Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentary

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A mina was a Greek silver coin in circulation from the period of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. It was also in use during the Jesus Christ's earthly ministry. Often the parable of the minas becomes confused with the parable of the talents, about which we still need to speak. And, indeed, much is in common between them.

Both parables show a lord, on departing, giving a specific sum of money to his servants, for them to invest in commercial enterprises and increase. Both parables show some of the servants to be faithful and to increase the silver, while others prove to be lazy and get no return on their money. Both parables show the diligent men getting a reward, while the lazy are punished. The excuses of the lazy and the lord's reaction are almost identical, as well as the lord's reactions. Both parables show the silver taken from the lazy and given to the zealous.

But there is also a substantial difference between these parables. Thus, in the parable of the minas, the lord gave out this silver coin out to all in equal measure, but in the parable of the talents, each received according to his strength. In one parable the diligent servant increased the silver given to him by tenfold, while in the other he only doubled it. In the parable of the minas, the lazy servant hid his money in a kerchief, while in the parable of the talents, he buried it in the earth. And there are other differences as well that imply different spiritual values.

The parable of the minas shows the cause of spiritual strength. The parable of the talents shows the effects of spiritual strength, after the lord has distributed talents to his servants, according to ability and strength of each. Here is the parable of the talents.

"A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return." Christ used royal birth in the parable because his audience remembered how Archelaeus, the son of King Herod the Great, had - in parallel action-gone to Rome to request his succession to the throne of Judea. An opposing Jewish delegation had followed him to Rome, asking for denial of his succession.

By "nobleman," Christ has Himself in mind. He went to a far country; He prepared Himself to die for men and to stand before His own Father as a mediator for all. The far country is heaven. He received the Kingdom after His exploit [podvig] on the Cross. On returning to earth after His resurrection, Christ said to His disciples: "All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18). When He ascended to heaven, then He sat at the right hand, that is, at the right side of God the Father. His return is understood to be His Second Coming, when he will carry out the judgment of all men.

"And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten minas, and said unto them, Do business untilI come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying: we will not have this man to reign over us." The servants are men who have come to believe in Christ and to serve Him. At first, these men were all Jews, but later men of other nations came to believe and joined the original servants. The citizens are men who reject Christ as their king. The deledation that they send after Christ is the hatred and blasphemy of His enemies.

To each servant, the lord gave one mina to use in trade. The mina is a token of basic Christian truth that starts a believer to develop in the Kingdom of God. A mina is much like the mustard seed that a man sowed in his field (Matthew 13:31). The mina is also like that leaven that the woman put into three measures of meal, to leaven the whole (Matthew 13:33). When a man understands true Christian concepts such as serving God to attain eternity, he understands a mina's worth that can grow into a great treasure. And God gives this mina to man.

The servants knew to take the minas and to multiply their value in accord with God's will in his commandments. If we live according to the Gospel, vanquish our human will, and fulfill God's will, then our inner strength will grow in successive victories over our fallen nature and the prince of this world, who is hostile to God. As our strength increases, the Lord distributes more of His gifts of grace and talents.

Whoever does not distinguish himself by great faithfulness does not receive great gifts.

"And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy mina hath gained ten minas. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. And the second came, saying, Lord, thy mina hath gained five minas. And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. "

The return of the lord in royal dignity signifies the Second Coming of Christ. All the righteous who died before the Second Coming could get their reward when they stood before the Lord, giving an account of their deeds at the preliminary, particular judgment. The righteous will get their final full reward after the Dread Judgment. Their rewards vary according to merit. Whoever revealed greater zeal in pleasing God gains a greater reward. Only the Lord and they themselves know what the ten and the five cities signify. We only know that, according to Christ's word, "in my Father's house are many mansions" (John 14:2).

The saints and the righteous receive many rewards in this world too. Gifts of grace and talents are entrusted to them in prayer.

"And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy mina, which I have kept laid up in a cloth: for I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up what thou layest not down, and reapest what thou didst not sow." The third servant has also received a mina. He understands that the aim of human life is service to God and salvation of one's soul. And he has not forgotten this truth but has preserved it, "laid up in a cloth." The Greek text of the Gospel uses the word "soudarion," which means a head scarf, worn now as during antiquity. Although this servant knew he was to multiply his wealth, his evil will and sloth overcame him. His self-justification is strange: "Thou takest up what thou layedst not down, and reapest what thou didst not sow."

In other words, "Thou requirest perfection of me, but Thou Thyself hast not given me the strength to acquire this perfection." Someone may commit a crime without ever thinking of self-discipline. Then he may accuse God of cruelty and injustice: "Thou required purity of me, but Thou Thyself hast not given me the strength to struggle with my passion. I prayed to Thee a few times, but Thou didst not help me." Alcoholics, addicts, and all sinners, give themselves up to their sin and make this excuse. But the scales of God's justice cannot measure such a weightless answer.

"And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou newest that I was an austere man, taking up what I laid not down, and reaping what I did not sow: wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with interest?" In the Greek Gospel, the word for bank is the word for table, as used by moneychangers. They not only changed money, but took in money on deposit, at interest, and lent it out to others at greater interest. Thus, the Savior's words: "wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank mean: "Why didst thou not lend out my money at interest, for an increase." This increase of spiritual wealth works invisibly in our souls while we are actively being Christian.

To make our spiritual wealth grow, we need whatever good works the Bible commands us. Doing good erodes the will to passion and sin, and plants virtues in our soul. Good works gives us the skill and strength to abide in God's will. As we become more faithful servants of God, the Lord grants us His spiritual gifts as well. We must use them for ourselves and everyone else.

Even a weak man can develop goodness. If he cannot resist a bad habit, he can still fulfill some of God's other commandments. He can help the needy, he can forgive offenses, he can console the sorrowful, visit and look after the sick, abstain from harmful amusements, he can fast and pray. Such works develop the spiritual powers of the soul and attract the Lord's help. When the soul becomes stronger, the man can more easily cast off such bad habits as drunkenness, condemnation, or whatever. One must take action decisively and show courage. The lazy servant in the parable of the minas should have tried these methods. But he did not try, and this fault he was condemned.

"And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the mina, and give it to him that hath ten minas." The wicked servant's general carelessness caused God to withdraw any further divine help. And that divine power that helped him before is given to whoever serves the Lord more faithfully and bears greater spiritual fruits. Those in the parable who stand by, who are ordered to take the mina from the lazy servant and give it to others are God's angels, whose agency God calls on to bestow His gifts.

"And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten minas). For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him what hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him." The bystanders thought it unjust to give the extra silver to him who was rich without it. But here is no injustice. The spiritually rich servant can use the extra mina with his own for his benefit and for the benefit of many. The servant who lost his mina is to blame. If he had wanted to, he could likewise have increased his silver like the other did. Blessed Theophilact, the Archbishop of Bulgaria, comments: "O foolish man! The eminent Apostles Peter and Paul also received such a mina as thou didst. And thy mina can make thee a Peter or Paul. Labor according to thy strength and offer something to Him Who gave to thee." In the beginning, the greatest saints were men such as we. But they labored against their sinful inclinations, they fulfilled God's commandments, and became lamps to the universe. The way is open to every one who desires it. God wants everyone to reach salvation, and He is prepared to help us all.

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