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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Well Done My Good Servant

Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost


Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.


When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.


All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”


But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”


Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”


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. 12 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 19:1-27


Last Sunday we looked at Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The reason Jesus told that parable was to expose those people who were confident that they were righteous in God’s eyes because they were such “good” people. And since they thought they were so good – and so much better than other people – they looked down on everybody else. So, using a Pharisee as the self-righteous person, and a Publican or tax collector as the person who came to God in all humility and repentance, Jesus said that it was the tax collector – whom everybody hated as a traitor – it was the tax collector who went home justified before God.


Well, I imagine that parable had a lot of repercussions. I expect it travelled throughout the area like a rock dropped in a pond sends ripples in every direction. Jesus had said something nice about a tax collector, and that news would have been warmly received by those in that despised fraternity.


Among those who would have heard Jesus’ parable was a wealthy, short, chief tax collector by the name of Zacchaeus. Now Zacchaeus lived in Jericho, and as Jesus came near to that town, a blind beggar started shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus gave him his sight. Zacchaeus would have heard of that, too, and he was determined to see this teacher who had compassion toward his kind of people, and who, as the miracle-worker, had given sight to the blind beggar outside of town.


So, the occasion of today’s Gospel lesson, the parable of the Ten Minas, was the conversion of Zacchaeus. “While they were listening,” Luke tells us, Jesus “went on to tell them a parable, because… the people thought that the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once.”


So, the purpose of the parable was to correct the mistaken idea that the Kingdom was coming immediately. The followers of Jesus had high hopes of their master’s visit to Jerusalem. He was going to redeem Israel. He was going to deliver the chosen people from Roman occupation. He was going to usher in the Kingdom of David in all its ancient glory. To His followers, the Kingdom wasn’t a spiritual reign, it was a spectacular temporal dominion. And the people were ready to acclaim Jesus as King when He reached Jerusalem – and His Kingdom could immediately appear!


Sadly, their minds hadn’t grasped the necessity of the cross! They failed to understand that as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Church would be brought into being. His Kingdom wouldn’t be ushered in until His death, burial, and resurrection from the dead.


These were pretty exciting days: big crowds following Jesus, miracles being done. It would have been easy to think, He’s coming to be King now. But this parable was designed to correct this false expectation. In it, He indirectly announced His approaching departure from the Earth, the time between His ascension into Heaven, and His return to Earth. And He spoke of the necessity of faithfulness on the part of His servants during His absence, and of the hostility of those who reject Him.


We are now living in the time Jesus spoke of, for this is one of His prophetic parables. And it’s important to us because He tells of His treatment of both servants and rejecters on his return. The idea of the parable is that we are now living in a time of trial, or testing – the time between the Lord’s departure and His return. As we confess in our Creed, the time between when Jesus “ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father” and when “He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” For the Kingdom of Heaven is both a present reality and a future hope!


In this parable, Jesus speaks of Himself as “a man of noble birth.” And as this nobleman, He goes away to receive a Kingdom, leaving behind both servants and those who hate Him, and don’t want Him as their King. He told those in Zacchaeus’ house that He was going away to receive a Kingdom, and while He was away His servants would have the responsibility of caring for His interests. Remember: He’s talking about our time, and He’s talking about us, and He’s talking about our friends and neighbors, our relatives and our coworkers and schoolmates! And He says that on His return He will reward all who have been faithful and will deal drastically with all those who reject Him.


Jesus is the most noble Nobleman, of noble birth: the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the eternal and only-begotten Son of God. (Matt 1:1, John 1:1) As the “man of noble birth” Jesus “went to a distant country to have Himself appointed King. On His ascension “He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven.” (Heb. 1;3b) And “God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)


For now, His Kingdom is an invisible one. As Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my Kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36) For now, His Kingdom consists of the great plan of the redemption of sinners from the bondage of sin. “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:13,14)


In the “distant country,” Heaven, “all authority in Heaven and on Earth” was given to Jesus. As Oswald Hoffman said, “That’s a big territory!” And He will come again to rule as the supreme King in His coming Heavenly Kingdom.


Rich noblemen had a number of servants or bond-slaves, and some of them, because of their integrity and resourcefulness, could be trusted to care for their master’s interests in his absence. In His parable, Jesus speaks of ten servants. Since ten is one of the perfect numbers of Scripture, Jesus isn’t speaking only of those who served Him during His earthly ministry; He’s speaking of all those who have accepted His salvation, and whom He expects to serve Him faithfully until He returns. In other words, He’s talking about us!


And He says He gave a “mina” to each servant, or 50 shekels to each one. Each servant received the same amount. All ten started on an equal footing. What do these minas signify? During our Lord’s absence they represent the Gospel with all its privileges given equally to all who have been saved by grace through faith in Him. The mina represents what Jude called “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 3) This is our deposit on trust with which we are to trade until Christ returns. We are to witness to this faith in a world that grows ever more hostile to the claims of our King. What are we doing with our “mina”? Are we using fully all the privileges of the Gospel? Are we faithful in studying His Word? In coming to Him in prayer? In partaking of His holy supper? In worshipping Him with our material gifts? In sharing with others, the greatest story ever told? What are we doing with our “minas”?


And then Jesus speaks of His subjects who hate Him, who don’t want Him to be their King. As He told His parable, He exposed the animosity of the Jewish rulers, and their determination to kill Him. But there’s a much wider application. For everyone who willingly rejects His claims and His offer of forgiveness, and refuses to accept His sovereignty, is His enemy! And when He returns, they will be punished! How did He put it in His parable? “Those enemies of mine who did not want me to be King over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me.” (19:27) Just think of how many there are, all around us, who won’t have Jesus Christ to reign over them!


It's a pleasant transition to go from rebels to good and faithful servants! When the nobleman returned home as King, “He sent for the servants to whom He had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.” (19:15)


“The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’” Notice that he did not say, “I have earned ten more,” but “your mina has earned ten more.” The Gospel of God’s grace, which the mina represents, has the power to increase within itself. God’s power works in and through us as we are faithful in His Word, in prayer, in Holy Communion, in our stewardship, and in our witnessing of the Gospel.


The servant, of course, had fulfilled his responsibility and traded with the mina. Buying up every opportunity, we could say, he increased his deposit tenfold and was put in charge of ten cities. Full faithfulness brought fuller responsibility. The second servant hadn’t done quite so well with his mina – he had a return of five. But he still had done well and was put in charge of five cities. The increased responsibilities were proportionate to the faithfulness of the servants.


Do you stop to think that we are supposed to be preparing ourselves for greater responsibilities in the Kingdom? And do you remember that God offers rewards for the faithful service of believers? Maybe you haven’t thought of that much. But Paul writes to the Corinthians that no one can lay any foundation other than Jesus Christ, but we are to build on that foundation, and the quality of our work will determine what we will receive as a reward. I don’t know what kind of rewards God will give; maybe they’re responsibilities.


Then there was the third servant. He couldn’t report any gain. He hid his mina. Asked why he hadn’t traded with it, he confessed to an entirely wrong conception of his Lord. He condemned himself with his own mouth, and his mina was taken away from him. Having failed to increase what his master had given him; he lost his opportunity to serve. He was guilty of what’s known as the “sin of omission.” As James tells us in his epistle: “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do, and doesn’t do it, sins!” This is where good people often make a big mistake, because there is a sin in not doing! Churches are full of people guilty of this sin of not doing. They don’t seem to have any desire to serve their Savior. They have His “mina” to trade with, but they just keep it hidden.


Everyone who has received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior has been given a “mina” to invest. We have the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ with all of its privileges and responsibilities. We have God’s Word to study so that we might know His will and walk in His ways. We have the privilege of coming to Him in prayer as our Father. We have the opportunity to receive the assurance of His salvation in His supper. We have the privilege of supporting the work of His Kingdom with our material possessions. And we have the opportunity to share the Good News with others.


What are we doing with our “minas”? Are we hiding them? Or are we investing them? May we be found faithful when our Master returns or when we return to Him, so that He will say to each one of us, “Well done, my good servant!”


“And we believe thy Word,

Though dim our faith may be:

Whatever for thine we do, O Lord,

We do it unto thee.”

(The Lutheran Hymnal #441)


Amen.

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