Risk: The Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27)
The parable of the ten minas (“pounds,” in the NRSV translation) is set in the workplace of high finance. A rich — and soon to be powerful — nobleman goes on an extended trip to be crowned king. Most of his people hate him, and send word ahead that they oppose this coronation (Luke 19:14). In his absence, he assigns three of his servants to invest his money. Two of them take the risk of investing their master’s money. They earn handsome returns. A third servant is afraid to take the risk, so he puts the money in a safe place. It earns no return. When the master returns, he has become king of the whole territory. He rewards the two servants who made money for him, promoting them to high positions of their own. He punishes the servant who kept the money safe but unproductive. Then he commands that all who opposed him be killed in his presence.
Jesus tells this parable immediately before going to Jerusalem, where he is to be crowned king (“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” Luke 19:38), but soon is rejected by his people. This identifies Jesus with the nobleman in the parable, and the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” (Luke 23:21) with the people in the parable who oppose the nobleman’s coronation. By this we know that the people have profoundly misjudged their soon-to-be king, except for the two servants who work diligently in his absence. The parable, in this context, warns us that we must decide if Jesus is indeed God’s appointed king, and be prepared to abide the consequences of our decision either to serve him or oppose him.
This parable makes explicit that citizens of God’s kingdom are responsible to work towards God’s goals and purposes. In this parable, the king tells his servants directly what he expects them to do, namely to invest his money. This specific calling or command makes it clear that preaching, healing and evangelism (the Apostles’ callings) are not the only things God calls people to do. Of course, not everyone in God’s kingdom is called to be an investor, either. In this parable, only three of the country’s residents are called to be investors. The point is that acknowledging Jesus as king requires working towards his purposes in whatever field of work you do.
Seen in this light, the parable suggests if we choose to accept Jesus as king, we must expect to lead risky lives. The servants who invested the master’s money faced the risk of being attacked by those around them who rejected the master’s authority. And they faced the risk of disappointing their master by making investments that might lose money. Even their success exposes them to risk. Now that they have tasted success and been promoted, they risk becoming greedy or power-mad. They face the risk that their next investments — which will involve much greater sums — will fail and expose them to much more severe consequences. In Anglo-American business (and sports) practice, CEOs (and head coaches) are routinely fired for mediocre results, whereas those in lower-level positions are only fired for exceptionally poor performance. Neither failure nor success is safe in this parable, or in today’s workplace. It is tempting to duck for cover and search for a safe way of accommodating to the system while waiting for things to get better. But ducking for cover is the one action Jesus condemns in the parable. The servant who tries to avoid risk is singled out as unfaithful. We are not told what would have happened if the other two servants had lost money on their investments, but the implication is that all investments made in faithful service to God are pleasing to him, whether or not they achieve their intended payoff.