I’ve never considered myself a great investor. That’s why I worry when I imagine myself as a servant to be entrusted with my king’s money like the ones described in Luke 19 and not knowing what to do with it! What if I tried investing it and I lost it all? I would be even worse than the guy that just kept it safe. Who wants to face an angry king? What does that say about my role in God’s Kingdom? Have I done everything I could with what God has given me? Have I done anything of value for the Kingdom of God? Most of all, I worry that Jesus will look at me and call me a “wicked servant” for not having done enough.
As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.
He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’
But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’
Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’
And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.'” And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
[Luke 19:11-28 ESV]
Jesus is walking towards Jerusalem. There’s a crowd around him. There’s a simmering anticipation of what his next move will be. Everyone is whispering about God’s Kingdom on Earth with Jesus as the king.
The crowd was not going to see God’s Kingdom on Earth in the next few days – but Jesus is still returning to Earth to govern as king. And that is the single most important fact for every person on planet earth – He’s coming back. For real. It’s not an allegory. His return will be the mother of all regime changes. And according to the parable he told next, when that time comes, people will hate it.
Jesus’ parable is about a king who had to leave his country temporarily and left his servants, with some provisions to invest while he was away.
When the king returns, the servants give an account of what they did during his absence. As Jesus tells the story, the first two servants seem to do okay, but the third servant – not so much.
The third servant tells the king he was afraid of him and that he doesn’t have anything to show for what the king left him with.
The reason the king had to go to a foreign country was so that he could be crowned king of the land he’d left, and later return to govern it. Listeners would have been familiar with this common method of coronation. King Herod went to Rome to be crowned the King of Israel. Rome subcontracted the governance of the state to a ruler they considered legitimate, able to govern, and loyal to the state that was crowning him.
As he was leaving, the king gives his servants some money that they can use to invest during his absence. What his servants earned would have directly affected the resources the king would need to establish governance in the area.
Was this simply a task? Was it a side project for them to do after their day’s work? Or was it also provision? In the King James version of the text, he tells them “Occupy till I come.” This was the king’s kingdom. He’s asking them to live as though they are citizens of his kingdom while he’s away.
There was opposition to the king’s claim to the throne and a delegation was sent to voice that opposition. He was still made king despite the protests from the citizens. They were now unwilling citizens.
Now he has a kingdom to govern and the first order of business is to review his servants and get them operating in some capacity to help him manage his kingdom. He can’t choose managers from the hostile populace – regardless of their qualifications.
When the first servant comes forward, he says he invested the money he was given and received more in return. From the king’s perspective, whatever this first servant’s credentials are, he fits the most important one: he’s loyal to the king. So the king asks him to govern ten cities.
The servant is rewarded in direct proportion to his profit with the king’s investment.
The second servant earns less, but the king seems fine with it. There’s no interrogation from the king comparing him to the first servant. The order is important here. Had the first servant produced five times as much and the second ten times as much, we might imagine that the king was happier with the second servant. The fact that the second produced less but is not scolded is an indication that the king’s primary concern was not the amount of money that was generated.
While the first two servants simply gave an account of the status of their investments, the third servant has a speech to give the king. He says, “Here is your money.” He acknowledges that the money he had in his possession belonged to the king. Then he denigrates the king’s character. He says the hardness of the king scares him. “You take what isn’t yours and you harvest crops you didn’t plant,” he says.
Make no mistake here – the servant is calling the king a thief.
Our first clue that something is wrong with the servant’s statement can be found by holding these claims up to Jesus himself. Does he take what isn’t his? Does he harvest anything that he hasn’t planted?
The servant may have been able to make that claim if the king had left and told his servants to take their own money and invest it and then took it all when he returned. But they were using the king’s money – that was the first thing the servant acknowledged. In this case, the king is harvesting a crop that he did plant.
What is the third servant talking about if not the money that he didn’t earn? What can he mean when he says that the king takes what isn’t his?
The accusation that the king is a thief came from the king’s enemies. They rejected the king’s claim to the kingdom altogether, so to them, he was taking what wasn’t his. With his statement, the servant agrees with them. He is saying the king had no right to rule over the nation – that the king has taken it when it didn’t belong to him. He was possibly deceived by the king’s enemies about the king’s character.
The third servant refused to invest the king’s money as a way of undermining the king’s rule of the kingdom. Not only did it undercut the financial resources the king had to work with, it also misrepresented the king’s character to the subjects of the kingdom.
The king responds to the third servant:
I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?
Luke 19:22 ESV
It sounds like the king is agreeing with the servant about how harsh and unfair he is by nature. But the king says he’s going to pass judgement on the servant by using the servant’s own words. When the king says: “You knew that I was a severe man,” he’s entering the servant’s stated point of view to examine the servant’s behaviour. The judgment is happening because of the words – not the money.
The king suspects that the servant’s logic doesn’t add up. If the servant had been afraid and knew the king would demand more money on his return, the servant would have at least put his money in the bank.
But he didn’t. The servant made sure that none of it entered the economy.
Turnabout is fair play – when the king calls out his servant’s views, he is calling the servant a liar. He correctly suspects that the servant didn’t invest his money for reasons other than fear of the king.
During the king’s absence, the other two servants were buying and selling things in the name of the king – investing in the people that were a part of the kingdom. All this activity helps the king on his return, not just monetarily, but in his support among his subjects and by helping them to conduct commerce as well. By keeping his money out of circulation, the third servant not only handicaps the king’s resources, but dampens support with the population he’s governing.
Moreover, the servant has voiced a political opinion siding with the king’s enemies. He did not want that group of people to look down on him for making the king richer. The implication is that the servant didn’t invest the money on behalf of the king because he didn’t expect the king to return victorious. He was against the king’s rule. He’d examined the landscape, decided that the king’s enemies would prevail, and he was going to side with the winners.
When the king returned as king, having his money was a problem, especially since the servant didn’t obey him. His speech was a poor attempt at justifying his inactivity and reversing the blame.
He misrepresented the king’s grace and generosity during his absence. The third servant lived as though the king had given him nothing.
The Greek word used for “wicked” in this verse is “ponēros” (pon-ay-ros’). When we think of the word “wicked,” we imagine villains of all shapes and sizes. The term here is defined as “hurtful or evil in effect or influence.” It’s different from other words that indicate an evil character or degeneracy from original virtue.
Another example of the use of that word is found in Matthew 5:11.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil (ponēros) against you falsely, for my sake.
You can hear the “hurtful” in that verse. This is another clue that the king’s issue is with the words spoken by the servant and not his abilities with money.
The servant is judged, but he remains a servant. He is no worse off than when the king departed – and no better off either. There are no added responsibilities. He’s exposed himself as a disloyal servant and that is the material point. He can no longer be trusted with the governance of the kingdom.
The king removes the investment from the servant and gives it to the other servant who will produce something with it.
At this point in the story, we discover that the king didn’t collect the money at all. There were no bags of money left at his feet. He let his servants continue to manage the money and gave them cities to manage in proportion to the wealth they’d earned. That’s what the money was for. He says: “Give it to the servant who earned ten times as much.” The king’s entourage question him by saying: “Sir, he already has ten times as much!” The servant was still in possession of the money.
When we realized that the first two servants were not stripped of the money they’d earned and the third servant observed this, his actions become more revealing. The first thing he does is attempt to return the money to the king. “Sir, here is your money,” he says. The third servant was disassociating himself from the king. Following the pattern, he didn’t want the king to commission him to manage one city for him.
The king spent months or years away from his kingdom with an entourage of people who were undermining everything he was trying to do. When he returns home in his own throne room among loyal friends and servants, he finds that those enemies even managed to convince one of his own servants that he was a thief. The king wasn’t angry over the money, he was angry over the loss of his servant’s heart and loyalty.
The harsher judgment comes to those who sought to overthrow the king altogether. In a future sense, there is also opposition to Jesus’ claim to planet Earth and he’s returning to govern a hostile territory. Through the parable, Jesus is saying there are people in this world who do not want to be ruled by him. Psalm 2 prophetically hints at this.
The kings of this earth have all joined together to turn against the LORD and his chosen one. They say, “Let’s cut the ropes and set ourselves free!” In heaven the LORD laughs as he sits on his throne, making fun of the nations.
Psalm 2:2-4 ESV
This is a prophecy about the leaders of the world rejecting God’s anointed leader – who we understand is Jesus. They conspire to get rid of him.
The king in the parable says: “Now bring me the enemies who didn’t want me to be their king. Kill them while I watch!” Again, this sounds harsh to us. But as Jesus is telling this parable, he is on his way to Jerusalem where his enemies will kill him while they watch. In that light, this is simply justice.
Another parable has its listeners pronouncing this punishment as just. It describes a king who owned a field, worked it himself, and then hired workers to look after it while he was away. He sent servants to collect the fruits of his field, but the workers murdered each servant that was sent to them. Finally, the king sent his son, assuming the workers would reverence him.
But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.
Jesus asked the listeners what the king should do to those workers. They replied:
He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
This is exactly what happens in the Luke 19 parable.
Our perception of this parable depends on how we interpret the metaphor of the money. If this king left behind provisions for his servants to invest, what did Jesus leave behind for us?
There is a phrase that Jesus uses that provides a clue:
For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This isn’t the only time we see this axiom used within Jesus’ parables. 
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
We’ve traditionally been taught that Jesus spoke in parables so that people could understand what He was trying to say. But here, Jesus says that He uses parables to hide information from people. In fact, after one run-in with the Pharisees, Jesus only spoke publicly in parables. When he was alone with his disciples, he would explain what the parable meant.
But why would he want to hide information? It seems to be the opposite of what we imagine his mission to be here on Earth. But these parables teach us that there is a cost to having information. We are responsible for any information God reveals to us. There is a danger of building up a response deficit by stockpiling information – and acting on none of it. Actions transform us – not knowledge.
When Jesus uses this phrase, he’s talking about revealed knowledge. It’s always associated to how people have responded by applying the truth to their lives.
And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
If the parable of the three servants is telling us to apply God’s revealed truth to our lives, there are only two kinds of people in the kingdom. There are those who apply the truth with a varying amount of return, and those who do not apply the truth either out of fear, or because they’ve believed a lie. There is never any loss in the application of truth. We may feel like the results of our attempts are utter failures, but they are not a lost investment. No servant who attempts an investment for the king loses anything.
“What did the President know, and when did he know it?” Howard Baker asked that memorable question about US President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. The question implies that Nixon’s action or inaction can only be judged fairly after determining when he knew what was happening.
God will ask us the same question when we are judged. When he sees a pile of unapplied truth in our lives, the question: “What did you know, and for how long did you know it?” will be accompanied by mercy that we were no longer responsible for the truth once it was removed from us. It is sad for us that it needed to be removed, but our guilt is lessened by it.
We don’t look at knowledge that way. We imagine that once we know something, we know it forever. But we forget.
We have the same choice that these servants had. Are we looking forward to Jesus’ return and rule on Earth? Or do we see the Earth as our possession that Jesus is taking unlawfully? Or maybe we assume he’s not coming back at all? We decide our role now, not when he shows up, or we reveal ourselves as opportunists who change allegiance when the political winds blow in a different direction.
History has plenty of examples of this. Vidkun Quisling of Norway turned on his own people as the Nazis approached the Norwegian beaches. Presuming the Nazis would succeed in their advances in Europe, or perhaps because he agreed with their political doctrines, he shirked his duties to his country for his own personal gain.
France’s Marshal Philippe Pétain had a similar resume. Both men’s names became synonymous with betrayal the Allied forces of World War II liberated Europe.
We are like the French Resistance. We live in occupied enemy territory. But our liberator is coming. We live as though he is already King.
When we hear this parable, we should worry less about how much we’re accomplishing and concern ourselves more with not being tricked into believing lies about Jesus’ character. Then we will be free to apply the truth he’s revealed to us with joy! When he returns, we should greet him with two words.
 Luke 19:11-28
 Occupy = (Greek) pragmateuomia. Pragmatic: of or pertaining to a practical point of view or practical considerations. of or pertaining to the affairs of state or community.
 Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries: G4190 ponēros
 Matthew 21:33-41
 Other references: Matthew 25:29; Mark 4:24-25; Luke 8:18, Luke 9:26, Luke 19:24-26; John 15:2-5