Even what they have will be taken

As our city is preparing for the fast approaching Republican National Convention things around here are really buzzing. I have never seen so much public works happening around the city as it seems like every part of the city is getting a face lift, or at least a bit of lipstick. As the 'clean up' ensues it seems that there is a bit of a man made state of emergency for our neighbors that are living on the streets. The city has never been very hospitable to our most vulnerable homeless and is now becoming quite unwelcoming as they attempt to erase the presence of poverty from our city before the world starts looking. Ministries that I work with and know are having a harder and harder time finding people as they take food out to share. Those who live on the streets are feeling the pressure more and more as the day approaches. I was on a phone call earlier today with a friend, that works in a local political office, talking about the convention. I said to him that "it seems like our poorest neighbors are the ones who are paying the highest price for us to host this convention and I don't think anybody ever asked them" His response hit me hard as he quoted Jesus, not as a justification or anything other than describing the situation, from Mark 4 where he said "whoever has will be given more, whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them." This quotation hit me really hard because it seemed to exactly explain the situation of injustice and inequality that we were discussing. I immediately started wondering how Jesus used this phrase and in what context and soon remembered that it was one of those things that Jesus said that has never sat right with me. It honestly just seems wrong to me.

This isn't just something that one of the gospels has Jesus saying but it is a line that is repeated 5 times throughout the synoptic gospels. It appears twice in Matthew, twice in Luke and also in the Mark verse cited above.

Luke 8 and Mark 4 both place this line in the context of Jesus talking about lamps being lit to give light. In both places this follows the parable of the sower and is spoken in reference to hearing and understanding. Luke writes "Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not even what he thinks that he has will be taken away." Marks version puts it this way "Carefully consider what you hear, with the measure you use it will be measured to you - and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what the have will be taken from them."

Mathew used the lamp image in the Sermon on the mount in chapter 5 and so omits it in chapter 13 where we find the verses with the parable of the sower. After telling the sower parable the disciples ask Jesus why he is speaking in parables:
11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

In each of these cases we see 'those who have' are those that understand, perceive, hear the words and heart of Jesus. They receive the Kingdom and therefore they receive much more.

If this is how we understand this passage then I might say that those in our city that are poor do understand what is happening here and they see the reality of injustice more clearly that most. They have understanding and they will understand more and more each day as they are being arrested, hated, hidden and run off. Those in power, who hold wealth and host conventions seem to be those of whom the Isaiah passage might refer to in saying "this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears and they have closed their eyes."

Of course both Matthew and Luke have a second context in which we find this line that Paul Tillich said illuminated the "riddle of inequality." Matthew 25 and Luke 19 tell similar stories about stewards being given money to invest while their master is away. In Matthew 25, just before the image of the sheep and the goats we find Jesus saying that the kingdom is like a man who is going on a journey and gave three servants differant amounts to invest while he was gone.(5,2,1) The man with 5 invested it and had ten to give back to the master, the man with 2 also doubled the money and returned 4. The man with one buried it and gave it back saying "i was afraid" to lose it. The master condemns him as lazy and says...
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
This parable seems to convey something about the responsibility we have for what we have been entrusted with. The faithful man is rewarded and the fearful man is punished.

Now in Luke 19 there is an almost identical parable that is told by Jesus but for a very different reason.  The story is damn near identical except it is because 'he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once." here is the parable as it occurs in Luke:
“A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’
14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’
15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’
17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’
18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’
19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’
20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’
22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’
25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’
26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”
And my head just exploded. The same story Jesus tells in Matthew 25 as a parable of the Kingdom is told in Luke as a story about a terrible, hated, foreign king who lines up and slaughters those who stand against him. I honestly have no idea what to make of that. Please comment with your thoughts.

This is however the one place where I think my friend from the local political office was absolutely correct. There are those of 'noble birth (read rich) who are coming to our town and crowning themselves as King. There are those who are also coming as delegations to say 'We don't want this man to be our King' (Read protesters) The protesters and the poor are being rounded up and carted off while "everyone who has will be given more, but for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away."

Oh and to make matters worse, just after Jesus says this in Luke he sends His disciples ahead into Jerusalem to get a donkey for Him to ride into town as King!! As I was reflecting on this Luke 19 version of this story I began thinking about how people in first century Palestine might have heard this story. There is a rich and powerful foreign king who makes himself king in foreign lands, and I wonder how they wouldn't hear Caesar.  That emperor who would make himself king in foreign lands and kill those who opposed the standard. And then we see Jesus, the rightful King and one who has nothing riding into Jerusalem to be killed (lose what he does have, his life) on a roman cross. Perhaps this is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.


  1. Yay my first comment! AndI really shouldn't comment without reading this more in depth but...

    first thing that came to mind reading the stories Christ tells is a common denominator: everyone was given SOMETHING. Moreover, everyone started out on the same playing field, with the same opportunity and resources.

    As those who believe in the Word, even in a modern context it is so critical to apply it carefully and of course, accurately. At first glance, I do not see how this scripture applies to clearing out of the city streets, homeless populations.

    In fact, if I have learned anything about the nature of God through my walk as a Christian, it is truly recognizing God's generous character. There is to be made, provision for three specific demographics: women/widows, children/orphans, and the poor (Exodus 22:21-22). As those who are set apart, we are expected to mimic that provisional nature of God. Whenever someone is without, He has always given something to them; whether it's a second chance (the Ninevites w/ Jonah), a warning (the angels that were sent to Sodom and Gommorrah), or more time (Noah's Ark) or of course, sending His son to us, God never gives us an excuse to be without an opportunity to overcome. It is truly up to us seize that moment; we will all stand in judgement, after all.

    Also, as I read the scriptures, both Old and New Testament, I always keep in mind that the society God designed for His people can only work when the citizens recognize His statutes and His laws; the separateness of the Israelite people was embedded in the realization that they were to be consecrated and holy people. In an increasingly godless society that we live in now, we cannot expect folks to adhere to the laws and statutes that protect sanctified people. So things end up not working as they should, and scripture is taken out of context and misapplied to current situations we see unfold.

    Ultimately we have to offer up prayer and repentance, no matter what income bracket we find ourselves, and God has promised to heal our land when we do. 2nd Chronicles 7:14

    This is a helpful link on giving: http://library.generousgiving.org/articles/display.asp?id=301

  2. Adjoa,
    Thank you for posting. That really is a pretty great link on biblical economic justice.
    You wrote "In an increasingly godless society that we live in now, we cannot expect folks to adhere to the laws and statutes that protect sanctified people." I must say that I think the prophetic tradition demonstrates the necessity to stand with the oppressed in such societies. We may not be able to 'expect' it but we must never stop demanding it.


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