how the kingdom would come. He would inaugurate
the kingdom by suffering on the cross. Like the third servant, Jesus had
done nothing wrong, but he died.
The death of Jesus would be followed by suffering of the citizens of
the kingdom. The parable ends with the citizens who had opposed the wicked
king being killed. The king said,
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 (Luke 19:27).
Jesus was warning that many of those who follow him would suffer as he
did. Christians who stand in prayer against the usurped authority of the
evil one will face persecution. Those who challenge the false authority of
human political power will suffer tribulations before the kingdom is
coming into reality. Many of those who challenged the Roman Empire were
persecuted and died. It took 300 years for the empire to collapse, and
many Christians would die.
The political and economic powers came together to destroy Jesus on the
cross. However, Jesus destroyed the political and economic powers by dying
on the cross. This is how the kingdom comes. God’s people will not
impose the kingdom by seizing political power. As they suffer and endure
in obedience to Jesus, the kingdom of darkness will collapse and retreat
before their bright shining light.
This parable explained the coming of the Kingdom. It was also a warning
to Zacchaeus and any other member of the political establishment. By
offering fourfold restitution, he was exposing Roman taxation as theft (Ex
22:1). This could only produce an angry reaction from the Roman
authorities. Once it was known that he had given money away, and would
refuse to take more than he was owed, he would be a soft touch. His days
as a tax collector were finished. By exposing the corruption and
illegality of the tax system, he became an enemy of the political
establishment. Zacchaeus would find himself in the same situation as the
citizens who opposed the wicked nobleman. We do not know what happened to
Zacchaeus, but we can presume that he would have had a rough time, the
next time he met with his Roman controllers.
The parable exposes a flaw in secular
capitalism, especially when in
collusion with political power. The people watching were surprised at the
king’s treatment of his servant, and especially that he gave the mina to
the one with ten.
Master, he has ten minas already (Luke 19:27).
This was a good question. The Kings answer is surprising.
I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the
one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away (Luke 19:26).
We must remember that these words were not spoken by God, but by a
corrupt king who reaped where he did not sow and took out where he had not
put. The king took words that Jesus had spoken in a different context and
twisted for his purpose (this shows Jesus skill as a storyteller). Jesus
spoke these works earlier in a gospel context after telling the parable of
the sower to explain that those who received the gospel would receive
greater spiritual insight, while those who rejected the gospel would
harden their hearts. The king takes those words, which were true in a
spiritual context, and uses them to justify injustice.
In the worldly system, the political powers collude with the economic
powers, and sometimes with the religious authorities for mutual benefit.
Those who have wealth will gain more and more. Those who have nothing,
often lose what they have to misfortune and economic manipulation. This
has happened again and again throughout history.
Zacchaeus is a perfect example of the problem exposed by the parable. A
tax collector had to pay for the privilege from the aristocratic families
who colluded with the Roman authorities in managing the affairs of the
region. Because he had much, Zacchaeus could purchase a position that
allowed him to gain even greater wealth. His success in extracting taxes
would have led to him being promoted to his position of chief tax
collector. This was the way the system worked. Those who could pay for
privilege gained greater privileges. At the same time, those who had
little or nothing, were lost most of what they had. If they refused to
pay, or were unable to pay, the soldiers would come in an steal their
livestock and destroy their home. Those with nothing would lose even what
This has happened again and again throughout history. Those who have
wealth have gained more and more. Those who have nothing, often lose what
they have to misfortune and economic or political manipulation.
This is why the biblical teaching about sharing is important. Without
that countervailing tendency, secular capitalism results in unfair
distributions of income. Those with much can easily gain more. Those with
less slip further behind. The trickle up is more effective than the
trickle down. Paul explained God’s will.
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard
pressed, but that there might be equality (2 Cor 8:13).
God does want those who have much to get more and those who little to
get less. He prefers the opposite; that everyone should have what they
need and no one should have more than they need. This is not a
justification for state-enforced income redistribution. The Parable of the
Minas exposes the dangers of state power.
Zacchaeus also illustrates God’s solution to the problem. It was not
democratic socialism. Rather, Zacchaeus repaid everything he had stolen,
and gave away half of what he owned. This type of radical give is the
proper response to the kingdom. Generous giving will prevent the twisted
words of the wicked king being fulfilled. As many Christians follow
Zacchaeus’ example, the opposite will be true.
Those who have much will give much.
Those who have nothing will be given more
The Parable of the Minas was also a warning that this level of economic
restoration would take time. Zacchaeus actions would not stop the poor
people from being harshly tax. The fact that Zacchaeus had resigned did
not mean that the people would not have to pay tax. That would be wishful
thinking, and Jesus reminded them of the harsh reality. If Zacchaeus could
not do the job, his collection responsibilities, would be handed over to
someone else, like the first servant, who could extract many where it had
not been put in. Zacchaeus would be replaced with a chief tax collector
who was even more harsh and corrupt. In the short term the situation would
As long as political powers exist, they will find someone to collect
their taxes. As long as they have power, they will look after their
cronies. The people would not be freed from their excessive tax burden
until hundreds of chief tax collectors had been converted and given away
their surplus wealth, instead of handing over to the political powers.
Only when no one harsh enough could be found to take on the tax collector
role would that happen, causing the entire political system to collapse.
The Zacchaeus incident was a sign that this would happen, but it would
take time for it to happen. The unfairness of secular capitalism and the
corruption of politicised capitalism will eventually collapse and the
Kingdom of God would come in its place. That would take time, and in the
meantime many people would suffer under the harsh treatment of a corrupt
political and economic system.