Summary: Is this text about how a Christian should manage money?
Don’t Just Wait for the King!
I have heard this passage as well as a similar one in Matthew and Mark preached on these money programs on the radio, as though it was concerned with investments. This is part of a comprehensive program on money management which involves paying off debt and tithing, as though financial freedom is the same as spiritual freedom. But is this the best use of these texts?
Others see this passage as one which grants different levels of reward based upon the “success” of our Christian work. This “success” is often measured by the usual statistics of success such as how many have joined the cause or how much money was given or even how big the church is. But is our standards of success the same as God’s?
Let us examine what this text in Luke is truly saying.
Exposition of the Text
There are several things we have to examine in order to understand what this text is saying. The first of these is that Jesus is on the last leg of His final trip to Jerusalem from which He would make the exodus described in Luke 9 on the Mount of Transfiguration. This exodus refers to the death which He was about to suffer and the resurrection on the third day. So in a sense, Jesus is going into Egypt and captivity, not Jerusalem. This link becomes clear in the Book of Revelation where Jerusalem is called both “Sodom” and “Egypt”, “where our Lord was crucified”. In Egypt, He would suffer death, but on the third day He would arise from the dead. On the 40th day, He would ascend back to heaven, there to prepare a place for us in the Promised Land.
Jesus had come into the house of a notorious sinner man named Zacchaeus who had come to faith in Jesus. He was now a son of Abraham. The events in this passage either take place while at Zacchaeus’ house or just after He resumed his journey on the Jericho Road. This was a narrow twisty journey of about 12 miles along a cliff face on one side with caves that bandits often hid and a sheer drop into a canyon on the other. The reason the pilgrims were on this road was because they did not want to defile themselves by taking a much shorter journey through Samaria. In other words, they would rather cross over the Jordan into Gentile country and then re-cross at Jericho and take this dangerous road. This, indeed is irony. What is even more ironic is this is where the Parable of the Good Samaritan takes place, which Luke records. The Priest and Levite were so concerned about ritual defilement that they passed by on the other side of the road, pretending not to see the badly injured man. When one considers that the road was narrow and the Priest and Levite had to pass by on the cliff side while looking up shows the incredible means they took not to help this man.
Another key to the interpretation of this passage is that there seems to be two parables intertwined with each other. This means that the interpretation of one is the key to the interpretation of the other. The parable that provides the key to understanding the other starts in verse 11. The occasion for this saying is that the pilgrims going up with Jesus to Jerusalem had high expectations for Jesus. This can be seen in the Palm Sunday enthusiasm which greeted Jesus. The waving of the palms was significant in that they were the symbol of independence from Greek tyranny during the revolt led by the Maccabees some two hundred years earlier which brought a short period of Jewish independence. The palm branch appeared on their coins. So there were many who thought Jesus was a political Messiah who was going up immediately to receive His kingdom.
Jesus tried to dispel this notion by telling a parable. He begins by saying that a man went into a far country to receive a kingdom for himself. Those who knew of recent Jewish history knew that the Roman Emperor was the only one who could make someone King of the Jews, such as Caesar Augustus had done for Herod the Great who went to Rome to receive his kingdom and return. When he died, his son Archelaus went to Rome to receive the kingdom. The Jewish leaders did not like him and sent a delegation to Rome to plead to the Emperor not to have him made king. A compromise was reached in which he was called ethnarch rather than king. However, Archelaus was unable to maintain the peace and was deposed and replaced by a Roman procurator, the latest of which was Pontius Pilate, whom Jesus was about to meet, not to be granted kingship but to be crucified.