I love it when my work and my blogging connect in unexpected ways. It happened a few days ago when I was writing a reflection for Liturgical Press on Luke 19:11–28. In this passage, Jesus is near Jerusalem and being pestered by people who presume that the Reign of God is about to begin. They want Jesus to take up the mantle of Messiah and use that power to overthrow their Roman overlords. In response, Jesus tells them a parable. The writer of this gospel places this parable right before Jesus’ triumphal “Palm Sunday” entry into Jerusalem—where Jesus is, in essence, doing at least some of what the people so desperately desire.
But the parable itself puts a very different spin on things. It tells the story of a hated nobleman who goes away to obtain kingly power for himself—a pretty clear reference to Herod Antipas, who was trying to convince Emperor Tiberias to make him king, as his father had been before him. That nobleman leaves his slaves money, telling them to use those funds to make more money for him while he’s gone. When he returns (having obtained the kingship he sought), he rewards those who have made him money and punishes the one who didn’t. Pretty straightforward actions by a king, right?
So why was this parable remembered and shared at this place in the gospel? I think it’s a warning about the tendencies of rulers—to make it all about themselves, to reward and punish (sometimes without reason), to take all the power they can get. For many who followed Jesus, including the Zealots, this was their hope. They wanted Jesus to be a powerful ruler in the mode of other rulers. They wanted relief from oppression, and their turn at holding positions of power alongside their leader. Perhaps it was all they could imagine.
But Jesus imagined much more, and very differently, from these followers. This is why he illustrated how badly it goes for the one man who doesn’t obey. This is why he then recruited a donkey to ride, rather than a splendid horse. He was trying to get the message across that his reign is, and will be, something very different—and much more than we can possibly imagine.
Over the past two thousand years, Christians have done a lot more imagining—about what that Reign of God looks like and when and how it will arrive (which ties into my post from last week). So far, I don’t think any of us have “got it right.” We can make predictions, assumptions, and even speak for Jesus and God (which many have done), but nothing has happened—at least as far as we can tell—so no one has been proven right or wrong. Perhaps we still await a grand revelation—or perhaps it’s already happened, in Jesus, and what happens next is up to us.
Today is Epiphany, the end of the twelve days of Christmas. Epiphany means manifestation or revelation. We have come to think of epiphanies as “Aha!” moments. Perhaps today is a chance for each of us to ponder what Jesus has revealed to us, in and through his time on earth and the parables he shared. We believe God was revealed to us through the person of Jesus. How are we called to reveal Christ to others through our own selves?