Jesus' Disciples had an argument associated with which of them had earned the highest places of honor in the Kingdom to come. From there, Jesus and His crew went to Jericho as they continued toward Jerusalem. As they left Jericho, Jesus healed a blind man through his faith (Mark 10:46-52). Or was it a healing of two blind men, where it was not their faith, but rather Jesus' touch which healed their eyes (Matthew 20:29-34)? Or was it the healing of a single blind man which happened when Jesus initially approached Jericho (as opposed to when He left Jericho), and just relies on the blind man's faith (Luke 18:35-43)? Whatever the case, we will follow Luke in this study, for the subsequent event which happens in Jericho.
Our study begins with Luke 19:1-10, where a short, wealthy, chief tax collector named Zacchaeus climbed a tree just to see Jesus when He was in Jericho. Jesus, either through omniscience or standard human-type knowledge, identified Zacchaeus in the tree, and told him to come down because Jesus "must" stay at his house; possibly indicating that this was part of God's Plan.
In Luke 19:7, we find:
All the people saw this and began to mutter, "[Jesus] has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'" NIVThis verse is interesting because normally this kind of judgmental statement is found coming from Pharisees or Teachers of the Law, figures already assumed to be righteous (or perhaps self-righteous), but in this case it is coming from the common people. If Luke is accurately capturing the perspective of the culture here, it may mean that a "sinner" was considered to be someone who is in regular involvement with sinful practices as opposed to someone who just makes occasional moral mistakes based on the assumption that the tax collector was cheating people in his business.
As the story continues, we see Zacchaeus' fruitful repentance of his sinful past with a pledge to share half his wealth with the poor and generously compensate those who he has cheated. It is difficult to know the intent behind the giving of half his wealth to the poor, but it may be that this shows that Zacchaeus had accumulated this wealth without being generous to the poor, which is against God's Law, such as in Deuteronomy 15:7-11.
In response, Jesus says that Zacchaeus is saved and calls him a "son of Abraham;" meaning that he now has the kind of respect for God that should be expected of someone of Abraham's lineage, and that he is then subject to the same promise God made for Abraham's lineage. (Of course, God never promised Abraham eternal life, but that is another story...) Jesus goes on to say that this Saving of the lost was exactly what the "Son of Man" had come to do.
But the story does not end there. Being Saved is not just a free ride. It comes with responsibility, and in Luke 19:11-27 Jesus continued with a parable to illustrate that point, among other things:
Because people thought that the Kingdom of God would come immediately when Jesus went to Jerusalem, He said this parable: A noble man went to a distant country to be appointed as king, but people who were to be his subjects hated him, and so they sent a delegation to stop his appointment, but that effort failed. Before the noble man had gone away, he gave ten servants each a sum of money (a mina) and instructed them to put the money to work in his absence. Upon his return as king, he checked on how his servants had done with the money. One servant had returned ten times its original value, and so the king rewarded him by giving him ten cities to rule. Another had returned five times its value, and so was rewarded with five cities. One servant had just hidden the money away instead of investing it, because he was afraid of the king because the king reaps what he did not sow. The king was angry with him for not investing the money, and promptly had his money taken from him and given to the servant who had earned ten times the original money. The king explained that those who have will be given more, while those who do not have will have even what little they possess taken from them. Then, the king commanded that people who had not wanted him to be their king be brought in front of him and killed. (My paraphrase)The first of several points to note with this parable is that, as seen in an earlier study, Luke is delaying the expectation of the Kingdom of God, both by prefacing the parable to thwart the belief of an immediate Kingdom associated with the Messiah and with the mention that this would-be king was going to a distant country, thereby implying some considerable time passing before his return. Yet Luke still likely believed, or at least promoted the belief, that the Kingdom of God would be established soon, possibly within his lifetime. An indication of this belief is that both the servants and the subjects who had rejected the king were still alive upon his return.
Next, let us take a look at the king, his servants, and the money. Obviously, the king in this parable is meant to represent Jesus. Before the king's journey, he already had servants. These were not "new hires," but people already following him. So they represent all of the followers of Jesus at the time. Jesus was not ever portrayed as giving out money to His followers. Knowledge, yes, but not money. So the money in this parable must represent something other than money. Yet the return on these investments was just more money, implying an in-kind production. Each servant started with the same money. The servants were rewarded in proportion to their investment success. The one who did not invest the money had it taken from him. It is a little vague, but it does not appear that this lazy servant was slain for his lack of effort. Piecing this information together, it seems likely that each original sum of money represents the "entry level" reward you are entitled to when you are Saved, and so the success of the investors in gaining five or ten more coins likely represents how many more souls have been Saved by them, and their associated additional entitlement in God's Kingdom. Yet if you do not put for effort to try to convert more believers, your "entry level" reward will be taken from you. Whether or not this mean losing your Salvation altogether is not clear.
Speaking of punishment, what about those subjects who hated the would-be king? Who are they? Modern Christian eyes may be tempted to expand this to anyone who rejects Jesus, but the words of the parable suggest otherwise. These unruly subjects sent a delegation to the distant country to prevent the kingship of the noble man. That means that they knew and were in contact with the one who has the ultimate authority. In this case, that would be God, the Father. That cuts the Gentiles out, because only the Jews had a relationship with the one true God, even if it was a bit of a strained relationship at the time per the Christian accounts. So, while other verses have a stronger tone for the purpose, this passage could also be used by those with an antisemitic slant; rebuking the Jews for rejecting their King.
In this one parable, Luke intertwined the timing of the Kingdom, the responsibility of believers to recruit more believers, and the condemnation of unbelieving Jews. That is quite the package! How much of this package was man-made fabrication? That is difficult to answer, but there is some hint that this is a crafted tale as opposed to being the accurate record of a memory. What hint? Well, I will leave it to you to take a look at Matthew 25:14-28 where you will find the Parable of the Talents; a parable with a lot less baggage but a core so similar that suggests both Luke's parable here and Matthew's parable there came from one common origination point, but morphed over time in the verbal retelling of the story.