One day recently, I read Luke 19:11-27 in my devotional time. This is the parable of the money usage.
In it, a nobleman goes away to receive a kingdom. Beforehand, he gives out money to three of his slaves, with instructions to do business with it. When he leaves, some of his citizens send a delegation after him, trying to undermine his rule. When he returns, the slaves give their accounting. The first two have invested their money wisely, and have earned 100% return on investment. They are rewarded by being put in charge of 5 and 10 cities. The third slave has hidden his money in the ground. He is chastised and his money is given to the first slave, who has been praised for being faithful. At the end of the story, the citizens who tried to undermine the nobleman are killed in front of him.
In reading the story, I've always felt a sense of disconnect between the bit about the citizens and the part about the slaves. So, I've always focused on the slaves because that's what I've been able to understand. Until now.
The thing that I noticed this time was how ineffective the citizen delegation was. Somehow, they deluded themselves into thinking that what they wanted mattered. But the truth is that though they were citizens, they were still lowly in comparison to the rulers. They became self-important, and this ultimately led to their destruction. I was reminded of the perils of pride, and how we always need to keep in mind the "otherness" of God. Unlike our politicians, He does not make decisions based on popular opinion.
Perhaps if the citizens had had a more humble attitude, like that of the slaves, they would have fared better. As it was, the slaves became arguably greater than the citizens― put in charge of 5 or 10 cities.
Let's look at the characters in this story:
- The nobleman
- Whoever was giving out kingdoms
- The citizens
- The slaves
Normally, we think of the characters as representing:
- The nobleman ― Jesus
- Whoever was giving out kingdoms ― God the Father
- The citizens ― Pharisees
- The slaves ― Christians
But what if the citizens and slaves aren't separated out that way? After all, the Bible talks about Christians being both citizens of heaven and slaves. And Pharisees could also be Christians. Perhaps the difference between citizens and slaves has more to do with attitude than demographics.
What if the thing that determines whether a person is a citizen or a slave is the sense of entitlement that he or she has?
- Citizen ― entitled naturally, no need for work to gain position
- Slave ― not entitled, serving the nobleman
The delegation, then, becomes a group of super-entitled "citizens".
It's interesting to note that the citizens had no upward mobility. "Citizen" was as high as they could go. But they did have downward mobility―if they overreached too far, they could be executed. On the other hand, the slaves had only upward mobility―if they were faithful, they were put in charge of entire cities, and presumably of the citizens within them. But they had no downward mobility―even the "worthless" slave wasn't subjected to the punishment meted out to the citizen delegation.
This parable seems to extend some of the "last shall be first" themes of Jesus' teaching. Over and over, He exhorts us to think of ourselves as God's slaves―and perhaps this is why: because then we are not sabotaged by the sense of entitlement that comes so easily and sinfully to us. We do not set ourselves against God in prideful arrogance. Instead, we take joy in serving Him, and He takes joy in our good and faithful service.