He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Trade with these till I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent an embassy after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by trading. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten pounds more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound, which I kept laid away in a napkin; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you out of your own mouth, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money into the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the pound from him, and give it to him who has the ten pounds.’ 25 (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) 26 ‘I tell you, that to every one who has will more be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me.’” (Revised Standard Version)
See also: Matthew 25:14-30
The following reflections are based on the Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Heesnag:
Background of the Parable
Although similar to the ‘Parable of the Talents’ found in the Gospel of Matthew, Luke strategically places his version prior to Jesus entering Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. The Jewish leaders made it clear they did not want Jesus as their King. Jesus did not fit their idea of the Messiah, resulting in his crucifixion. Again, this parable poignantly sets up Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the endpoint of his earthly ministry, as the rightful, yet unwanted King.
But this story is not just about the relationship between God and Israel or God’s return to Zion. The Kingdom of God is a person, Jesus Christ, God in human flesh and blood, and he is returning to inhabit the Temple. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes to the Church, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
As the Church, God’s Temple in the world, are we worthy to stand before him, are we carrying out his work, are we profiting for the Kingdom? Or are we campaigning for another king in the Church, in our own lives? The Church, as a whole and each of us individually, has been blessed with God’s goodness, his kingship, benevolence, and direction. How will we respond?
Invest in the Kingdom
In what do we invest, and how much do we invest in those things? We, of course, invest money with the hope that it will grow, whether in the stock market, real estate, or precious metals. We invest in our education and careers, laboring every day, sometimes nights and weekends, in order to make a sufficient income. We invest a lot of effort into our diets, being very particular as to what we allow into our bodies, sometimes counting every calorie. In our free time, we invest in the latest shows on Netflix, our kids’ sports, and our own social agendas and relationships. None of these things are inherently bad or unworthy of our time and resources, but there is an investment that Jesus continually talks about throughout the Gospels, and it is much more profound than financial advice.
How much do we invest in the Kingdom of God, and what would that even look like?
The mystery of the Kingdom
Luke gives us an idea as to why Jesus told this parable. There were those who believed the Kingdom of God would appear immediately. But the Kingdom of God does not appear all at once. It is mysteriously already present, but also not yet. When Jesus ascended, he blessed the Church with “pounds,” equipping and filling us with the Holy Spirit to carry on his work in the world.
In the meantime, while the Church awaits the return of the Lord, fear and violence continues, hospitals are filled, loneliness pervades, acts of genocide are wrought upon various ethnicities. Also in the meantime, as stewards of God’s goodness and blessings, we as the Church are expected to profit for the already present, coming Kingdom.
Equipped at Baptism
At Baptism, we freely receive the “pounds” (or “minas”) referred to in this parable: i.e. God’s gift of salvation, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, adoption as his children, membership into his Church, his love, goodness, and divine life. Peruse the Badarak book and take note of the many, many gifts and blessings (pounds) we are given by God.
Those who are baptized make up the Church, and the Holy Spirit, God himself, dwells in the Church, in each one of us! That means we have what it takes to love like God loves, to forgive just as he forgives, to experience the resurrection in our suffering. We are endowed, through the Holy Spirit, to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). And so Jesus is asking, what will we do with what we have been given? Will we get in the way of what the Holy Spirit compels us to do?
Invest and reinvest
Jesus requires a faith that is concrete, not abstract mental assent. From Scripture we are taught faith without works is dead (James 2:17). We must work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12). We are saved for good works (Ephesians 2:10) so that we can bear more fruit (John 15:2). Remember, we are baptized for something, we have received his gifts to be shared.
And when the Lord gives, he expects a response, one of gratitude, but gratitude that is lived out. A response of prayer, worship, and thanksgiving, and not one that just stays within the walls of the Church, but one that goes out and invests love into a world that is desperate to experience it. He expects us to respond with the same love he first showed us.
He entrusts us with divine blessings and expects, commands us to actively reinvest them. (Note well, this is not about performing works in order to gain the Holy Spirit or earn salvation. That is not the teaching of the Armenian Church or historical Christianity. Salvation is a gift, and a lifetime of thanksgiving, of reinvesting what he has already blessed us with. Faith is not earned, but it takes effort to live out.)
Eternal vs. Temporal
Again, in what are we investing? And this is a matter of priority. How much are we investing in spiritual, or eternal things, rather than earthly things?
Do we begin and end each day with prayer? Is repentance a habit or just an occasion on Sunday mornings? Do we choose to complain rather than give thanks in every situation? Do we choose to hold a grudge rather than forgive? Do we criticize instead of encourage? Do we gossip rather than stay silent? Do we fast as a community? When we come to Badarak, would we describe ourselves as participants or spectators? Do we extend ourselves to beggars as our friends, or do we avert our eyes, focus on our own comfort, and ask God to send them help as we pass by? Do we invest in loving and healing humanity?
“Mankind was my business”
In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the ghost of Jacob Marley visits his business partner in life, Ebenezer Scrooge, the ultimate hoarder of pounds, on Christmas Eve. Marley responds to Scrooge’s compliment of how good of a businessman or investor Jacob was in life:
‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’ ‘At this time of the rolling year,’ the spectre said ‘I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!’
The Sin of Doing Nothing
We do not become Christ-like through a momentary decision, or even through Baptism alone. We need to allow the life of God to work in us and through us. Faith is an active fulfillment of our baptismal vows. The parable of the ten pounds is not only about what we do, but what we don’t do.
Losing what we have
The servant in this parable took his gift and laid it away in a napkin. As a result, everything he had was given to someone else. If we love, then we gain the riches of God. If we do not love, then what we have will be lost. To do nothing is to do wrong. In fact, idleness is a rejection of God and his Kingdom. God expects a response. He requires faith to be lived out and shared, and when we share what God has given us, it produces dividends.
Referring to the eternal wealth God desires for us, third-century Church Father and theologian, Origen writes:
We therefore appear at least to engage in business for the Lord, but the profits of the business go to us. We appear to offer sacrifice to the Lord, but the things we offer are given back to us. God does not need anything, but he wants us to be rich.
And so what we offer to God we receive back multiplied. That’s the nature of the God we serve. It’s the essence of Badarak! We offer our feeble gifts, our lives, bread and wine representing the basic necessities of life, and he gives himself back, his own Body and Blood. He shares his divine life with us, so that we can be nourished to do his work in the world – preach, teach, and heal.
What stops us?
So what keeps us from carrying out the work of the Lord and his Kingdom? Fear, laziness, apathy? Does our parish give the opportunity to go into the world and bring the Good News to people who need to hear it, Armenian or otherwise, or do we keep busy inside the comfortable walls of the Church with events and banquets which may not be the best use of our gifts (pounds)?
Do we really desire a holy life, but turn away from it because of the responsibility or expectations? Or do we possess an aversion to accountability? In other words, do we want to be kings of our own kingdom? Are we the enemy that Jesus refers to in the parable who do not want the nobleman to reign as their king? And before we think this must be applied to someone else, remember that pride, the desire for autonomy, to rule our own lives and depend on our own merit, is the very tension of our faith. None of us are immune to pushing Jesus away as ruler in our lives or parish community.
St. Gregory of Narek in his twenty-third prayer writes,
Like the useless servant I buried the honorable gifts received. The fruits of my labor are covered with the darkness of sloth, and fade like the afterglow of a candle when it is taken away.
What will we hear from God?
Our goal as individuals and as a parish community should be to hear the words from our Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” None of us will hear this applause from God if we don’t act, if we don’t love as he loved, and learn what it even means to do so.
In what ways do we play it safe and hold ourselves back from profiting for God’s Kingdom? Are we like the servant in the parable, hiding our faith in a napkin, playing it safe and keeping it to ourselves? What needs to change, or what opportunities can we offer in our parish, in our own lives, to earn the commendation, “Good and faithful servant?”
The Church as a bank
The nobleman told the servant to invest with a bank. How can our parish serve as a bank, helping others to live their faith wisely so God can collect interest and we can earn dividends for the Kingdom? The last thing we should want is the regret of a life squandered on our own petty interests while we have been blessed with what it takes to carry on the very work of Jesus Christ.
By not sharing or investing what we have been given by God, we are essentially doing nothing. And to quote John Gries’ character Uncle Rico in the 2004 comedy movie, Napoleon Dynamite: “Might as well do somethin’ while you’re doin’ nothin’!”