Commentary on the Gospel of
That parable of Jesus about a nobleman who leaves town to receive a “kingdom” (probably meaning authority from the emperor to govern the local province), leaving his servants some money to invest while he is away, and then assessing their faithfulness and business acumen when he returns—that parable as told by Luke is usually taken simply as a variation of the similar parable (“The Talents”) found in Matthew 25. Yet a careful reading reveals that Matthew and Luke each tell the basic story in quite different ways and for different purposes.
For Matthew the parable is part of Jesus’ end-time discourse, reminding his readers that the Second Coming of Jesus will be a time of divine judgment, when everyone, Jew and Gentile alike will be judged according to how they used their talents. Indeed, the very word “talent” as a name for one’s God-given gifts derives from Matthew’s gospel, where it literally refers to huge amount of silver used as unit of money, where it stands for a person’s, well, talents (so, wake up and behave accordingly! The Lord cares what you do with his gifts!).
Luke, however, has Jesus tell a different version of the story shortly before the Son of Man (Jesus) enters Israel’s central city. He has a different message for his readers—what it means to follow Jesus “on the road to Jerusalem” as the risen crucified one who calls them to complete his mission after Easter, as the disciples of the Prophet who turns out to be the Christ that Israel was waiting for. Further, because Luke has experienced a later generation of the history that has happened since the early post-Pentecost mission days of the church, he has included a “second volume” (Acts of Apostles) that presents narratives that are both historical notes and “example stories” that present Peter, Paul, and Timothy, and even the author himself participating in that ongoing life and mission of the church. That mission continued for his immediate readers and for those coming after them, including us in our day.
That said, let’s listen for a few takeaways when we compare what is implied when we compare what Luke is saying to his implied immediate audience with what his message implies for us in our time.
Luke’s description of the crowd’s associating the link between the Prophet entering Jerusalem and the manifestation of the kingdom was truer that they may have expected; the events that soon followed his entrance into Israel’s central city—the death and resurrection of Jesus, the reconstitution of the core Twelve, and the promise of power, illumination of the 120 praying people by the power of the Holy spirit, the spontaneous, sharing of property by the Jerusalem community, the continuation of Jesus’ table fellowship both at the Last Supper and after his resurrection in the Eucharist, the recognition of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the efforts of the disciples gathered to face the divisive issue of what to require of gentiles accepted into the covenant People of God—how do they help us pray?
Let me try:
Loving God, what a different kind of time we live in today. While the main beneficiaries of Jesus’ original teaching and healing ministry were fellow Jews, and the early church struggled for a while with accepting gentiles; now we majority-gentiles are the main beneficiaries of the work of the Jewish Messiah. Yet we now suffer from the wounds caused by us Christians in our frequent mistreatment of our Jewish brothers and sisters whose biblically-rooted faith in a creating, caring God we share. Help us honor that heritage and work to heal the wounds of our separation. The kingdom of God, already celebrated in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus widened in his invitation to all to accept God’s reign in their response to their experience of him as the source of all that exists. Even though Luke could see the wisdom of that destiny of the human family, help us take even more seriously that Jesus taught us to pray “Thy kingdom come!”
Luke’s account of Paul’s response to the encounter with the risen Lord in his “search and destroy” trip to stamp out the Christian movement is not only a “call story”; it is also a conversion story, the account of a zealot with a violent steak, who needed a conversion of heart, which indeed grew out of that encounter with the one he learned soon to call “Jesus, the Christ and our Lord.” We can hear this better today when scholarship has taught us to recognize the nonviolence of Jesus in his teaching and behavior. (Oh, and what about the violence of the nobleman in the kingdom parable toward those who opposed him? Given the full context of his two-volume gospel (Luke-Acts), Luke knows that in his world of violent Caesars and Herods, his readers would hear that detail as a reminder that the Lord they follow is exactly the opposite.)
Help us, Lord, in our violent day, to take more seriously Jesus’ call to resist our inclination to make war.