Take His Word, No Please Take It
One of comedian Rodney Dangerfield's stock jokes was: "Take my wife; no please take her." The first line makes you think he wants you to take her as an example; the punch line is that he wants you to take her off his hands. The point of the parable is that God wants you to take His Word. Not as an example, not as a coffee table book, but to really take it before He, the Word made flesh, returns for you.
Yes, the parable is about the Word and your use of it, not about money. The Parable of the Minas is no more about money than the parable of the Lost Sheep is about shepherding or the Ten Maidens is about staying awake at wedding receptions.
Jesus tells the parable because "people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once." Therefore, Jesus said, "No, I must go away to receive the kingdom, and when I come the second time it will appear." This was how it was sometimes in the Roman Empire. You journeyed to Rome to get a kingdom conferred on you. In the parable, the nobleman calls ten of his slaves, in these times a nobleman would have hundreds, but in the language of parables 10 is the language of completeness. There are 10 maidens, 10 coins, 10 x 10 sheep.
What does the mina represent? It's what Jesus, the nobleman in the story, leaves all His slaves. What has Jesus left every Christian the exact same amount of? Not money, not talents, not faith, but the Word or you could say the Means of Grace, the Word in Water, in Absolution, in Communion.
Maybe it will help to know what a mina is. A mina is about 3 month's wages. In another parable, that of the talents, the Jesus figure leaves them 60 times this amount. A mina isn't much. It was a small amount for a nobleman to leave. And that's what the Word looks like in the eyes of the world and unbelief. All words look that way. "That's just talk." "Talk is cheap." "Who cares if you talk the talk, do you walk the walk?" But Jesus Words are the Words of eternal life; Jesus Words are Spirit and Life. Jesus Words cannot be broken.
The mina, small and scorned though it is, works wonders. It multiplies. The one mina makes 10 more and the 5 mina makes 5 more. I'm not talking about how in the afterlife Jesus rewards the use of His Word, a mina with a whole city when it wouldn't even have bought a shack (Bengel). I'm talking about how the Word multiplies. Hebrews 4 says the Word is living and active. The more one uses it; the more of it you have to use.
Look how the parable ends. What does a guy who has just gotten 10 cities care about getting 1 more mina? And why are the bystanders so shocked when Jesus says take the 1 mina from the faithless slave and give it to the faithful one? "Lord, he already has 10," they say. Because one little Word of God not only can fell Satan but is worth far more than cities, and when one has the Word, though he has all things, he can still be given more.
Will wonders never cease? Not when it comes to the Word. With but a Word Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, and did even more: with just a Word He forgave sins. So, take His Word, no please take It. Why? Because you must do business with the Word while Jesus is away. We can't escape the force of the imperative. Jesus isn't asking He's telling.
Imperatives tell you more than just what you must do; they tell you about the speaker. From Jesus' point of view there is no reason you can't do business with His Word. Ah but it is our reason that gets in the way, isn't it? A person can say 10,000 words on how he knows what was going on 5 billion years ago to bring about what we see today and that is reasonable. But to say God spoke and created something out of nothing is silly. A person can speak in hushed tones of the Hindus plunging into the Ganges river for forgiveness of sins and that is reasonable. But to say I am forgiven from Words attached to Baptismal waters is laughable. A person can confidently say a physical object is made up of billions of things I can't see, but I feel hesitant to confess what the Word tells me. Even though you can't see it: that Bread is the Body of Christ and that Wine is the Blood of Christ.
Note, the only thing Jesus leaves His Church to do business with is His Word. Surf the internet. Check out churches. You'll find many words about how the community around them needs their works but few how it needs God's Words. You'll find Bible studies that have little to do with God's Word but everything to do with the buzz words of the world. And the celebration of the Word's Body and Blood won't be at every Sunday service. No, that would make the service too long.
Every Christian is going to be held accountable with what he did with the Word. We're going to be asked in terms of the ancient Collect for the Word: did you hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word or was news, hobbies, and novels your diet? Did you draw comfort from the Word or did you find that more in a doctor's good report or a bank account's balance? Or in terms of the ancient Collect for the Church: Did the Word have free course in your life so that you received joy and edifying from it or did the words of men do that? Did you, as we confess in our Catechism, hold not only the Word but preaching sacred and gladly hear and learn it? If not, you did what the wicked slave did.
Take His Word, no please take It. He who left us His Word takes us at our word. You see this in the text with the 2 who used the Word and the 1 who buried it. Your words about Jesus' Word is your confession. Everyone has one. Saying, "I believe the Bible," is no confession of faith. You must say what you believe the Bible says. Even saying, "I don't know what the Bible says," or "I don't care what the Bible says" is a confession of faith and all will be judged whether on the Last Day or their last day on their own words.
Confessional Lutherans are bold on this score. We conclude the book 16th century book that contains our confession of what we believe God's Word says with: in this confession "we shall appear with fearless hearts before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ" (FC, SD, XII, 40). Can you say that?
Here's the rub. We will all stand before that Judgment Seat. We will all be asked how we used the Word our Savior left to us. And there will only be two categories. There are 3 slaves but only two categories. Those who faithfully used the Word even though the results varied they were both faithful. And literally there was "the other." This is the Greek word heteros from which we get the English word heterodox. This is someone who confesses other doctrines than Scripture teaches.
He says the reason he didn't do business with the mina was that he was afraid. Jesus takes him at his word and shows he is lying. If he was afraid, he would have been afraid to show up before his Lord with nothing more than what he was left with. We know he is lying because of the Introit. "There is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared." We know he wasn't afraid because he wasn't forgiven. Only the forgiven fear God.
This is a paradox. We can go weeks, months, years, a lifetime not using the Word the Lord has left us. We can feel very confident, bold even, before God and men. It doesn't feel that wicked not to use the Word, does it? It doesn't seem damnable to live one's life according to your reason rather than God's revealed Word. It seems educated, refined, sophisticated to go by what science, technology, medicine, and politicos tell you to be true while ignoring the Word of God.
But then God confronts you for denying, distaining, or just ignoring His Word, and you see what a big deal that is. When a child ignores the word of a parent or an employee ignores the word of an employer, "There is hell to pay," we say. It's that serious. You all know this; you all feel this. How much more when sinners ignore, deny, distain God's Word? There really is hell to pay then. For ignoring the words of men, you can go to jail. For ignoring the Words of God, you go to hell.
When Peter is overcome with his sinfulness for not believing the Words of Jesus, he insists Jesus leave him because he is a sinner. But the one thing Jesus won't do is leave a confessed sinner in his sins, so immediately Jesus says, "Fear not." Yes, to those of you who haven't been using the Word, to those of you to whom the Word is just another book on the shelf, to those of you who openly have scorned the Word, the Word made Flesh says, "Fear not. I have taken those sins from you. I carried them to the cross and there suffered, was damned, and died for them. I now send them away from you." And they are gone for good for the sake of the hell Jesus paid in your place.
Here's the paradox. Having been forgiven we fear God. We can no longer treat Him apathetically, or pretend He doesn't exist. We see that the Word that can send our sins away, the Word that can give birth to a new creation in Baptism, and give us the Body and Blood of our God to eat and to drink for salvation must be powerful indeed. Too powerful to ignore; too powerful not to be feared.
But we don't live on the tenterhooks of how well am I using the Word or did I use it enough. No, we live in the confidence of the first two. They too were taken at their word. They confessed that the mina was still the Lord's. Both say, "Your mina." And both confessed that the mina not them did the earning. "Your mina earned." And then what happened? Although they used a mina that wasn't their own and that did all the earning, they were the ones rewarded beyond their wildest dreams.
Take His Word; no, please take it for your sake not His. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year (20161113); Luke 19: 11-27