Tuesday, September 22, 2009

the investment

This weekend I used Jesus’ parable of the ten minas in Luke 19. There were a couple of different directions I could have gone, but I wanted to focus on the demand God has for productivity, and that’s a piece that often gets short-changed in high-grace settings. I used the business term ROI—Return On Investment. It makes sense when you think about it, but most of us bristle at the idea of some sort of “spiritual performance review” having to do with our kingdom-effectiveness, perhaps because some of us have had to endure performance reviews in our jobs that were painfully done or less developmentally focused and more punitive.

It was a difficult message to give only because I’m forced as well (perhaps more so) to take a hard look at my own life. I have to lean heavy into the grace of God on this one because it’s easy for me to slip into a “performance-based” relationship. One of the most troubling scriptures for me has been Jesus’ words, “To whom much is given, much is required.” It’s not that I think I have some abundance of gifts and talents, but it’s more about context: I live in a wealthy country, I’m a white male in a privileged majority (if you don’t think racism still exists, you’re amazing), a great marriage, I have more Bibles than I need, access to the world through the internet, never a thought about clean water or available food, and the pastor of a good-sized church. That’s a lot that’s been given to me. The requirement-part of that proverb feels, well, intimidating at times. I need boatloads of grace.

That still doesn’t excuse me from what God wants to see produced from my life. And that message regularly sobers me up in this consumer-drunk culture.

But the other part of this parable that would have required a lot more time to unpack was the judgmental message. I actually left off the last line of the parable from the video (so beautifully drawn by one of our young adult volunteers, the incredible Tahnee Torres). The final verse, voiced ominously by Max McLean, has the master of the land saying tersely to his servants, “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: 27 ESV).


The judgment of the servants who didn’t want the master to be king was hard and almost seemed to be an afterthought beyond the “productivity” lesson. Obviously productivity and submission are connected in this story. And what’s more, the king wanted them killed in his presence. The tone is more than dark. Whatever metaphor Jesus is painting here because of the apparent refusal of the subjects to submit to this new king, one thing is sure: God isn’t messing around. The setup for this parable in verse eleven is that the people who were following Jesus were expecting the kingdom of God to be manifest as Jesus strode into Jerusalem from Jericho.

Only one problem: He knew that He would be executed in Jerusalem and that the kingdom would not be fully consummated until He returns. That was not how His Jewish followers had interpreted the prophecies; the long-anticipated “day of the Lord” was a singular event ushering in a nationalistic new order.

But that was the wrong interpretation. Makes me wonder about the micro-managed “left-behind” eschatology of the typical American evangelical.

Anyway, to go beyond just a preaching of the judgmental aspect of this parable and not explore an apologetic for Divine judgment—while still zeroing in on the primary ROI aspect of the story—seemed way too overwhelming for a twenty-five minute message. It’s a matter of focus…and scope.

But I think I would have relished the challenge of talking about the judgment of God…mostly because I am acutely aware of the danger of putting words in the mouth of God; it’s a precarious proposition. It’s probably best to do what Jesus did so masterfully: simply tell the story, with all its sadness and in-your-face truth, and let the hearers wrestle with it. I was simply concerned that two big themes were too much to deal with in one sitting.

I think that’s a message for another time.

Hmmm. And perhaps my friend Joe can give it.


  1. Hey i want to throw in my 10 pence (sorry cents)worth on this one.

    So many western evangelicals have put way to much thought, resources and creative thinking into the one area they have no control over or responsibility for. I'm talking about eternity; well the eternity when we kick the bucket or Christ returns.

    As part of the Vineyard Tribe, we have made the mistake of leaning way to far into the the 'not yet' instead of the 'now'. I guess it lets us off the hook.

    The tension of grace and works, though I think if grace gets us we won't go wrong.

  2. As ones of the flesh, We are all sinners in retrospect. It is by our task while here on earth so shall we be judged.

    I would think the parable means ones that are willfully going out to create returns for the Lord are the ones in His grace.

    One that goes to church and sits in the pews and worships God may find grace come judgement day but ones that go out and serve the Lord by winning souls to Christ, serving in task with in the church, tending to the needy, feeding the poor and homeless, Healing the sick, and edifying God and the church may get a better reward on judgement day.

    But what do I know? I am only a student of the bible.

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