Risking the Kingdom

2004 Clergy Conference Bible Study

Luke 19:11 – 27

The Parable of the Ten Minas

11While 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.’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. 21I 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? 23Why 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 he has will be taken away. 27But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them-bring them here and kill them in front of me.”

The story that Jesus tells here as recorded by Luke resembles the parable of the talents in Matthew 25.  But the differences are significant for in Matthew the parable reminds us that we all have different gifts, but in Luke the story has a different direction.

I want to root the passage we are considering firmly in the Lukean narrative.  To do that, we have to go back 10 chapters to Chapter 9:51  “as the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Or an alternative translation “Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem”  A pivotal verse in St Luke’s Gospel, as Jesus moves from the familiar of mission and ministry in Galilee, to take his proclamation to the places where it needs to be heard.  The passage we are considering comes towards the end of a significant section in Luke’s Gospel. A section which records that journey from Galilee and the evangelist appears to be using his narrative to focus on the drama of the passion which lies before Jesus and his journeying towards it comes with deliberation.

It is to be a journey which is marked by teaching, challenge, warnings and encouragement.  On the way, the Kingdom is proclaimed, the cost of discipleship is made clear and Jesus shares with his disciples his conviction that the challenge he is bringing to the powerful in Jerusalem will bring about his death and although the disciples do not understand this, they continued to follow him and the urgency of their journey builds.  In Jericho (Chapter 18) the blind beggar is healed because of his faith and the unpopular, despised Zaccheaus discovers a new life as Jesus comes into his home and into his heart. And into the pace, drama and tension that Luke has been building in the preceding 10 chapters, just when we expect the story to climax with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we have this somewhat chilling story of this nobleman.

Although the nobleman in the story may echo Archelaus, the older brother of Herod Antipas going to Rome to be confirmed as King and being followed there by a delegation of Judeans who didn’t want him – with some good reason.  Jesus appears to be using those echoes to imply that the unwanted king is coming back in power with a message of grace and peace.  A Kingship which has been rejected by those who want the kingdom for themselves, by those who enjoy power and who benefit from the status quo.  It is a chilling story because the judgement on the servant who failed to live up to his responsibility to capitalise on what he has been given is both devastating and absolute.

The servants are given a realitively small amount of money, but regardless of that, it still belongs to the nobleman and it is given to them to use on his behalf.  “Put this money to work until I come back”.  Those who take the risk of doing exactly what they are asked, are amply rewarded.  But the one who plays safe, is utterly condemned.  There’s a lot of detail in the story. How much notice you take of the detail in Jesus’ stories and how much you want to build on that detail really depends on whether, when Jesus paints pictures with his stories, you understand him as a Monet or a Stanley Spencer.  You know how Monet who only uses detail to give shape and colour to the bigger picture he is offering, as opposed to Spencer, for whom every detail is essential in the busyness of his paintings.  We have to come to our own mind on that.

But what we need to note is that the story has a significant place in Luke’s narrative.  It is there just before the climax of this section to the Gospel as Jesus enters into Jerusalem and Luke’s preface to the story indicates its significance in his scheme of things “As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.”  Luke is saying that there is going to be more to the Kingdom coming, than a journey to Jerusalem.

So what is going to be needed for the Kingdom of God to come. The parable is often interpreted in terms of judgement – use the gifts that God has given us, or else.  I want to suggest a different direction to this parable – and that is that it is about risk.  The Kingdom cannot come without taking risks.  The money given to the servants is not the issue, it’s the risks they take with it.  Jesus going into Jerusalem is taking risks – the risk of  being ignored, the risk of being ridiculed, the risk of being rejected, the risk of being maligned, the risk of being hated, the risk of being scourged, the risk of being crucified.

Condemnation comes on the servant for not taking the risk – he’d played safe. Those of us who enjoy rugby football know only too well how a constant kicking for touch makes for a very dull game – it may be safe but its not what we there for – there are times to play for safety, but if that all a team does, it doesn’t win matches.  And the Kingdom doesn’t come by playing safe – its heralded when you take the risk of riding a colt into Jerusalem, with the risk of claiming to be the fulfilment of the nation’s hopes and the risk of answering their deepest longings for a king who would bring peace on earth.

Risk has to be part of the story of the coming of the kingdom, because risk is what moves us into the future.  In his book “Against the Gods – The Remarkable story of Risk”, Peter Bernstein argues that humanity moves forward when we understand and manage risk.  Bernstein is really about probability and how human society has moved from ideas of FATE to understanding probability, from waiting for things to be done to us (or for us) to taking calculated risks to change our future – or as he concludes, humanity moving from helplessness to choice.  It is not a theological book, yet I find its conviction that risk is an essential element in taking hold of the future, speaks to me eloquently of us moving from helpless dependence on God, to a hopeful dependence on a God who gives us the confidence and vision to move out into our future and his.  The word risk comes out of the word ‘to dare’, and daring to do something is about confidence – we dare to do it with faith.

Yet ‘daring to do what hasn’t been done before’ is frightening stuff.  For a start, failure stares us in the face – stay with the familiar, stay in Galilee. Stay in control – the difficult thing about risk is that when we move from the familiar, which we believe gives us some measure of control, there is a time of vulnerability before we can map a new horizon.  The more concerned we are with control, the less able we are to take risks – with ourselves, with other people, with our authority, with our power. We may talk about the future, we may have all the rhetoric of change, but when we come to it – the times not quite right, you’ve got to see the bigger picture. The more concerned we are with status, the less likely we are to risk instigating change, lest it undermines the pedestal one which we are standing.

When that coin was wrapped in the servant’s cloth, he was in control. It was safe, it was in his pocket – but the safety was an illusion because he thought that doing nothing would see him through, but in the end he lost everything.  Because he was empty of ambition for the future.

But risk taking isn’t a trivial thing. Its not about recklessness – in Bernstein’s terms, recklessness is the same as leaving things in the lap of the Gods.  Recklessness is assuming that an other body either divine or human, will sort things out – that recklessness.  Just doing things without thought or just doing nothing –  that’s recklessness.  Bernstein contends that in so many aspects of life we have made progress because we have learnt to manage the risks involved by understanding them, minimising the possibility of failure by addressing the threats and probabilities and then making a move, recognising that doing nothing is as risky a business as moving forward.

Isn’t this exactly what we see Jesus doing, when he journeys to Jerusalem.   Was his call to repentance to remain a proclamation for the Galileans? Was the one who calmed the storm and was transfigured on the mountain destined to stay in the familiarity of Galilee? No, he ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’ with all the risks that that entailed. But he‘s not reckless – he sends 72 on ahead to every town and place he was about to go, he continues to explain himself though teaching and proclamation, he builds up his disciples by teaching them about prayer, he exhorts them to watchfulness and he understands the context as he weeps over Jerusalem.  He manages the risks – but in the end has to face them.

There is no point in talking about Kingdom, justice or peace unless we are prepared to face the risks.  Nick yesterday drew for us a compelling picture of  justice.  But Justice is about risk – because when we seek to be just we are open to those who would abuse our fairness, our sense of justice.  I don’t think that it is new to our society that we resent our generosity either being taken for granted or wasted.  The reaction to Asylum seekers, with ever more pressure on Government to reduce the risk of our hospitality being abused, to a point where we are in danger of abusing the alien and stranger. Why? Because we don’t want to take the risks involved in offering justice.

In Kingdom terms, justice is crucifying, because it has to be out of our vulnerability, out of our generosity and out of our confidence, out of our vision for the future – but there are powerful drives, not least original sin, which rejects such vision, rejects our confidence and abuses our generosity.  The test of faith is to be found in how we respond to the rejection of our self offering. How Christ-like we have become, is to be found in how we recover from our crucifying moments.

Nick also talked about forgiveness.  A quality so central to our gospel message.  Yet forgiveness is full of risk.  It is the one thing that we can really offer to our society, which as Nick pointed out, finds forgiveness such an impossible concept.  Forgiveness is never cheap.  Forgiving people carries all the risks of them just carrying on in their destructive or hurtful ways.   So we up the anti, the higher the price before forgiveness, the less the risk for us of being abused, but, the higher the price for this essential dimension of love, the more elusive this graceful dimension becomes.

Do we really know how to take the risk of forgive each other within the church?  How can we speak of reconciliation and love to a world crying out to learn such things – dare we learn how to forgive, so that we can share with the world our visions of God’s economy.  I am not talking about just the tensions within the Anglican Communion, but we have to forgive the laity we work with for their short comings and pray God, they learn to forgive us ours.

To be really forgiving church, we would have to be prepared to risk letting go of our anger, frustrations and self-righteousness. To move into the uncharted territory of reconciling ourselves within the church, so that we can indeed be counter-cultural with things that really matter, whereas so frequently we are countercultural because, in Elaine’s terms, we prefer the ghetto.

Taking risks isn’t easy. We live in a success culture.  A culture which appears more concerned with resignations, than with learning from failure.  Our media has made us voyeurs of failure and there is something dark about the way we almost gloat over the toppling of a public figure who has taken the risk of doing something and got it wrong.

The Kingdom is calling and we’ve been given something of the divine nature through the Holy Spirit to put to work, until the King returns.  But are we prepared to risk it, to move from the familiar, from our Galilee, to be where the Kingdom needs to be proclaimed?

The problem is that institutions find it very difficult to take risks.  The Church is just such an institution – from the dynamic of Pentecost, we have allowed ourselves to be seduced by gravitas.  We are well resourced, but the temptation is to wrap those resources in a cloth, rather than put them to work creatively, with all the risks which that would involve.

But of course the reality is that, it is individuals who take the risks of embracing the future not institutions. And it is the sum of those small, often unnoticed, investments in the future which changes the institution.  If we wait for the institution to take risky steps into the future, then we are setting ourselves up for disillusion and disappointment.  Or as Bernstein would say, we are back in helplessness, because we have forgotten the choices we have.  Or let me put that a different way, we set up an Archbishop’s Council because we want to keep control, pulling resources into the centre, rather than letting the spirit of God be at work in his people to shape the future of his church.

As ministers of word and sacrament, we are not helpless, we have many choices.    As leaders in our communities – our priorities in preaching, teaching and liturgy have an almost defining influence on the priorities of the local church.  How we choose to use our opportunities to speak, to challenge, to forgive, to lift up and enable others – this is what shapes the church of the future.   It is full of risks, we may get it wrong – but far better to take our vocation and put it to work, than wrap it in a cloth safe for when our King returns, an action which the parable we are considering suggests could be a perilous thing to do.

There are other choices we can make to move from our familiar into the fast changing world in which we live, we are not helpless, but they have their risks.  We have choices about how we use status, authority and power.  Three things with which our church is still riddled, yet three things which Jesus uses in such a countercultural way – the status of a servant, the authority of love, the power to be vulnerable.  So much safer to rely on status, to hold tight to authority and hold onto power because who can you trust to share it with?

The Kingdom is calling and we need to develop a spirituality of risk.  A spirituality to give us boldness and confidence to risk what God has given us in his Spirit, to increase it and celebrate it as we journey to Jerusalem.  A spirituality of risk which enables us to support each other in the vulnerability which is the condition of all risk-takers.

Jesus enters into Jerusalem knowing all the risks and accepting them for the Kingdom is calling. He dares to challenge the status quo and he succumbs to the risks not through avoidance or defeat but with resurrection, for that is risky way that the kingdom comes.

2 Responses to Risking the Kingdom

  1. J R Rajan says:

    Thanks for these thoughts. I had written an article on my DEVOTIONAL THOUGHTS blog from Matt.13:44-46.
    You have gone through an indepth analysis and I quite like your approach to the whole thing, as per Luke’s perspective.
    – Rajan

  2. Gwyneth Tivey says:

    As He set his face to go to Jerusalem,Jesus was risking the failure of human nature …but,of course, His trust was in His Father, the God of Abraham. I am wrestling at the present time with a very adverse view that I am holding over people who appear to have over-extended themselves, risked moral failures and damaged other people significantly. “Lead us not into the time of trial” seems a relevant point here. The servant who dared not risk the resources that his master had provided (in addition to his wages??) knew nothing of his master’s goodness, it seems.

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