May 14, 2014| 0

Banking on Grace (Luke 19:12-27)

12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant!'"

Great news for entrepreneurs! Who wouldn’t like to be given money, earn five- or ten-times on investment, receive the Lord's commendation, then be rewarded beyond their wildest dreams?

Of course, this parable isn’t just about the money. It can be read on many levels, as Jesus is teaching here about God's kingdom. In this instance, he responds to his disciples’ expectation that the kingdom of God would break out at any moment and disrupt the ruling political powers of the day [Luke 19:11]. The story of the nobleman’s departure could foreshadow Jesus’ imminent death, resurrection, and ascension. In that sense, “Engage in business until I come” might well be symbolically interpreted as an exhortation to remain faithful until the Lord returns.

Even so, the literal interpretation of the story also makes sense as a call to entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship is about risking capital, time, and energy for the sake of a better future. It has more to do with taking on a worthy project than it does with making (or losing) money. Entrepreneurs are driven by a passion to create, to do something new in a way that solves real problems. The prospect of building a company of people who share a worthy mission drives entrepreneurs to risk their time and money. Dave Packard, co-founder of HP and an icon of Silicon Valley, put it this way:

“I think many people assume, wrongly, that a company exists solely to make money. … We have to go deeper and find the real reason for our being… [P]eople get together and exist as an institution that we call a company, so that they are able to accomplish something collectively that they could not accomplish separately—they make a contribution to society, a phrase which sounds trite but is fundamental.” [1]

Jerry Sanders, another Silicon Valley giant, explains:

“It wasn’t a quest for fame and fortune that drove us in those early years of isolation and struggle. It was passion—a passion to develop, proliferate, and evangelize technology to empower people everywhere to lead more productive lives.” [2]

Of course monetary wealth rewards business success, but both Packard and Sanders reveal that money is not the primary motivation. Entrepreneurs tap into deeper passions. In the parable, the entrepreneurial spirit that invites risk-taking has a deeper source because Jesus is teaching a bigger lesson about trust.

The difference between the good servants and the wicked servant lies in whether or not they trust their master. The good servants trust him. They receive his capital with open hands and put it to work. They believe their master will take responsibility for the outcome of their labor, and they act in good faith. The wicked servant, however, believes his master to be an evil, dangerous taskmaster. In order to protect himself from failure, he calculates that avoiding risk and hiding the money is the best plan.

The parable works as a principle of business as well as a picture of following Jesus wholeheartedly. In a biblical sense, to be an entrepreneur is to live under the presumption of grace and trust the Lord with the outcome of our efforts. Knowing that God is gracious and kind frees us to act as good stewards of his gifts, investing them wisely to create useful products that meet needs and bless others.

[1] David Packard quoted by Charles Handy in The Hungry Spirit: Beyond Capitalism: A Quest for Purpose in the Modern World. New York, Broadway Books, 1998, pp. 70f.

[2] Jerry Sanders quoted by Michael S Malone in The Valley of Heart's Delight: A Silicon Valley Notebook, 1963-2001. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002.


© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

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