Sunday, 2 June 2013


"As for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them,
bring them here and slaughter them in front of me".  Luke 19:27.

I watched a short you tube video recently, in which a Muslim teacher raised this particular verse with Christians as evidence that Jesus preached the islamic message (presumably, a message of submission to God through Islam or, alternatively, facing annihilation), and that this verse verified his argument. The Christians, sadly, denied the verse was there until it was looked up, and then didn't really know what to say, so the Muslim appeared vindicated, but what was really happening, on both sides of the discussion, was eisegesis, not exegesis. What's really being stated here is meant to make us stop in our tracks, but is imperative to understand why, and that means looking at this statement in context.

The statement comes at the end of a parable, which is clearly about two distinct groups of people and their relationship to the rightful heir to a kingdom. The first group are those who are servants of this nobleman. As He departs to legally claim His inheritance, he gives them a task - to keep His estates lucrative until He returns (Luke 19:13). There is also a second group identified in the story - the citizens of the realm where He will become King. We are not told why, but these people really do not want this Lord as their King (possibly because of the responsibility - the value and the weight of serving Him - that this will entail), and they demonstrate this by sending a delegation to make their view clear.
Well, the noble's claims are verified, and sure enough, He returns as King of the realm.
One of His first concerns is to see how well His servants have done with the tenure of what He entrusted to them whilst He was away. Most of them have done well, but there is one (verse 20), who clearly didn't see such an entrusting as a privilege, but, perhaps because he shared the thinking of the masses, did nothing with the sum he'd been asked to risk.
In Matthew's version of the story, the servant here is deemed entirely worthless (Matthew 25: 30), not only because he did nothing of value (vs 27), but because, as both versions show (Luke 19:21, Matthew 25:24), He only viewed his Lord as someone who judges and punishes, not as someone who delights to bring joy and reward.
It's interesting how often people want to place Jesus Himself into a similar mould here - we're fine with a 'jesus' who is about love and peace and non-interference in what we're about, but the moment we're faced with His requirements to trust only in Him, we define those as harsh and callous, and totally refuse to listen to what He has to say. "God", in other words (whatever we make 'it' to be), is just fine as long as He's at arms length (or preferably, even further away, in a distant land), not close enough to be making demands on us.

The fact remains, however, that the one who has given us so much (life is staggering when you begin to unpack what it is and how we can engage with it), expects us to value and use it well - to really discern the goodness of the one who not only furnished us with such splendor, but wants us to truly understand and employ these gifts, because we come to understand Him. The gifts themselves, then, merely become means of something much richer and enduring - they allow us to nurture a growing relationship with the giver of life. Life is all about gaining that wisdom - realizing that when it comes to the moment of reckoning, we can say we've done something meaningful and of value with what has been bestowed upon us, however large or small that gift may have been, because the King Himself was paramount in what transpired. The King really isn't worried how much or little is made - what counts is that we jump in and do something and are truly enriched in the process, because it makes more aware of what He truly wants for us.

So, that's the story for the servants. These are people, for the most part, who recognize the rightful claim of the nobleman to be King, and are rewarded on His return, but there are clearly others who do not. That brings us back to the other group mentioned in the start of the story - those who would have nothing to do with their true King. Their rebellion and rejection is clear from the word go, but notice the same mistake as that of the unproductive servant -  they don't know their own king.
This nobleman's rights are verified and vindicated, so we are not dealing with a usurper here - this Lord is claiming what is rightfully His. The rejection of and rebellion against this Lord, then, is entirely wrong. It is, in essence, taking everything from someone, miss-using what you have taken, and then refusing in any way to acknowledge the wrong in what you have done.
These wayward citizens of the realm reject their King because they know it means the end to their self determination of what counts to them, but, even more importantly, it's a refusal to take up their responsibilities - the mantle of their true identities, and to participate in what truly counts... their relationship to the King and to each other. Really being citizens carries that role.

The judgement at the end of the story - 'kill off' (literally, removed from life) - is uncompromising because the rejection of these people of who and what they really are (citizens of a kingdom) is equally as total. They want nothing to do with this King, His Kingdom, or any part of that. That sums up our natural state - we reject the one who has made us, and we rebel against any of His claims upon us by placing something, anything, in His place. Judgement is essentially about God giving us over to the consequences of our choice - hell is quite literally the absence of all that gives value and meaning to our being human (made in His image and likeness). If we don't participate, but reject what's really going on in this 'realm' of ours, then we are most certainly building our own cell.

One final question, then, remains - who is the 'King' in this tale? Who is the one who has come amongst us, been rejected by all but the few 'servants' who know Him, and is coming back to reign over all men?  When we look at the words of Jesus Himself (regarding the final judgement in Matthew 25:31-46, and His entry into and weeping over Jerusalem before cleansing the temple in Luke 19:28-48), it quickly becomes clear who the 'King' over us is - not an estranged or distant god, vengeful and capricious in judgement, but one fully aquatinted with us, who's actual purpose is to bring life. It is only when we reject this astonishing truth - truth personified in the humbled, suffering King of Kings; a truth which shows us who we are meant to be as citizens of value and worth - that darkness leaves us impoverished and exiled from all that counts.

The King comes! The one 'investment' that truly counts, here and now, is we live life in the awareness of the unchangeable reality, or face the consequences of our stubborn rejection.

There, then,  is the only ultimate meaning. It is to live in waiting for, preparing for, that  approaching return. Everything else, says Jesus, amounts to nothing but our end. That end is terrifying - no meaning, no significance, no true being - cut off from all that really counts. The alternative couldn't be more stark - life filled with relevance, now and forever.

In a world which is all about living for the moment, such a choice, of course, sounds too deep, too radical, too good to be true, but the King Himself is the one telling us that it is.

Isn't it time to stop playing with what Jesus says, and to really think about Him and what He's saying? This story is shouting the answer at us.

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