Lord of the Ten Cities
Lord of the Ten Cities
Can you believe? They're interested in me now. Two days ago, they would not have noticed a slave, but now they're interested. You see, I rule their city. Not only theirs, five more. Ten cities I rule. It's not bad for a slave. You're wondering how? Let me show you. Let me see in my purse. Here it is. One mina. I know it's not so much, but it's not so small, either. One mina. You see, it is the wage for a man for 20 days in the market or in the fields. I know it's not much, but to have any silver at all for a slave is a wonderful thing. And this one is very special. How did I get it? You must know for a slave to have anything is very gracious. Slaves get nothing, and work hard day and night. We belong to our master. Even a slave such as I, working for a master as grand as minehe was a great lord in our cityhaving this much was a special thing.
I worked for this lord, this noble. Worked? I belonged to him. He bought me as a child, and I knew that he was very special. In our city he was one of many nobles, but we knew something. We believed that he was the son of the emperor of all our lands and all our cities. Of course, everyone believes that now. But there was a time when only those in his house believed, men like me. We believed when no one else did. That's important, to believe. He was not only son of the emperor, we knew that one day he would go to the emperor's great city and receive for himself a kingdom, our kingdom all of our lands and our cities. And we were his slaves. That is exciting, isn't it? It's a wonderful thing to think that your master will be like that. Of course, as I said, not many believed it. In fact, in our city even the other nobles, we called them elders, didn't believe it. They hated him. They never hated him to his face, but behind his back they were whispering and talking about him, saying these terrible things. But we knew. We knew. And when the rumors began to blow through our city like the wind, we who were his slaves were excited. It was said he was going to get that kingdom. He would receive it!
The Master entrusts us with gifts and abilities
The day came when a summons was sent to me. Not to me only; nine others came too. Nine of his more trusted slaves. Some were greater than I. There was Odeeb, the master, the steward of the house. There was Zerah, the master of arms. There was me. But we all came. And as we bowed before him on our faces, he told us, "I am going to the great city to receive from the emperor, my father, all." That was wonderful! I thought. Perhaps he will take us and we will see the great city. It's not that our city is small. It's a good city. You would like it. But it's not so big either. But no, we weren't going. Instead, he came first to Odeeb and he gave him one of thesea mina. (You couldn't carry minas, you don't have big enough purses. You must be a poor people. This is a mina. It's real silver.) He came to each and finally he came to me and he put it in my hand. That is a great deal for a slave. And then he looked at us, and he said, "You must stay. But while I am gone you take this mina that I have given you and you do business for me." Then he left. I stood there looking at my mina thinking, That's a wonderful thing. I did not have the power of Odeeb or the might of Zerah, but in this we were all equal. I reasoned in my mind, My master has given us all the same and we all have the same amount of time until he returns to do business for him. I stroked my beard and thought, I have not done much business. But he said to do it. And so I would do it.
I was so excited, I actually ran to the marketplace. But I want to tell you it was not easy. It was not easy, first, because my poor head does not have things about business in it, and I had to learn about caravans and oil and silks. But that wasn't the only thing. Remember I said those in our city hated my master. They despised him. And so when he left, they boldly came out. They sent a delegation to our palace. "We will not have this man to rule over us," they said. They're so pompous. When we went to do business for him, they were not happy. They poured out great anger on us. It was very hard.
We choose how we will use those gifts
Some would work hard for a while, taking his mina, putting it out into business, receiving a profit. And then they would stop and go back behind the walls of the palace and be safe. And there were others who did nothing at all. They took their mina and either because of fear that they would be beaten for doing business for him, or out of fear of him, (I don't know which), they took their mina back and put it aside. And then there were others like Ismore. Ismore did no business at all for the master. He did a great deal of business for himself. The master was gone. He was not there to supervise our efforts. He was not there to walk by the fields. He was gone; it was up to us. And so Ismore, instead of increasing the master's mina, increased his own.
What of me? Well, I was tempted to do all of these things. I was tempted to go behind the palace wall and sit and do what I had always done. I was tempted to go out and do business for myself. Without the master around we could do a great deal, make much. A slave can even have slaves, you know. But I did none of these things, for each time that would come into my poor head, I would hear the voice of my master saying, "Take it and do business until I come." And if he commanded it, I would do it. That was enough for me. He did not ask me to be successful, but I reasoned if I worked hard, I would be successful, at least as he counted success. It was not easy. It was very hard. Not only learning about the business, but the pressure from all of those who hated him and the anxiety of working late at night, rising early in the morning. I almost lost it all one time in a caravan near Basrah. But I didn't. I took my master's mina as he had told me and I kept busy doing business. And then the day came. I had just completed a transaction with Zachar. You know Zachar? He's the oil merchant. Oil is a good business. I had just gotten back my final tally. My one mina had become ten. I was walking across the bazaar square when suddenly I heard a voice shout, "He comes! He comes!" We all knew what that meant. There were people going in every direction. Some were running toward the great ceremonial gate to see him. It was my master coming back. There were others running in the other direction. Some storekeepers just left their stores and ran, going to see him. Others boarded up like they had not been there and ran the other way. Some did not want to see him, and they had good reason. But others like me were excited. I took my purse and I pushed my way through the crowd.
I came to the great gate and finally I could see out on the plain. And what did these poor eyes see? Something that the human mind cannot imagine. Stretched in every direction, beyond anything that the mind could conceive, was an army. Oh, not of ordinary people. These were great and mighty warriors, and with them were the lords of the empire. As they came closer we saw their might, their wealth. They were not like other men. I tell you it was something to behold. They came; the drums beat as they rode on their horses, thousands of them and all carrying the banner of the empire. And in their midst, my master. My master! I tell you, as they got closer, I was excited. My heart was beating louder than the drums welcoming him. My emotions were so deep I cried and I laughed and I pushed with others to see him. As we do in our land, we began to sing and cheer, and from the great army with him, there came back the cries of victory and praise. It was a scene like you cannot imagine. Finally, the great trumpets blew and our gate was thrown open. In he came, riding on a great white horse. I stood there looking at him and I thought, That's my master. That's my master! I told them, "That's my master!" I thought, I have served him. He once commanded me. Oh, I'm sure now he will forget me. I'm nothing but a servant. Look at him. He has received the kingdom from the emperor.
The Master will call us all to account
He didn't forget me. Before the shadows of evening came, a herald called me. "Come," he said, "to the accounting." I looked at my tin. I knew what he was talking about. He had given us all an equal amount. And the question with him, I finally began to realize, is not how much he gives you, but how you use it. It really does not matter "how much," but "how well" and "how hard" we work with it.
I went to the palace. The palace was different now. Instead of the normal servants, there were these great ones everywhere. I looked up at many of them. I announced my name at the outer gate and they let me in immediately. I was guided to a great hall, the door was shut, and I went to one of the lords of the court who stood before it and I gave him my name. Do you know what he did? He bowed to me. It shocked me. The door was opened, and my name was announced and a great roar in this huge hall went up. I walked in and then I saw my master. I was on my face, but then as I looked up at him. I saw that though he was grand beyond imagination, there was still the kindness and the goodness in his eyes. My master is a good master. He looked at me, and when I realized that it was a friendly look, a smile, I got up. I was very excited and I got out all my coins. I said, "Master, Master, see. See what I've done. The one mina you gave me look, Master, the one is now ten." I held it very high in my hands, but then I began to look around me. In the midst of all of the gold and the jewels and the might, my poor ten silver minas looked so small. He looked at me, and as he did, a great lord of the court came and took my minas and held them up, and all cheered again. He looked at me, and he said, "Good slave! Well done!" With that twinkle in his eye he said, "You have been faithful in little. Now I will make you lord over much. Rule ten cities!" These are not small cities. These are great cities! One mina had become ten, and I knew again that it was not how much he gave me, but what I had done with it; that is how he marks his slaves. All had the same, but the reward was according to what they did with it.
All that matters is what we've done with whatever he gave us
Then a hush fell, and poor Zerah came in, the master of arms. He had done nothing. Nothing. He had taken the mina, wrapped it in a head cloth, and put it up in a closet. He came and he had the stupidity or courage, I don't know which, to say, "I knew you were a hard man, Master, and so I hid it. I knew you reaped where you did not sow, you gathered where you had not scattered." The Master looked at him with kindness but also sternly. "Did you know I was a hard man? Well then, Zerah, why did you not take mine and put it on the tables of the lender, and at least I would have had silver with interest? Take what he has and give it to the one who has ten." And I received another. What of Zerah? He is a slave of the master. He is part of the kingdom but at such a low place. We all began to understand that we had had this time while he was gone to invest the mina, and when he came back, where he found us was where we would be for all of the days of the kingdom. Always Zerah will be a lesser man. He will have responsibility over very little. He could have had much. What a waste! I felt for him.
Suddenly there came another quiet. It was like death. My master rose, and no longer was his face kind. It was terrible and dark, and he said, "Bring those to me who would not have me rule over them." And they were dragged in, the leaders of our city, quivering and crying, and he looked at them and said to the great men of arms, "Slay them!" And they were slaughtered. That's the way it was. I am lord over ten cities, others over five, some over none because I was faithful in little.
Of course, I'm not real. I'm only a character from a story. But you are real. And I must tell you the Storyteller is real. It is your story and he is your Master. And he is gone to receive a kingdom and if you have believed in him, he has given you a mina. You look around you and say, "I do not have what others have." Let me tell you, the mina is the gifts that he has given you, and to him it is all one. You say, "Some have more than I. Some have more money, more talent." It is all these things: It is your wealth; it is your abilities; it is your very life. But never say someone has more, because it does not matter how much you have. He does not judge you on that. Those are his gifts. That is why people are so foolish. They think he guides and judges and marks us because of our abilities or our wealth. No! No! No! It is not how much he has given but how well you have used it, and in that every one of you has the same opportunity. Let me say it this way: Feel into your pockets, your purses. What do you find? Many mina? A few? That does not matter. It is not a question of how many, but how much of it you will use for him. He is coming and now he has given you the chance to invest. Are you going to do it? Are you going to give yourself for him? Or will he come back and look at you and say, "Sorry. Take what he has and give it to another"? What are you going to do today? That is a great question. For this life of yours will be gone like that. Where will you be then? Where will you be? What will you do today with the mina he has given you? You must answer that, for I tell you of a certainty, he comes.
Jim Rose served churches in Iowa, Florida, Texas, Connecticut and New York City, as well as Grace Covenant Church in Austin, Texas.
(c) Jim Rose
Preaching Today Issue #33
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James Rose served as pastor or Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan, New York.