21 October 2015

A Cultural Understanding of the Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:11-27) - Part 3

We have looked in the first two parts at parables and cultural understandings in general, as well as the specific parable in question in it's historic/cultural context to the audience hearing it at the time. 

Before moving on though, I want to bring to your attention a little point that should be fairly obvious to most, but is sadly glossed over due to presuppositions on the timing of events. I’d like to set this up by reading a couple sections from a recently released (2009) commentary on Luke. This section is in response to the initial Apostles question in Luke where they asked if the time was now for the Kingdom:

It is easy to see why people would make this mistake. The more they heard what Jesus said and saw what Jesus could do, the more certain some people became that he was the promised King. Jesus was healing the blind; he was saving sinners, including the kind of rich people who almost never repent; he was preaching the kingdom of God. Soon the gathering masses would sweep him right up to Jerusalem in a frenzy of messianic expectancy. It was almost Palm Sunday, when people would shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38). Is it any wonder that they thought the kingdom of God was coming right away?

This all backs up everything I have said before, and we can see why there may have been some confusion for the disciples about the events to come soon. The commentator continues:

At the same time, it is easy to see why Jesus was careful to correct their false expectations. The kingdom had come, but it had not yet come in the fullness of its final glory. Jesus still needed to suffer and die on the cross. He still needed to rise from the dead and ascend to heaven. Perhaps most importantly, he still needed to do his gospel work among the nations through the church. The kingdom had come, in one sense, but in another sense it would not come until Jesus came again.

All good stuff and I can agree with his comments in all of this. However, the very next paragraph is where he seems to ignore a key point of the parable. He states:

Some Bible scholars seem troubled by the fact that although the New Testament says that Jesus is coming soon, he still hasn’t come.

Uh – YEAH! That is a big issue. If he implied he is coming soon – which he did – then a non-occurrence of that would and should be an issue. BUT WAIT! There’s more. He continues:

Thus they treat the delay of the kingdom as some sort of biblical problem. But this certainly wasn’t a problem for Jesus, who knew there would be a gap between the present and future reality of the kingdom of God. This was an important aspect of his teaching about the kingdom. Even before he died and rose again, Jesus prepared his disciples for his long absence by telling them that there would be a delay between the departure and his return.

I can fully agree with the statements here, as Jesus did clearly teach of a gap – a period of absence – before his return. The problem is, he is missing the connection in the parable, and even missing his own very clear point - that Jesus did prepare his disciples for this absence. His very disciples – the ones standing their listening to him telling the parable – they were prepared for a long gap – long to them, before they would see him return as in the parable.

Think back to the parable. The future king prepared to leave, and he gave ten specific servants money to do business with. He left for a time and returned. Who did he return to meet with for accountability? The same ten servants or their distant relatives?

Obviously it was to the exact same people with whom he had given the gifts to begin with. The gap between the leaving and returning was short enough that he was returning to the same people he had given the money to, and it is them to whom he asks to give an account.

Now, before any one screams about it, I understand that we cannot force a strict literalism into a parable. But in this case, it needs no forcing to make the point at all, not in light of the many other things the disciples were told would take place. What did Yeshua himself tell his disciples would happen while he was gone? Pay attention to the pronouns:

…and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matt 10:22 ESV)

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. (Matt 24:9 ESV)

Well, that seems to fit pretty nicely in the view of the parable as I have mentioned. What else did he promise to those who suffer during his absence?

And every one that hath left houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life. (Matt 19:29 ESV)

There is another slight tie in to the parable - those who are faithful to the king shall be given more? What else did he tell those people standing there, about how much work they would be performing before his return?

When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matt 10:23 ESV)

And the final point on this – to who did he say would be there to see him return with the promised Kingdom?:

Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. (Mark 16:28 ESV)

So, we can plainly deduce from all of this, that just like in the parable, the future King (Yeshua), gave gifts to his servants (gifts of the spirit to his disciples), and told them to work in his name faithfully until he returned, a returning which would be during the very lifetime of those who he gave the gifts, just like in the parable.

So, I see no real need to force something onto the parable that has not already been plainly linked there by Yeshua himself, however most scholars miss this key point in the parable story and gospels in general. The very last line in that paragraph I quoted from the commentary sums up the whole problem that result from his missing these points:

Therefore, we find ourselves in the interim between the already and the not yet, between what is now and what is to come. (Philip Graham Ryken, Reformed Expository Commentary: Luke Vol. 2, Pg. 317.)

As so the commentator has misunderstood one major point. What has this commentator forgotten? WHAT TIME IT IS! This parable and all of the associated words of Yeshua about it are dealing with a specific time and specific event in the near future of his hearers - also know as, our past.

Another popular commentator gets around this in a totally different manner, but is able to at least keep those same people included in a round about way:

So Jesus commands his disciples to “improve” their talents; to make the most of them; to increase their capability of doing good, and to do it “until” he comes to call us hence, by death, to meet him. (Albert Barnes, Barnes Notes on the Old and New Testament)

 We will finish up in the next part looking at how such a misunderstanding has crippled the church, and what we should actually be doing now.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4