The Parable of the Pounds

The Parable of the Pounds

Thoughts on the Parable of the Pounds – Please read Luke 19: 11-27.

THE CONTEXT. Jesus taught this parable because the disciples assumed the New Kingdom was to appear very soon. They are just coming from Jericho, where Jesus announced to Zaccheus that salvation had come to his house. Surely, the disciples thought on the way to Jerusalem, now would be the best time for the Day of the Lord. They will be celebrating Passover soon. This is the perfect time for the Lord’s Messiah to usher in the new era, the new world of God’s reign, the “pious utopia,” as Thielicke put it. The disciples’ apocalyptic fervor was building to a crescendo, and Jesus knew he had to address it. So he told them a story about servants going to work for an absent master who is returning “after a while.” Jesus wants to prepare them for a delay in their messianic utopian dreams. It could be, he is telling them, that something else needs to happen first, that the New Kingdom may not be just around the corner.

JESUS. He tells them a story about a person of noble birth, a master, a lord with servants. It’s pretty clear right from the beginning that Jesus is talking about himself, and that the servants in the story are the disciples themselves. Their ears would have been wide open right from the start of the story. They were put on alert and no doubt thinking… We better focus; we better listen to this story carefully.

THE MASTER. a. In the story, the nobleman was leaving to go and be crowned king in another country. Then he would return at some point. In the meantime, he left his commands to his servants. Take this pound I am giving to each of you, he says, it’s worth about 100 day’s wages. Put this money to work, the master tells them. This pound is a free gift, because I am a generous lord. But I want you to use it in my absence. Invest it, make use of it, do with it what you think is right and good. You will show your faithfulness to me by how and if you use my money.

b. This pound is currency from the master, a coin of his realm, something used in his kingdom. This pound from the Lord is faith, hope and love. This pound is the Word and Sacraments. This pound is opportunities to show which realm you’re a part of. The pound is the gift that the Nobleman has given you to trade in this world: your time, money, talents. The pound is God’s truth, goodness and beauty that he wants invested in this world, what he wants put into circulation, what he wants put into the economy for Kingdom profit in this world.

c. The lord in the story wants his pound to be put to good use in a hostile environment. There is clear opposition to the lord in the story, people in this world who don’t want him to be a king. So his servants need to invest and use the pound in a world that will oppose the lord’s servants. It will be a strong sign of faithfulness if a servant nonetheless learns how to operate in this climate, learns how to spread the wealth of the kingdom, learns how to use the coin of the lord’s realm in an effective way.

THE SERVANTS. a. They accepted the gift of the pound and the command that came along with it, and they didn’t expect a reward for being faithful and profitable.

b. All servants received the same amount. All of them are seen as equally valued in the eyes of the master. All of them accepted the operating capital, the currency, they would use in this world during the nobleman’s absence. They all knew that they were to put the pound to good use until the master returned, which may be a while.

THE MASTER. a. There was accountability upon the lord’s return. What did each servant do with the coin of his realm in his absence? The master took careful note on this “judgment day.” To those who were faithful, he gave more responsibility. To the unfaithful, the lord took what little he did have and gave it to another servant.

b. “His pound is given to the man with ten, and there are cries of, “It isn’t fair.” Jesus then affirms that the one who responds with faithfulness to gifts received will receive greater gifts. But the one who proves unfaithful will lose the very gift with which he began. The life of discipleship provides many examples of such truths.”  (Kenneth Bailey).

c. The foolish servant misunderstood the lord to be mean, harsh, hard and a thief. His insults delivered to the lord didn’t help matters. His fear, his view of the lord as a hard taskmaster, effected what he did with his pound. He was paralyzed by his fear, and didn’t invest any of his master’s capital. The master indeed took what little he did have, but he didn’t punish the untrusting, unfaithful servant by firing him or beating him. He remained a servant of the lord. What is our view of God? Whatever it might be, it no doubt impacts how we serve him. Be careful not to view our gracious Lord as a hard taskmaster.

d. “Are you willing to openly declare yourselves my servants in a world that will actively oppose me? Will you take the risk? How will you conduct yourselves in my absence? The master challenges his servants to live boldly and publically as his servants, using his resources, unafraid of his enemies, confident in the future.” (Bailey).

THE MASTER. That troublesome last sentence might even confirm, unfortunately, the image of God that the unfaithful servant has. He seems harsh indeed. But, interestingly, the parable is left open-ended. The lord stated clearly what the enemies deserved, but the story never tells us if the sentence was carried out. The order was given, but then that’s the end of the story. The punishment is uncertain, the story unfinished. The demanding but kind-hearted lord perhaps rescinded these orders, I would like to think.

FINAL THOUGHT. We are all waiting for the Master’s return. In the story he leaves (ascension) and then he returns (2nd Coming). The time of our responsibility is between those two times. He will hold us accountable for what He has given us through the Holy Spirit in His absence. What have we done with the coin of His realm? Have we put the gospel values and virtues into circulation, spreading His Kingdom in that way? Have we invested His life and power into the spiritual economy of the world? Are we faithful, even when living in a hostile, or at least a skeptical environment? May we all be rewarded with these words of Jesus when the Day comes, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


  1. It’s clear that the foolish servant didn’t understand the heart of his master. He was afraid to risk the lord’s gift, and so he played it safe. He was fearful because he misunderstood his master. Are there particular times when we tend to misunderstand the heart of our Lord in this way? Describe those situations when we think of God as being a hard taskmaster.
  2. Let’s say you are working for a very mean boss, a cruel profiteer, a hard taskmaster indeed. And this boss gives you money to invest for him. How would you feel about that task?
  3. Let’s say you have a very kind-hearted boss who has already given you a bonus, a raise in pay, and has established that he is the best, most generous boss one could hope for. How would you feel about your responsibility to invest his money?
  4. Our willingness to invest God’s gifts in this world seems to depend a lot on our view of God. Since He is the Lord of the universe, the ultimate boss… What kind of boss is He? What is His character?
  5. Have you been hesitant to invest God’s life and character, your gifts and abilities, in the spiritual economy of a hostile world? Why?
  6. The master seems to give added responsibility to the proven faithful, putting servants in charge, giving them more to do for the kingdom. Have you found that to be true?
  7. The foolish servant implied that his lord was impossible to please. What do you think of George MacDonald’s statement that the Lord is easy to please, but hard to satisfy? Would you work for that kind of boss?

Resources: Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes; Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah; Helmut Thielecke, The Waiting Father; Herbert Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible; Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus.