Perhaps the "Meanest" and Most Shocking Thing Jesus Ever Said

The Gospel from today’s Mass (Luke 19:11-27) is known as the Parable of the Ten Gold Coins. It is similar to Matthew’s Parable of the Talents with certain significant differences and has an end so shocking that, when I read it at daily Mass some years ago, a young child said audibly to her mother: “Wow that’s mean!?!”

I’d like to take a look at it and ponder its shocking end.

As said, the parable is similar to the “Parable of the Talents” except that ten people receive a gold coin each. Despite this, we only hear the reports of three men as in the Matthean account, two who show profit and one who shows an angry and disdainful lack of profit.

But another significant difference is the weaving of another parable (Let’s call it the “Parable of the Rejected King”) into the story. Briefly stated, here are the lines of that parable, along with its shocking end:

A nobleman went off to a distant country to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return. His fellow citizens, however, despised his and sent a delegation after him to announce, “We do not want this man to be our king.’ But when he returned after obtaining the kingship…..[He said] “Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me.” (Luke 19:12,14, 27-28)

In analyzing a text like this I must say that I was disappointed at the silence of most commentaries. The shocking verse “slay them before me” goes largely unremarked.

The Fathers seem to say little (though perhaps you will correct me). I did find two references in the Catena Aurea. Augustine says of this verse: Whereby He describes the ungodliness of the Jews who refused to be converted to Him. And Theophilus adds Whom he will deliver to death, casting them into the outer fire. But even in this world they were most miserably slain by the Roman army.

Hence both Fathers take the verse at face value and even declare it to be historically fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Josephus indicates in his work that 1.2 million Jews were killed in that dreadful war.

Not to doubt any Father of the Church;  I must say however, that the triumphal and vengeful tone of Jesus still puzzles. For if this verse does refer to the destruction of 70 AD, how do we account for Jesus’ tone here,  who just verses later weeps over Jerusalem:

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Lk 19:41-44)

Certainly a variety of emotions can sweep even the God-man Jesus, but let me also suggest some other contextual and cultural considerations that frame Jesus’ startling and “mean” words: Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me.

1. Jesus is speaking in the prophetic tradition – Prophets spoke this way, using startling and often biting imagery and characterizations. Though many today have tried to tame and domesticate Jesus, the real Jesus spoke vividly in the prophetic tradition. He often used shocking and paradoxical images. He spoke bluntly, as prophets do, calling his hostile interlocutors hypocrites, vipers, children of the devil, whitewashed tombs, evil, foolish, blind guides, and the sons of those who murdered the prophets. He warns them that they will be sentenced to hell unless they repent, and lays them out for their inconsistency and hardness of heart. This is what prophets do, they speak in this manner.

So, in speaking “mean” like this, Jesus is firmly in the tradition of the prophets, who spoke in a similar manner. Thus, in understanding the words of Jesus we are considering (slay them in my presence) we cannot overlook the prophetic context. His words which seem to us angry and even vengeful are expected in the prophetic tradition from which he speaks, intentionally shocking. Their purpose is to provoke a response.

Prophets used hyperbole and shock to convey and frame their call to repentance. And, while we ought not simply dismiss Jesus’ words as exaggeration, we should not fail to see them in the traditional context of prophetic speach.

Hence they may not, in fact,  portray an attitude of vengeance personally in Jesus’ heart but are to be understood as prophecy toward those who refuse to repent. They will die in their sins. And their refusal to reconcile with God and their neighbors (in this case the Romans) will indeed lead to a terrible war wherein they will be slain, dying horribly.

2. The Jewish culture and language often used hyperbole – Even beyond the prophetic tradition, the ancient Jews often used all or nothing language in their manner of speech. Although I am no Hebrew scholar, I have been taught that the Hebrew Language contains far fewer comparative words than English or other languages contain. Comparative words are words such as: more, less, greater, fewer, most, especially, and so forth. Hence, if an ancient Jew were asked if he liked Chocolate or Vanilla ice cream more, he would say something like: “I like Chocolate and hate vanilla.” By which he really means, I like Chocolate more.” Thus,  we see that Jesus says elsewhere that we must love him and hate our parents, spouse and children (e.g. Lk 14:26). He does not mean that we should literally hate them. This is a Jewish way of saying that we must love him more, and the most.

This background explains the ancient Jewish tendency to speak in hyperbole (exaggeration) and to often couch things in all or nothing terms. It is not as though they did not comprehend nuances, they just did not speak in that manner, allowing the context to supply that “hate” does not mean literal hate etc.

This linguistic background helps explain how the more extremist elements of prophetic language take shape.

We ought to be careful however not to simply dismiss things as hyperbole. We in the modern West, who speak English, may love that our language has greater nuance. But sometimes we are so nuanced as to say little. At some point we must be either yes or no, with God or against him. In the end, even if purgatory intervene, there is only Heaven or Hell.

The ancient Jewish way of speaking in a rather all or nothing manner is not primitive per se and it has a refreshing and honest way of insisting that we decide for or against God, what is right, and what is just.

Thus, though Jesus words are harsh, part of the Hebraic way of speaking, they do call the question. For either we choose God and live, or we choose sin and die spiritually. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Roma 6:23)

3. Jesus is speaking to hardened sinners – The audience here is important as well.  As Jesus draws near to Jerusalem he is going into hostile territory, and sinners and unbelievers he encounters are very rigid, and have hardened their hearts against him. Hence, Jesus’ words must be understood as strong medicine.

One can imagine a doctor saying to a stubborn patient, “If you do not change, you will die soon, and I’ll see you at your funeral.” While some may consider this a poor “bedside manner,” there are some patients for whom such language is necessary and appropriate.

Jesus is dealing with hardened sinners here and so he speaks bluntly. They are headed for death and hell and he tells them so.

Perhaps we who live in “dainty” times and who are so easily offended and of giving offense, could learn from such an approach. There are some who just need to hear from priests, parents, and others, “If you do not change you ways, I do not see how you can avoid being sentenced to hell.”

4. A final thought, a theory really, that some have advanced. According to this theory, Jesus is referring to an actual historical incident and using it to disabuse his listeners of their fond thoughts of a new King. After the death of Herod the Great, Archelaus, his son, went to Rome to receive the title of king. A group of Jews also appeared in Rome before Caesar Augustus and opposed the request of Archelaus. Although not given the title of king, Archelaus was made ruler over Judea and Samaria, and later had those Jews who opposed him killed.

Kings are often despots – Since many Jews thought the Messiah, when he came, would be a king, some where hoping that Jesus was going to Jerusalem to take up the role of an earthly King. According to this theory, since the people pined for a king, Jesus uses this fearsome parable and reminder that earthly Kings are usually despotic. Jesus is thus trying to disabuse them of the notion that he or anyone else should be their earthly King.

While this theory has a lot to recommend it, especially historical precedent, it seems unlikely that the Gospel text would use such an historically localized event to make such a narrow point. Jesus is not just speaking to the people of that time and place, he is also speaking to us. Hence, even if this explanation may have partial historical context, the meaning would also need to extend beyond one incident in the ancient past.

Well there you have it. I am interested in your thoughts as well. Since the commentaries I consulted seemed rather silent, perhaps you have read commentaries worth sharing. Likewise, perhaps you know of some other quotes of the Fathers I could not find.

Is Jesus mean here? No, but blunt and painfully clear? Yes. And frankly some of us need it. In these thin-skinned times we may bristle at such talk, but that’s our problem. Good refreshing honesty and a clear diagnosis are far more important than our precious feelings.

In this video James Earl Jones portrays Vernon Johns, an early Civil Rights activists. He shows well what real prophets are like.

And here’s Jesus in Prophetic Mode – No compromises

24 Replies to “Perhaps the "Meanest" and Most Shocking Thing Jesus Ever Said”

  1. I think it rather obvious that it refers to end-times and that it applies to everyone.

    The nobleman is Jesus, the distant country is heaven. At the time of the story, the nobleman (Jesus) was still present, but He was soon to go off to that distant country. Ten is a number that signifies completion (e.g. Ten Commandments, Ten Plagues, ten fingers/toes, etc.). The nobleman (Jesus) gives complete riches (grace, teachings, faith, etc.) to a complete number of people (all of humanity), but much of mankind wants nothing to do with Jesus, and certainly does not want Him as king.

    When He returns as King at the end of the world, those people that remained faithful and put His teachings and grace to good use are given the riches of heaven (eternal life in the resurrection). But those people in the world who reject Christ the King are, by their own words and actions, condemned in that Last Judgment to eternal death (Hell).

    It is entirely eschatological. And in describing what will happen, Jesus (the nobleman/king) is not being “mean,” He is merely warning people that all salvation comes through Him and, if you reject Him, then you have by your own doing rejected your salvation and you have put yourself to death.

    1. Agree with Bender’s interpretation. Sometimes we can’t see the wood for the trees…

      1. I’ve often seem double; and occasionally triple; meanings in human discourse and, have found that the implied metaphorical representation sometimes enhances both messages as well as showing links that occur in much seemingly separate knowledge. So, why not consider that a Divine message can include as many messages as our Saviour wishes in a perfect way that uses the consequences of circa 70 AD as a bad example that we should heed?
        At any rate, in item 3 the mention of the doctor reminds me of how in Matthew 9:12 He informs us that He consorts with sinners because the “It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick.”
        This helps to re-inforce the message of compassion that I get from His firmness, like the people who willingly risk unpopularity by telling us what we need to hear rather than what we want to hear.

  2. Blunt and painfully clear, yes! Sure would be nice to hear this quality of preaching from my church! Some painfully clear preaching, the kind that almost leaves you squirming in your seat may even lead to lessening those unwanted drips. 😉

  3. I tend to see the king’s words in light of God’s words about closing people’s hearts: He’s not really killing people or closing hearts, He’s acknowledging our own spiritual deaths and close-heartedness by resisting His Love. He resists the proud not because He does not care about them but because they resist His Mercy and His Grace.

  4. Consider some other things Jesus did and said:
    He smote the fig tree because it bore no fruit, even though it was not the season for figs. And He was pretty explicit about the need for fig trees (us) to bear fruit. He says the kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent take it by storm. He says He came to bring not peace but division. He promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church, that is, that His Church will invade the stronghold of hell (not, by the way (although it might bear that interpretation) that hell would fail to conquer the kingdom of God. We’re doing the invading, not Satan). If we’re not on His side, we’re against Him (He also says the converse). And even in the parable, he has the unfruitful servant observing, “I knew you were a hard man, etc…”

    We are obliged by our baptism to strive for holiness as our King goes out to retake creation from the one who enslaved it. It’s not enough to keep ourselves from sliding into worse sin; we have to become saints, or certainly strive for it. It will certainly be hard for those who oppose His efforts to bring all things into subjection to the Father; even those who aren’t opposed but are not effective in support will suffer loss.

    1. Yeah, this thing of cursing the fig tree for not having (out of season) figs has always been a worrying thing to me. I mean, it WAS not the season for figs. What’s the significance? Does this tie in with what the one-talent servant said, when he told his master that he reaps where he has not sown? Any explanations?

      1. As an amateur, I can only speculate, but it seems to me that this pulls together some expectations regarding the kingdom of God that we pick up throughout the Scriptures. Such as,
        preach the good news in season and out of season;
        the trees beside the river of life bear fruit all months of the year;
        and of course, you must bear fruit.

        All this by means of a simple (for Jesus) graphic illustration. The fig tree was by the side of the road, so it was probably a volunteer and didn’t belong to anyone, like someone tossing an apple core out of the car window.

  5. I agree with Jesus: Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me.

    One of the great things about being the Son of God is that you are not subject to human moral judgement.
    It is the other way around; They are subject to His judgement.

    It is perfectly in line with Divine Command Theory.
    God does not do things because humans think they are good.

    Things are good because God does them.

    God could blow up the entire galaxy. That would still be good because God does it.
    Humans have no judgement over God.

    That is the lesson to be learned.
    Humans have no judgement over God.

      1. The Flood. Sodom & Gomorrah. The Egyption soldiers. The firstborns of Egypt.

        All gone. All dead.

        Glory be to God, Owner of existence, Sovereign of The Universe, King of The

    1. Good is not good because humans think it so, good is good because it is in and of itself.

      If Jesus had gone around raping women and pillaging, could that in any sense be deemed “good”?
      If God in heaven were to pull out His divine magnifying glass and gleefully burn humans like ants, just for the sheer thrill of causing horrible pain, could that be called “good”?

      Good is an objective truth, not a subjective one, which is implied by the statement “Things are good because God does them.” What is objectively evil does not suddenly become good were God to do it. It would still be evil. But then, were God to do it, then He would not really be God. He might think himself a god, he might get people to call him “Allah,” but he would not be God.

      There are no double standards — one for God, and one for us. There is only one standard because there is only one Truth. There is not a truth for us and a truth for God, there is only Truth.

      1. As I said, God does not do things because you think they are good.

        For instance, God did in fact burn Sodom and Gomorrah.

        And if God thinks that was Good, then it was.
        There is no truth outside of God.

        God decides what is good.
        God decides what is truth.
        In fact God decides …everything.

        And God is God, whatever He does.
        He does not need your approval to remain in power, Bender.

        Simple as that.

        So of course there is a double standard.
        You must obey God, but God must obey no-one.

        And be extremely careful not to place limitations on what God can or cannot do, Bender.
        He is not subject to limitations.

        And if Jesus had behaved differently than He did, then those actions would have been the standard instead.
        No matter what He did.

        1. @ Bender:

          In short, you must not confuse God with the participants of American Idol.
          People can vote any way they will.

          But if they vote the wrong way, God is not taken off-stage.

          You are.

        2. Well look Fire (aka Gabriel) I think you have too mechanistic a notion of truth. God does not act arbitrarily and then, presto it is ipso facto true. Rather, God acts out of what is true for he is Truth itself (agens sequitur esse – doing follows (or flows from) being). God acts out of his essence which is love and truth. Now that we discover things that seem paradoxical in how God acts, is a matter for discussion, but do not reduce God by having him act outside of his essence. Your view of God is really more Muslim than biblical.

  6. Fr. Cornelius A Lapide also says it is about the destruction of Jerusalem and Titus.

    I dont think we can question the justice of the destruction of Jerusalem any more than we can question the justice of the existence of hell. If you reject the One who sustains your life, what right do you have to retain it?

  7. …for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit and reap what you did not sow.” The nobleman said to him, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave!

    How shall I be judged? Do I take what I did not deposit or reap what I did not sow? I did not choose the country I was born into, I did not choose my parents, my siblings, the people whose paths I will cross in my lifetime, yet I reap many benefits from these circumstances in my life. I shouldn’t take credit for anything, but be thankful.

    Luke 15:15 … for what is thought highly of by men is loathsome in the sight of God.

  8. Side note re Point 2.

    At the nadir of my self-depredation, my life of dissipation was shattered by a dream. The dream remains as vivid as the morning it happened – January 8th or 9th of 1986 at about 4 a.m. It really happened. Keep in mind that I tend to be a smart aleck. The dream was that of a voice admonishing me. No face. Total blackness, but I was completely alert to the presence in the dream. The voice spoke, “If you do not quit drinking, you will surely die.” Being a wise-acre, I thought to dissipate the harsh verdict with a quip – “Can’t we talk about that?” Again the voice – a voice of absolute authority – “If you do not quit drinking, you will surely die.” And I knew it wasn’t just physical death. In my dream, I knew – really KNEW – that ‘death’ would be no life beyond the grave, or at least not a pleasant life then. I woke up and did something I hadn’t done in ten years – got out of bed, knelt and prayed. And since then have kept the spirit of that dream. Anyway, was just putting a point to what Msgr. Pope is saying about harsh language is sometimes the only way to get thru to the hard-hearted.

    1. Of all the ludicrous responses to this thread, yours is bar none the absolute worst.
      And it’s not your grammatical ignorance or terribly thought out prose that
      Concerns me the most, yet a delusional alcoholic who heard a voic in your head
      At 4 am. Are you kidding? This is god! This is what constitutes a bloody miracle? Give your
      Head a serious shake man. This is worse than then the brainwashed zombies above
      You trying desperately to rationalize jesus killing an out of season fig tree
      For not bearing fruit! The religious and intellectually impaired (which are truly the same
      In essence) will find an excuse for anything irrational or bizzare that their deity does, and will simply
      Say “oh well god works in mysterious ways”. This is the most ignorant statement a human can make.
      It completely disgusts me to watch so many people blindsided by their own
      Ignorance. As long as religion continues to survive it will continue to fundamentally drag
      People down to the infancy of their intellect. I only hope this little story of yours was a joke
      Because if that’s your proof of god, than I deeply pity you.

      1. Thanks friendly Athiests for trying to save us from our ignorance. You are especially evangelistic, trying to convert us. You must really love us a lot if you would bother to post such an emphatic statement here.

        By the way, where did Love come from? Where did reason and order, structure and goodness? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why have the atoms and elements and molucules and galaxies come together in such a way that my body repairs itself when I cut it, that the forest recovers after a fire, that natural systems like the water cycle or my digestive system maintain the entity they serve. Why is this universe so stinking smart?

        I’m sure an intellectual genius like yourself can explain it all. Unfortunately small minded people like all the billions who lived before you and the other 5.5 billion who live now are just not as smart as you because we believe in God. Maybe you don’t have more smarts, maybe you have more faith than us because we can’t believe that this universe created itself.

  9. Well, maybe you should tell the 10 year old that we are talking about parables which have a much deeper meaning than the one you get without an explanation from the church (clergy). The story has to do with the use of your God given abilities (talents). It boils down to living according to the will of God in your life. When explained by the Priest at our Mass the 10 year olds understood. Poor story, maybe God will forgive you……

  10. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this post, it is by far the most helpful resource I have found dealing with this parable (and in particular verse 27). I think what is most disturbing about this parable for most people is the way that it’s violent ending is not proceeded by violence on the part of the slain. In the Parable of the Tenants, the tenants act violently towards the prophets and ultimately kill the son, and a similar thing is seen in Matthew’s Parable of the Wedding Banquet; in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant the servant is forgiven but then acts harshly towards his own debtor; in Luke’s Parable of the Faithful Servant, the wicked servant who is put in charge, starts abusing and beating his fellow servants; in all of these parables violent men meet violent ends and the King, the Landowner, or the Master, is forced into action because of the injustice of it all. I think it is helpful to understand Luke’s Parable of the Minas in a similar light. The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, who did not want Jesus to be their king and who rejected his way of peace, didn’t just SAY they didn’t want him to be King or send a delegation, they orchestrated his murder. And even then, his judgement over Jerusalem is proclaimed through tears and with warnings to women and nursing mothers to get out of the city. God does not delight in the death of the Wicked, rather he allows the violent and sinful intentions of people to come down upon their own heads. As for this parable’s eschatological application, we should cross reference this violent imagery with verses like Ephesians 6:10-17, Hebrews 4:12, Revelation 19:15, among others. The New Testament often uses violent imagery to speak of spiritual truths.

    1. Thank you for this comment. you brought light to the exact moral aspect I felt unsettled about. This makes a lot more sense when you point out that important detail. Thanks

  11. I’ll try to just present the Bible’s answer.

    Psalms 37:28 explicitly warns,
    “For the Lord loves justice And does not forsake His godly ones; They are preserved forever, But the children of the wicked will be cut off.”

    1 Cor 16:22 commands,
    “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.”

    Luke 11:23 explains,
    “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.”

    Verse 14 shows the condition of the Jews that Jesus will soon slay.
    “But his citizens (Jews) hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ ”

    Matthew 25:29-30 is a near mirror image of Luke 19:26-27.

    Matthew 25:29-30, “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

    Luke 19:26-27, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.”

    κατασφάξατε is the Greek verb used for “slay” here, and this is the only occurrence of this word in the entire NT. It’s a verb derived from two Greek words, “kata” and “sphazó.” It a very strong language that means “slaughter.” It is a finite, 2nd person, plural, Aorist, imperative, active verb. The best way to describe the aorist tense is “future action without reference to time.” Aorist tense is outside of time. It is sometimes called the God-tense, or from God’s point-of-view, so to speak.

    Therefore, I conclude this is very likely referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, but also pointing to the final destruction of all who are finally judged for rebellion against Christ. These two verses (Matt 25:29-30; Luke 19:26-27) equally address all categories of wicked men, which sweepingly condemns every wicked man using two statements that are similar, but slightly different. Anyone who does not love Christ will be damned to Hell for eternity.

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