1 Samuel 9:1-3, 15-18+Psalm 22:23-31+(1 Corinthians 4:8-13)+Luke 19:11-27
This parable that Jesus just told might sound familiar. It’s commonly known as the parable of the talents, a talent being a measure of money. But that’s Matthew’s version, not Luke’s. In fact, the one we read today is from Luke, and it never appears in the lectionary. And if you are wondering why, you just have to look at that last bit about slaughtering enemies. Not exactly Christ-like, is it?
In Matthew, Jesus tells the story of a man going on a journey who entrusts his property to three of his slaves, and what those slaves do with that money is the point of the parable. Those who invested it are considered faithful and the one who buried it is not. The story is about us, about what we do with what we have while we await God’s coming reign.
But in Luke, we have a nobleman – a highborn person – going away to get royal authority for himself, and he called ten of his slaves, not three, and gives them all the same amount. When he comes back, having won his power, he rewards those who earned on his money and rebukes the one who wrapped it up in a piece of cloth because he was afraid. And those unidentified ones who did not want him to gain power? They were slaughtered in his presence.
Usually, we read parables as having a God or Jesus figure in them. In the Matthew version, the man going on a journey fits that assumption.
But not this nobleman. There are those who interpret this person going to seize power as a reference to Herod Archelaus, one of the sons of Herod the Great. When Herod the Great died, her had two sons, the one known as Archelaus and the one called Herod Antipas. Herod Archelaus did not want to share power with his brother so went off to see Caesar about having it all to himself. While this power struggle was going on, pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem for Passover demanded punishment for some of Herod’s henchmen who had put to death two respected teachers and some 40 young people who had destroyed a golden eagle placed over the entrance to the temple. You can’t have idols adorning the entrance of the temple! As the unrest escalated, Archelaus had as many as 3,000 put to death and cancelled Passover.
The similarities to Luke’s parable are striking, right up to the slaughter of the ones who opposed the nobleman.
We are, once again, talking about kings behaving badly. Jesus was headed for Jerusalem, and his followers hoped, perhaps, that he was going to wrest power from the Romans and kill his enemies. But that was not Jesus’ way. That was not what a true king does. No, as we learned last week in reading Psalm 72, a king is one who takes care of the most vulnerable among us.
In the continuing saga of Samuel, you can already see that King Saul is a setup. Saul was a fine young man, tall and handsome, which is great and all but does not necessarily mean he has what it takes to be king. Last week, we heard the people cry out for a king and, even though the prophet Samuel tried to warn them against it, they insisted. And so Samuel set out to find a king, and God points him toward Saul.
Saul was not a great king. We’ll hear that story unfold in the coming weeks, but I want to note now that when God sends Samuel to find a new king when it is clear that Saul is not up to it, the text is very specific about the appearance of the sons of Jesse, handsome and strong. God tells Samuel not to pay attention to any of that but to look into their heart. And when he meets David, Jesse’s youngest, God tells him that he is the one to succeed Saul.
So, when I say Saul is being set up, it’s because all this talk of how fine he was is pointless. And God did not want the people to have a king anyway! Kings cannot be satisfied with what they have and continually seek more power, more wealth, and more property. And this is why the parable Jesus tells rings true if you understand it as Jesus making a contrast being his kingship and that of the kind of king most people would be familiar with.
If his story is modeled on the Archelaus story, then going off to claim power and ordering the slaughter of innocents is very much in keeping with historical reality.
And we know that the poor and outcast of Palestine were desperate for deliverance from Rome. Of course, many, if not most, of them hoped and prayed that Jesus would take care of business, be a Rambo Jesus, kicking out Rome and her puppets and setting up a society where no one was in hunger or want.
But this Jesus was not Rambo Jesus. He was not heading to Jerusalem to fight. He was headed to Jerusalem to show the way to true authority and power, a power grounded in love so deep and broad and high that Rome killed him for it.
I often think that we want a Rambo Jesus, one who will take care of those people (you know, the ones we disagree with), and take care of us. We want to be on the inside, with Jesus. But there is no inside and outside with Jesus. We are all one, and we are invited to follow a way of love that can lead us places we may never have wanted to go. I doubt Jesus really wanted to endure what happened in Jerusalem, but it was the way of love, the way that exposed the lengths to which humankind will go to maintain its power and authority, to protect what it has rather than opening doors so that everyone can live in peace and contentment.
Jimi Hendrix said that when the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace. The highborn person in the parable sought power. Jesus was about the power of love, and though peace is still far off, the power of love is still the only way.