The Parable of the Ten Gold Coins

“The Parable of the Ten Gold Coins”
A reflection on Luke 19:11-28
Wednesday of the Thirty-Third Week in Ordinary Time
©️2022 by Gloria M. Chang

Caritas is Latin for charity.

While people were listening to Jesus speak, he proceeded to tell a parable because he was near Jerusalem and they thought that the kingdom of God would appear there immediately. So he said, “A nobleman went off to a distant country to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return. He called ten of his servants and gave them ten gold coins and told them, ‘Engage in trade with these until I return.’ His fellow citizens, however, despised him and sent a delegation after him to announce, ‘We do not want this man to be our king.’ But when he returned after obtaining the kingship, he had the servants called, to whom he had given the money, to learn what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, ‘Sir, your gold coin has earned ten additional ones.’ He replied, ‘Well done, good servant! You have been faithful in this very small matter; take charge of ten cities.’ Then the second came and reported, ‘Your gold coin, sir, has earned five more.’ And to this servant too he said, ‘You, take charge of five cities.’ Then the other servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your gold coin; I kept it stored away in a handkerchief, for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding person; you take up what you did not lay down and you harvest what you did not plant.’ He said to him, ‘With your own words I shall condemn you, you wicked servant. You knew I was a demanding person, taking up what I did not lay down and harvesting what I did not plant; why did you not put my money in a bank? Then on my return I would have collected it with interest.’ And to those standing by he said, ‘Take the gold coin from him and give it to the servant who has ten.’ But they said to him, ‘Sir, he has ten gold coins.’ ‘I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me.’” 

After he had said this, he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.

Luke 19:11-28 (Lectionary)

Historical Background

In the Parable of the Ten Gold Coins, a nobleman journeys to a far country to obtain his kingship. The plot was familiar to first-century Jews: Archelaus traveled to Rome in 4 B.C. to claim the kingship of his late father, Herod the Great. Fifty delegates (Jews and Samaritans) followed after him to oppose the request (see NABRE footnote to Luke 19:10-27).

Journey to the New Jerusalem

In telling this parable on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus corrects the popular misconception of an earthly Messianic kingdom. In traditional interpretations, the nobleman (Son of God) is on his way to a far country (the new Jerusalem) to obtain his kingship from his Father and will return. During his absence, the nobleman entrusts each of his ten servants with one gold coin (a mina, which is worth one hundred drachmas or four months’ wages). By faithful diligence, the servants are expected to invest the coin (gifts of faith, hope, and love) and multiply its value. 

The Three Servants

As in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), three servants report to the new king upon his return. Unlike the Matthean version, in which unequal talents are distributed, the servants in Luke begin with equal amounts. The first two servants increased the king’s coin tenfold and fivefold, respectively, receiving in return authority over ten and five cities. But the third servant returns the king’s coin wrapped in a handkerchief (soudarion), which is also a head cloth for the dead. The coin entrusted to him remained lifeless and sterile, buried in the ground (Matthew 25:18). 

Faithless Fear

Insolent excuses betray the servant’s contempt for his master. “For I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man: you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow” (Luke 19:21, MOUNCE). Other translations render “lay” (tithémi) as “deposit,” evoking banking terminology: “You take what you did not deposit.” Finding similar proverbial sayings in Plato and Josephus, some commentators interpret the verse as an accusation that the nobleman is an exploiter and a thief.1

At heart, the servant distrusts the king and refuses to serve. Later Latin theology coined the phrase “non serviam” (“I will not serve”) as the essence of pride. The alibi of “fear” is not the reverent “fear of the Lord” (Exodus 20:20), but a fear that doubts the good character of God.

A hollow heart lies at the core of this “fear.” Instead of revering the king as bountiful and magnanimous, the servant calls him austéros (“grim,” “severe,” “strict,” “exacting,” “harsh,” “rigid”). The serpent in the Garden of Eden slanders God in similar terms by painting him as a hoarder of knowledge: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5, RSV). As a result of the serpent’s character assassination, a distrustful Eve and her husband seize for themselves the forbidden fruit.

The King Transfers the Gold Coin

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? Why then did you not put my money into the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?’

Luke 19:22-23 (RSV)

Regardless of the perceived character of the king, the servant shirks his responsibilities. Even if the king seems “severe,” duty is duty. In the Garden of Eden, too, sheer obedience would have saved the first couple from falling, doubts notwithstanding.

The master rebukes the faithless servant as “wicked.” In Matthew 25:26, he is also “slothful.” A precious gold coin is mummified in a burial cloth, never to realize its life-giving potential. But, like a “tree planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:3), servants who are fruitful will be ever more fruitful. Thus, the king transfers the unspent coin to the most faithful servant.

And to those standing by he said, ‘Take the gold coin from him and give it to the servant who has ten.’ But they said to him, ‘Sir, he has ten gold coins.’ ‘I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me.’”

Luke 19:24-28

Enemies of the king kick his coin of mercy to experience the other side—justice. Contempt of God is ultimately self-destructive for it uproots us from the source of life.

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 16:25

The king’s coin grows tenfold plus
When we trade with caritas.

Related posts:

The Parable of the Talents
The Path to True Life


References:

1Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV): Introduction, Translation, and Notes (New York: Doubleday, 1985), 1237.

Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1997), 679-80.

Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991), 291.

2 Replies to “The Parable of the Ten Gold Coins”

  1. This parable always confounded me in the past. I related to the guy who buried the coin, but for me it was definitely out of fear. If I believed I would be punished (or humiliated) if I lost the coin, I too, would never take the risk. It never occurred to me that the servant was actually being critical of his master, which now makes the king’s response of calling him “wicked” understandable. The servant is then not only being insolent, but he is admitting that he didn’t even try to do what he knows is expected of him. Looking at it from that angle, he has wasted his chance through sloth and cowardice.

    The parable has many layers, as does most of scripture and almost all of what Jesus says. When we begin to plug in other terms for the coins, the king, and the servant we come up with different meanings. The coins become the gifts God gives us which he expects us to use in service to our fellow man. Only then can they multiply, like the seeds planted in good soil, yielding ten, twenty, and a hundred-fold. The king went to claim a kingdom, just as the Lord came to claim the kingdom of God that is “within us.” Being the “hound of heaven,” He will not stop coming for us. Will we, the servants, reject Him, deny His kingship over our hearts, hide in fear from what He wants from us? Will we bury our gifts in forever fallow ground? The choice is always ours, but then we must reap what we sow (or don’t sow!)…nothing. It will be taken from us, it will fail to bear fruit.

    What does it mean that the king slew those who rejected his kingship? That is the part I struggle with. Is it Jesus using hyperbole, speaking to the people in contexts they could relate to? We, who are unused to how monarchs behaved 2000 years ago, are horrified by the king’s behavior. First century citizens would probably understand it very differently as they would be accustomed to kings, slaves, servants and the violence which was commonplace at that time. Maybe that’s how they handled those who broke trust with a king. Treason is a capital crime, even today.

    In any case, I do believe that it’s essential to cooperate with grace, using even the tiniest portion to further His kingdom within us, even if it’s just with a smile to a stranger.

    1. There are indeed many “angles” from which to view parables, and all interpretations are limited. Some approach them more literally and historically, and others more allegorically, etc. Exegetical rigor (linguistic analysis, historical context, etc. from scholarly contributions) with a view to gaining practical spiritual insight would be beneficial.

      From the Expositor’s Bible Commentary: “The nobleman’s anger is not intended to attribute such behavior to Jesus himself; rather, it pictures the kind of response one might have expected in Jesus’ day, especially from the Herodians. It also reveals the seriousness of flouting the orders of the King whom God has appointed as judge (Jn 5:22; Ac 17:31; cf. 1 Pe 1:17).

      Luke Timothy Johnson writes: “The dominant political framework of this parable is reasserted at the end. The slaughter of enemies is shocking but no more so than the dismemberment of a slave (cf. 12:46). Indeed, the realpolitik of the ancient world has precedents for just such harsh measures (Josh 10:16-26; 1 Sam 15:32).”

      Even the Church Fathers were puzzled by parables that feature objectionable traits, such as the Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13) and the Parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8). They and we persevere to find the hidden pearls of wisdom because we believe in the inspiration and truth of Sacred Scripture (Catechism of the Catholic Church 105-107).

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