|A Christian Guide to Luke||by R. David Pogge|
Parables were the political cartoons of Jesus’ day. Just as a political cartoon can make a point with a funny picture, a parable can make a point with a clever story. Political cartoons sacrifice realism by exaggerating certain aspects to make the point. In the same way, parables sacrifice some practical aspects to make a point. (For example, why wouldn’t five lamps provide enough light for all ten virgins to get to the wedding? Why would anyone be so stupid as to sow seed on a path, rocky ground, or any other place where the seeds obviously won’t grow?)
A politician might be offended by a cartoon, but he can’t object without admitting that the portrayal is so accurate that he recognizes himself. The Pharisees were offended by some of Jesus’ parables but could not object without admitting their guilt.
While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” [Luke 8:4-8]
If all we had to go on was what Jesus said up to this point, there could be multiple interpretations of this parable—most of which would be wrong. The disciples realized this, so,
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
“‘though seeing, they may not see;
This is somewhat surprising. Jesus was speaking in code so that some people would understand and others would not. You can understand if you want to; but Jesus makes it possible for people who don’t want to understand to miss the point. It is a test. Those who don’t want to believe can just say, “It is a stupid parable about seeds. Some seeds grew and some didn’t. Who cares?” If you really want to know, Jesus makes it possible for you to know. Jesus went on to say,
“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” [Luke 8:11-15]
There should be no misunderstanding. It can’t be explained any more clearly than the way Jesus did. There are lots of reasons to reject the Word of God; but if you have “a noble and good heart” the Word of God will (if you persevere) produce an abundance of good things in you.
Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.”
Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” [Luke 13:18-21]
Continuing with the seed analogy, it really is miraculous that a tiny seed can grow into a massive plant with many parts. It must have been amazing to people living in Jesus’ day how a little round seed could produce branches, bark, leaves, flowers, and fruit. Anyone with even a little bit of curiosity must have wondered how all that stuff is crammed into a tiny seed.
Now we know about DNA, genes, mitochondria, metabolic pathways, and stuff that it takes microbiologists years to understand—and even then they don’t understand it all. Knowing what is inside a seed makes it even more miraculous than it seemed when nobody knew any of these things.
Beyond that, perhaps Jesus told the disciples this parable to give them hope for the future. In the beginning, there were so few of them. How could they expect Christianity to grow into a world-wide religion? It doesn’t seem humanly possible.
On the other hand, perhaps Jesus told the parable so that it would be recorded so we can look back and see how Christianity grew. It doesn’t seem humanly possible.
The parable of the yeast is slightly troubling. Like a seed, yeast is a plant which grows incredibly fast, working its way throughout the dough. The troubling thing, however, is that yeast is used as a symbol for sin elsewhere in the Bible.
Yeast makes things rot by converting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Wine is rotten grape juice. Rotten grape juice is bad for your liver, and bad for your judgment.
Yeast is also called “leaven” because the carbon dioxide makes bread rise, which is good, but it uses up calories to do it. In those days, people weren’t looking to lose weight, so losing calories was not a good thing.
The Passover bread had no yeast in it to remind the Israelites that they had to leave in such haste that they didn’t have time for their bread to rise. But other times, yeast was not to be included in holy bread because it was a symbol of corruption.
For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And anyone, whether foreigner or native-born, who eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel. [Exodus 12:19]
“Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast. “The fat of my festival offerings must not be kept until morning. [Exodus 23:18]
If your grain offering is prepared on a griddle, it is to be made of the finest flour mixed with oil, and without yeast. [Leviticus 2:5]
Jesus used yeast as a symbol of corrupt teaching.
“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. [Matthew 16:6-12]
Paul also used yeast as a symbol of sin.
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. [1 Corinthians 5:6-8]
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” [Galatians 5:7-9]
Since yeast was often a symbol of sin, it seems strange that Jesus would use it to symbolize the spreading of Christianity. Perhaps Jesus was warning that false teachings would infiltrate and corrupt the church just like yeast spreads through dough.
The parable might predict the spread of Christianity through all the world, or it might predict the spread of sin throughout Christianity. In either case, the prediction was accurate.
The phrase “kingdom of God” occurs 32 times in the Gospel of Luke. The parables of the sower, mustard seed, and yeast were about the kingdom of God. They all had to do with growth. This parable about the kingdom of God has to do with admittance.
When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” [Luke 14:15-24]
Jesus told this parable to make the point that the Jewish leaders were invited to the banquet; but they didn’t want to come. So, the invitation went out to the Jewish people; many of whom came to the banquet. Since there was still room, the invitation went out to Gentiles, too.
Although the primary message of this parable is an explanation of God’s intention to invite Gentiles to share in salvation, it isn’t limited to that theological truth. There is a personal application of the parable, too.
It was a “great banquet.” Who wouldn’t want to go to a great banquet? People who are too preoccupied with worldly things wouldn’t want to go. One person thought that going to inspect a field was more important than going to a great banquet. That sounds silly—until you realize that many people today think something here on Earth is more important than attending the great banquet in Heaven.
Of course, going to a banquet does require an expenditure of time, which really is the most valuable thing we have on Earth. There is always something you can do to get more money—but there is nothing you can do to get more time. When your time runs out, your time runs out, and you can’t do anything to get any more time. Because time is so valuable, people say they are “too busy” when they don’t want to devote any time to an activity. The people who didn’t want to go to the banquet because they were too busy, made up some silly excuses why they could not go. The truth is, they really could go—they just didn’t want to go.
You have been invited to the banquet, too. Are you too busy with worldly distractions to attend?
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” [Luke 12:13-15]
Before we get to the parable, let’s not skip over Jesus’ rhetorical question, “Who appointed me a judge?” Jesus wanted the brother to acknowledge Jesus’ authority. That’s really the first thing we should do when we go to God in prayer. People sometimes ask questions just to get confirmation that they are right, and ignore advice to the contrary. Don’t ask God a question if you aren’t going to accept the answer, whatever it is.
Jesus didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear. Instead, Jesus told him what he needed to know. He needed to know there is something more important in life than accumulating wealth. He needed to guard against being greedy. Jesus taught these truths using this parable:
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” [Luke 12:16-21]
He had no place to store his crops, and didn’t know what to do with them. Apparently it never occurred to him that he could share his bounty with the poor. He had no greater ambition than to take it easy, eat, drink, and be merry.
He was intent on storing up wealth for himself on Earth, but was not storing treasures in Heaven. Jesus had more to say about this in our next chapter. For right now, all we will say is that his selfishness prevented him from storing treasures in Heaven.
In addition to his greed, the man also failed to recognize the uncertainty of life. He incorrectly assumed he was going to have plenty of time to enjoy his wealth. He didn’t realize that he would not live to see tomorrow.
You can’t be sure you will live to see tomorrow. If you die tonight, will Jesus approve of the life you have lived? If not, you must repent now, and your sins will be forgiven. Then you must live a new life. You can have a clean start (in God’s eyes), and the Holy Spirit will give you the power to live the life God wants you to live.
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. [Matthew 16:26-27]
Jews in Jesus’ day had the same opinion of Samaritans that Jews in World War II had of Nazis. If you really want to understand the parable, mentally substitute “Nazi” for “Samaritan” when you read the Parable of the Good Nazi.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” [Luke 10:25-28]
Sometimes people ask questions because they want to learn. This wasn’t one of those times. This question was asked of Jesus “to test Him.” Perhaps he wanted Jesus to say, “You don’t have to do anything to inherit eternal life. The law has been abolished. Everyone who wants to will be saved.” That’s what some modern preachers would say.
Jesus answered him by quoting applicable scriptures.
The divorce rate is a good indication of what “love” means today. Today, love is just lip service (in both senses of the phrase). Tina Turner sang that love is “a second-hand emotion,” and it would be hard to argue with her.
The expert of the law recognized that real love requires self-sacrifice and commitment. He looked for a technicality which would allow him to escape that responsibility. Perhaps a suitable definition of “neighbor” would do the trick.
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii 3 and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” [Luke 10:29-37]
Love isn’t something you feel. Love is something you do. The “good” people, the priest and the Levite, didn’t do anything. We don’t know how the Samaritan (the Nazi) felt about Jews. There is nothing Jesus said to indicate that he was an unusual Nazi who didn’t hate Jews.
Jesus told the man to “Go and do likewise.” He did not say, “Go and feel likewise.”
The four parables about lost things (Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son, and Lost Job) are found in Luke 15 and the beginning of Luke 16. They are a set which should not be broken up. Because of the unfortunate chapter break 4, the first three parables aren’t usually connected to the fourth one.
Because the fourth parable usually isn’t read in the context of the first three, people often find it hard to understand. The fourth parable is the most important one of the set. The three previous parables lay the groundwork for the fourth.
Jesus (and Luke) clearly intended the four to be read together as a set because the two verses before the Parable of the Lost Sheep are:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” [Luke 15:1-2]
The two verses after the Parable of the Lost Job are:
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight." [Luke 16:14-15]
Clearly, Jesus told all four of these parables as a set to an audience of Pharisees and teachers of the law. Because they are a set, they are very similar, but with important differences. If they aren’t read together, the important differences are easily missed. Jesus told these four parables together at one time to emphasize the differences in these four similar situations. The fourth parable, the Parable of the Lost Job, is perhaps the most important of the four, and is most often overlooked because it was incorrectly placed in a different chapter.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." [Luke 15:1-7]
A critic might be quick to point out that the shepherd made a stupid decision. Logically, one should not risk the safety of 99 sheep by leaving them alone just to save one miserable sheep—but Jesus was not trying to teach shepherds how to take care of sheep. The point He was making is that God loves each individual so much that the certain loss of one means more to God than the possible loss of 99 others. The shepherd is thinking with his heart, not his head; but Jesus isn’t trying to teach that emotion should overrule logic when making life choices. We know that because this is just one of four parables, and the common point of the four parables is not that one should make stupid decisions. Jesus is teaching about how God deals with sinners in four different situations.
Here are the three things that are important about this parable, which need to be compared with the same three things in the following parables.
With that in mind, consider what Jesus said next.
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” [Luke 15:8-10]
The only difference in these two parables is responsibility.
We don’t know exactly how the sheep got lost. Perhaps it was a rebellious sheep who didn’t like being told where to go, and decided to go his own way. Perhaps it was a careless sheep who got distracted and wandered over a hill chasing a butterfly and lost sight of the shepherd. Maybe it took a nap, and when it woke up, the flock had moved on out of sight. The exact details about how the sheep got lost don’t matter. What matters is that, to a greater or lesser degree, the sheep was to blame for getting lost.
On the other hand, there is no way to blame the coin for getting lost. Maybe the coin was on a table, and somebody put a jar on top of it, or knocked it off the table. Maybe the woman just forgot where she put it. Regardless of how the coin got lost, we can be sure it wasn’t the coin’s fault because a coin can’t do anything on its own.
Like the sheep, the coin can’t do anything to rescue itself. It’s just a coin. It can’t even bleat for help. It is totally helpless.
Here’s the point: It doesn’t matter if the thing that gets lost is responsible or not if the lost thing is helpless. God is going to go out to rescue it because God loves it, and because it can’t rescue itself.
People are different from sheep and coins, so Jesus told a third parable to explain how God treats them.
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your propertywith prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” [Luke 15:11-31]
The point that is often overlooked when preaching about this parable is that, although the father was watching for his son to come home, and hoping for his son to come home, the father did not send servants out to bring him back home. It would have been easy for the father to find out where his son had gone and bring him back; but he didn’t do it. That’s an important point. The son had to come back by his own choice.
The son was definitely responsible for getting into the bad situation in the first place; but we saw from the first two parables that responsibility doesn’t matter. If the son had been as helpless as the sheep or the coin, the father would have rescued him—but there was something the son could do. He could recognize his need of a savior and go to that savior and ask for help.
If you get nothing else from the parable, just learn this: You need a savior. Ask Him for help, and He will save you.
Of course, there are other valuable things to learn from this parable, and you have probably heard them all because this is a parable preachers love to preach. I’m going to ignore them for now because I don’t want some minor points to distract from the unity of the four Lost parables.
Now, here is the most important parable of the set. Unfortunately, it is the one seldom discussed because, separated from the other three, it is easily misunderstood.
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight." [Luke 16:1-15]
Jesus said, “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted SHREWDLY.” Jesus did NOT say, “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted DISHONESTLY.” That’s an important distinction.
Like the lost son, the manager was to blame for his unfortunate situation—but as we saw from the previous three parables, guilt is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how you got lost.
Unlike the sheep and the coin, but like the lost son, there was something the manager could do about it—and like the lost son, he did it.
The master commended the dishonest manager because he had situational awareness and acted accordingly. The dishonest manager recognized what was about to happen to him and took evasive action. That’s why he was praised.
Jesus said, “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” The people of this world (in other words, sinners) have a better grasp of reality than the people of the light (in other words, saints) and are better at dealing with the situation. When a sinner sees trouble coming, he does something sinful to avoid the consequences. In far too many cases, when a saint sees Judgment Day coming, he does nothing righteous to avoid the consequences. Sinners are better at being sinners than saints are at being saints. Jesus is “work shaming” saints by comparing them with sinners. That’s why he used a dishonest manager (a sinner) to make the point.
Jesus’ advice is, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends [the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” God put you on Earth, and gave you time and talent which you can use however you want. Jesus is telling you that you should use that time and talent to make friends with God. Is that so hard to understand?
The father didn’t send out servants to drag his prodigal son home because the son needed to recognize his situation, repent, and come home. The father desperately wanted his son to come home, and kept scanning to horizon hoping to see him; but he didn’t force him to come home. The fact that the son came home was evidence that he had repented. The son didn’t even need to finish his confession speech. The father didn’t put his son on probation for seven years before he would forgive his son. The son’s actions showed his sincerity.
God loves you as much as the sheep, coin, and son. God wants to spend eternity with you; but you have to choose to accept His invitation to be with Him. God isn’t going to force you to use your time and talent wisely so that you will be saved on Judgment Day. You have to repent and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct your life. It wasn’t enough for the manager to recognize what was coming—he had to do something. “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” 5 You need to recognize the danger and manage your life accordingly.
The fourth Lost parable is the most important one because it is the one that is definitely about you! You aren’t a sheep or a coin. You might, or might not, be a prodigal son. You certainly are a manager facing Judgment Day. You must decide how to manage your life.
You probably know this parable by another name. That’s because it is more popularly known as the Parable of the Ten Talents in Matthew’s Gospel 6 in the King James Version. The New International Version uses the phrase, “bags of gold” instead of “talents” in Matthew.
In Luke’s version of the parable, the King James translators used the word “pounds” (as in, Pounds Sterling) to make the parable more meaningful to seventeenth century British readers. Minas, talents, and pounds are all units of weight which take on a monetary value when used to refer to weights of precious metals (gold or silver).
A footnote in the New International Version of the Bible says, “A mina was about three months’ wages.” That’s a lot—but the exact amount of money doesn’t really matter. The fact that “talent” can be confused with “skill” doesn’t really matter, either. All that really matters is that three individuals were given differing amounts of a valuable commodity.
Let’s compare Luke’s account to Matthew's account.
|Luke 19:11-27||Matthew 25:14-30|
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. He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’
“But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’
“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.
“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.’
“The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’
“His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’
“Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 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.’
“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? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
“Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’
“‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’
“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. 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 19:11-27]
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’" [Matthew 25:14-30]
Matthew was one of Jesus’ disciples, and no doubt heard Jesus tell this parable on multiple occasions. In Matthew’s version, there were three servants who were each given different amounts of money. Luke heard the story second-hand, probably from Paul. By the time Luke heard it, there were ten servants each given one talent each.
Any time you have multiple witnesses telling what they saw, there will be minor inconsequential variations in the story. Whether there were three or ten servants does not change the point of the lesson.
A possibly more significant variation is that in Matthew’s version the servants were initially given different amounts of money, and the wise servants made the same amount of profit (100% in each case). In Luke’s version all the servants were given the same amount initially, but one made 1000% profit and another made 500% profit.
The most important point in both versions is that one of the servants did not make any profit. That is the servant Jesus is really talking about. Yes, the other servants were faithful, and were rewarded in proportion to their success, and that is important—but what is more important is the one unfaithful servant. Jesus spent most of his attention on the unfaithful servant, and so should we.
If Jesus had wanted to teach us not to fail, He would have included a servant who used the money to buy a field and planted some crops which failed to produce a harvest. The unfaithful servant wasn’t condemned for being incompetent—he was condemned for being afraid to try. The unfaithful servant was afraid of failure, so he didn’t do anything. The servant wasn’t given the money for the purpose of not doing anything with it. Not using it was his sin.
Jesus didn’t put you on Earth not to do anything. He has given you time and talent to do something. If you use your time and talent in His service, He will bless you in proportion to your success, both in this world and the world to come. If you don’t successfully execute God’s plan very well, you won’t be as richly blessed as the servant who does—but you will still be blessed. But if you aren’t a good steward of what God has given you, woe to you. Matthew says that worthless servant was thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In both versions of the parable, the man went away and was expected to come back, which he did. There can be no doubt that Jesus was referring to Himself. He went to Heaven after spending a few days on Earth after His resurrection, and His return will be at the Second Coming after a long, unspecified period of time. We are the servants who have been given some money. It is His money—not ours. We will be judged by what we have done with His money when He returns.
Luke adds the detail that the reason why the master left was to be appointed king. This makes it even clearer that the parable is about the Second Coming because the first time Jesus came to Earth, He was born a baby. When He comes the Second Time, He will return as King.
Furthermore, Luke says the subjects in the parable did not want him to come back and rule over them because he was a “hard man.” Matthew agreed with this description, and Jesus did not dispute the allegation by either account. The “hard man” expected his subjects to work and give him the profits, and his subjects knew that. Those who did work and gave him the profits were richly rewarded. Jesus expects us to use what He has given us, and to give the increase to Him, and He will reward us with blessing.
We cannot ignore what Luke says happened to the enemies of the king. He didn’t simply cast them out. Luke says he had them executed in front of him. It is a frightening parable.
Let’s not forget the lesson from the Parable of the Lost Job in the previous section. The day of reckoning is coming. When it comes, it will be too late. Use the resources you have been given so that it will go well with you on that day. That’s exactly the same lesson taught by the Parable of the Ten Minas. Two parables—one lesson. But wait! There’s more!
Here’s another parable about a man who goes away and leaves servants in charge of his affairs, then comes back expecting to get something from them.
He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’
“But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!”
Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written:
“‘The stone the builders rejected
“Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”
The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people. [Luke 20:9-19]
God rented out His vineyard to the Jews and expected them to work it and pay the rent. He sent prophets to the Jews, expecting them to respect the prophets and pay what they owed by obeying His commands. When that didn’t work, He sent His Son, and the leaders murdered Him. The meaning was so thinly veiled, “The teachers of the law and the chief priests knew he had spoken this parable against them.” The parable does not apply simply to them.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; and sometimes a fig is just a fig—but it rarely is in the Bible. Usually, the fig a is symbol for prosperity. The first such usage is in a parable in Judges 8, part of which says,
“Next, the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be our king.’
“But the fig tree replied, ‘Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?’ [Judges 9:10-11]
This is perhaps the origin of the phrase, “under your fig tree,” which appears five times in the Old Testament 9 indicating national prosperity. There are also eight times in the Old Testament when destruction of fig trees represents national disaster. 10
God used this symbolism in this vision He showed to Jeremiah:
After Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and the officials, the skilled workers and the artisans of Judah were carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the LORD showed me two baskets of figs placed in front of the temple of the LORD. One basket had very good figs, like those that ripen early; the other basket had very bad figs, so bad they could not be eaten.
Then the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“Figs,” I answered. “The good ones are very good, but the bad ones are so bad they cannot be eaten.”
Then the word of the LORD came to me: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.
“‘But like the bad figs, which are so bad they cannot be eaten,’ says the LORD, ‘so will I deal with Zedekiah king of Judah, his officials and the survivors from Jerusalem, whether they remain in this land or live in Egypt. I will make them abhorrent and an offense to all the kingdoms of the earth, a reproach and a byword, a curse and an object of ridicule, wherever I banish them. I will send the sword, famine and plague against them until they are destroyed from the land I gave to them and their ancestors.’” [Jeremiah 24:1-10]
Knowing this about fig symbolism, let’s look at the first of two fig parables in Luke.
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” [Luke 13:6-9]
The parable leaves us in suspense. The next year did it bear good figs, or bad figs, or did it continue to bear no figs at all? The parable doesn’t say—but it doesn’t need to. We know what will happen in any case.
The fig tree had an opportunity to repent. If it repented and bore good figs, it would be allowed to live.
If the fig tree did not produce good figs the next year, it would be cut down because there is a limit to God’s patience. If God doesn’t see results within a time of His choosing, judgment will be executed.
Matthew and Mark both describe an actual event (not a parable) near the end of Jesus’ ministry in which He cursed a fig tree, and it immediately shriveled up and died 11.
Just in case the lesson is too subtle for you, here is the blunt message: If you aren’t bearing good figs, you better start bearing good figs now, before it is too late.
The King James wording suggests two additional meaning.
Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:" [Luke 13:7-8, KJV]
First, the fig tree was [en]cumbering the ground. That is, it was getting in the way of other trees which might bear fruit. It wasn’t just useless because it was failing to produce fruit—it was actually a hindrance.
Second, the way the gardener fertilized it was to heap dung on it. If people are giving you a load of dung, perhaps God is letting them do that for your own good.
The second fig parable adds something else to the teaching that figs are blessings. You can (or should be able to) see when it is time for the tree to bear figs.
He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
“Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” [Luke 21:29-36]
If you couple the two parables, and apply them to your situation right now, what does it tell you? The leaves are sprouting. The kingdom of Heaven is near. Baskets will soon be filled with figs. What’s in your basket?
This is one of the most misunderstood parables in the Bible.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” [Luke 16:19-31]
The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is often twisted to support the false notion that people go to Heaven or Hell for eternity when they die. That’s nothing like what the Bible actually teaches. This parable has nothing to do with the state of the dead. It has to do with what will (and won’t) make people believe Jesus is the Messiah.
Jesus used a commonly known, foolish pagan myth about the state of the dead to make a point. The parable works because you know the pagan myth is foolish.
If I wanted to teach a lesson discouraging greed, I might tell a story about a man who was told by a leprechaun that he could become wealthy by digging up the pot of gold buried at the end of the rainbow. The parable only works because you know that leprechauns don’t exist, and there is no pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, and that you can never reach the end of the rainbow because it moves every time you move. The parable works because it is based on a premise you know is false.
In the same way, the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus, only works if you know the premise is false. Jesus wanted to make the point, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them. … If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” He did that using the well-known, foolish Roman myth about people going to Heaven or Hell when they died. Jesus was trying to show them how foolish it would be to think that someone coming back to life to warn about the coming judgment would have any more credibility than Moses and the Prophets. And, just to prove His point, He did bring back a man named Lazarus from the dead; and the leaders did not listen to him!
When Jesus spoke this parable, He was not giving a sermon on the state of the dead, endorsing the pagan Roman myth that there is a great chasm between Hades and the Elysian Fields. When Jesus spoke that parable to the Jews, the Jews did not believe in Roman mythology, so there was no confusion about what Jesus was saying. It is confusing to some people today because the Catholic Church replaced the Biblical truth about death with Roman mythology in order to sell indulgences and bully people into obedience.
Over the years this Catholic doctrine has become ingrained in so many churches that many people erroneously believe that Jesus taught it. They miss Jesus' point that one should believe on the basis of Moses and the Prophets, and erroneously think that Jesus was teaching that their dead relatives could contact them from beyond the grave.
For a thorough examination of what the Bible actually teaches about death, please see Appendix B of A Christian Guide to Acts 12.
Here is another parable that is easily misunderstood.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” [Luke 18:1-8]
It should be perfectly clear that “Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”
Jesus did this by contrasting God’s character to the character of an unjust judge. God is a just judge—not an unjust one. Keep praying (and listening for an answer) because God is good.
Since so much of this parable is about how bad the unjust judge is, it is easy for people who are afraid of God to get confused and think Jesus was saying that God is evil and unjust, too.
The parable ends with two rhetorical questions. “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” The answer is, “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” Of course, God will bring about justice and not put them off because God isn’t an unjust judge.
Let’s not miss the warning in the last sentence. Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead, rewarding the faithful and punishing the unfaithful. If you are faithful, that is good news. You will be delivered from all the evil people who have ever hurt you, and you won’t be hurt again. The Second Coming is not good news to the unfaithful. Jesus is afraid there won’t be many faithful people around when He returns. You need to be one of the faithful people who will be granted justice.
Jesus’ fear that He won’t be able to find any faith on Earth when He returns is a reasonable fear. There isn’t much faith left in the Christian church to find. That’s a chilling indication that we really are living in the last days.
This is a very popular parable because, apparently, most people misunderstand it.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” [Luke 18:9-14]
Perhaps people like this parable because they think it says that Jesus loves sinners more than righteous people. That’s a comforting thought for people who know they are falling short of God’s requirements. They think Jesus is saying it is better to be a sinner who knows he is a sinner than it is to be a righteous person. Lots of people think that—but Jesus isn’t one of them.
Jesus is not criticizing the Pharisee for fasting and tithing. Jesus doesn’t want the Pharisee to become a robber, evildoer, or adulterer. Jesus criticizes the Pharisee for being prideful. It is worse to be proud than to be a robber, evildoer, or adulterer.
How does what the Pharisee prayed differ from a typical Christian praise song?
Oh, how I love Jesus!
Aren’t most “praise” songs really “pride” songs? The vast majority of praise songs tell one of two messages: 1) I’m great because I love Jesus; 2) I’m great because Jesus loves me.
Please, pay attention to the words of many of the praise songs Christians sing in church. Count the number of first person pronouns compared to the number of references to God. The praise songs are mostly about me—not Jesus.
The next time you sing a pride song remember, “all those who exalt themselves will be humbled.” You might as well be singing, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people!”
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Footnotes:1 Deuteronomy 6:5