“The Goal of Doing What We Ought”
October 2, 2016: The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 22)
Habakkuk 1: 12- 2: 4/ Psalm 37: 3 – 9/2 Timothy 1: 1 – 10/ Luke 17: 5 - 10
Fr. Gary W. Thurman
A first glance at today’s Gospel reading probably brings forth the thought: “Wow, Jesus has to be the worst salesman in the world! He wants us to follow Him; He wants us to be His disciples; and what does He offer? A life of working all day in His field, slaving away, then coming in the house at evening, hot and tired. But instead of giving us a break, Jesus looks up from His newspaper as He sits in His lounge chair and says, “Look at you! You’re a mess! Get cleaned up, and then make me a nice supper. After that, you can have the leftovers.” And after we’ve done all that, we’re supposed to confess that we’re unworthy slaves. Ang galing, di ba? Now, who volunteers for that? Maybe not so many. If Jesus really wants to attract disciples, He should change His approach. Perhaps that’s why we don’t hear this Gospel taught very much. It’s just not good evangelism!
Instead, we talk about Luke 12: 37: “Blessed are those slaves whom the Master shall find on the alert when He comes; truly I say to you, He will gird Himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.” Now that’s what I’m talking about! I’ll sign up for that right now! But isn’t it strange? These stories seem like exact opposites, yet they come from the same Bible, from the same Gospel, from the same Jesus. What is Jesus really saying here in Luke 17? Let’s find out.
This is actually a parable, prompted by a question from the disciples: “Increase our faith!” Why did the disciples ask this? For most people, we believe that with faith you can get what you want. Stuff. So if you want more stuff you need more faith. I have a PVC shopping bag, and I want Michael Kors; I need more faith. I’m eating at McDo, and I want the trendy Kapitolyo restos; I need more faith. I’m vacationing in Bangkok, and I want Europe; I need more faith. I’m wearing Giordano, and I want Armani; I need more faith. I’m drinking Budweiser, and I want Dom Perignion; I need more faith.
But this was not the reason for the disciple’s question. Jesus had just given them a very demanding requirement for being His disciple: “Forgive your brother seven times a day, if necessary.” In another place in the gospel, He says, “Seventy times seven.” Wow, that’s hard. How can we do that? For most of us, we have a problem forgiving seven times a day. Most of us, it is like once in seven years. When Jesus brought this forth, they said, “We’ll try, Jesus, but we’re gonna need more faith to pull it off! Increase our faith, Lord!”
Jesus’ first response was to say, “No, you don’t really need more faith.” He gave an illustration in v. 6 that showed what even a tiny bit of faith could do. It is big as a mustard seed, which is about the size of a pen point. Jesus was telling them that the amount of faith is not the problem. Then He told a parable in verses 7-10 to explain to them, “If you think this requirement of forgiveness is demanding, let Me show you just how demanding the Christian life can be!” Then He invited them to put themselves in God’s place, and see what they would expect from their workers - no, their slaves.
Yes, Jesus uses the word slave. This is not a politically correct word in society today, and that is as it should be. Slavery is not a pleasant subject. For thousands of years, society accepted the fact that one man could buy another man and own him. Only in the last couple of hundred years has man finally decided, “This is not right that one man can own another man and this person’s life do not even belong to him.”
Jesus isn’t talking about society; He’s talking about the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, it is different. What is a slave? A slave is someone who has been purchased with a price by another, and they no longer belong to themselves. That is exactly who we are, according to St. Paul: “… You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6: 19-20) As he writes to the Ephesians, we are slaves of Christ. (Ephesians 6: 6) As he writes to the Romans, we are slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6: 18, 19) Jesus said, “You can’t serve two masters, God and mammon,” but He never gave an option of being a slave of nobody.
Does it sound like fun yet? However, as the sons of Korah say in Psalm 84: 10, “… I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, that dwell in the tents of wickedness.” This is not speaking of how living in the edge of God’s house is better than living in the middle of the wicked’s tents, although that is certainly true. The sons of Korah are exalting what they are doing in God’s house: being a doorkeeper, or to use another word, slaves. (If you have a helper in your house, who answers the door, you or the helper?) These sons of Korah are excited about being the slaves of the Lord. Why? Because as slaves of God, they get to dwell with Him. They get to live in His Kingdom of righteous, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14: 17) That’s better than being a boss in the tents of the wicked!
In this parable, Jesus begins by telling His disciples, “You are slaves, plowing and tending sheep in God’s field. And what does the field represent? This is a theme common throughout many parables: Matthew 13: 38: “The field is the world.” The world outside the four walls of the Church is not alien land, or enemy territory. It all belongs to God, and as His slaves, when we are in that territory, we are there to work for Him. You are not on shift at Burger King to work for the store manager; you are not at the call center to work for the multinational company that hired you; you are not doing plumbing work at the building site to work for the foreman. There is a misconception among many Christians that when we are in God’s house we are serving Him, but when we go outside we are in our world, and we do as we please. Nope. It’s all His, and we are His wherever we go. We serve Him in both places, the field and His house, and there is no down time where we are not serving Him at all.
Back to the parable, after working hard in the field, the world, the Master’s slave comes into the house. What is the house? It is the house of the Lord. In other words, the slave goes to Church; and when he comes into the Church, it is not just a place to rest and hang out and be entertained. Here, too, he is a servant, a slave. In other words, we are to minister to the Lord in the Church; and we should have a ministry in which we serve the Lord. Because just as surely as there are some people who seek to serve God in Church but not in the field, there are those who serve Him in the field but do not wish to serve Him inside the Church. Jesus gives this parable to show His disciples, “Hindi pwede ‘yan!” There is no off-time when we serve the Lord. We are always God’s slaves, inside or outside. We are just on call but in service 24/7.
Now let’s see something interesting. In the rest of this parable, the Lord shows us how to serve Him in Church. This is what the slave does. He says, “Prepare yourself, and bring Me something to eat. Then you eat and drink.” This speaks of the Church’s Liturgy. First, we prepare ourselves with confession and prayers and Scripture readings. We clean ourselves up. Second, we bring Him something to eat. We bring pleasant food to the Lord: our worship, our praises. We please Him in our worship. We bring Him something to eat. (Think of the many scriptures that refer to worship as a pleasing aroma to God.) This is for all of us, not just the King David ministers who are there to lead us in the service that we, too, are to give. And after we have served Him through our worship, third, we eat and drink - at His table. Partaking at the Altar is worship unto the Lord; a ministry and a service unto the Lord. Actually, we receive God’s grace to prepare us, to empower us and to enable us to go back out into the world, the field, and do it all over again. But it is all service, service in which all of us are to share.
But how about that last verse, the one where we are supposed to say that, after serving outside and inside, we are still unworthy slaves? Actually, the word in the original language is not “unworthy,” but “unprofitable.” Can anyone deny that we are unprofitable to the Lord? For sure, He did not make a profit on us. Remember what we saw in 1 Corinthians 6: we were bought with a price. What price? The blood of His Son. If that was the price He paid for us, can He possibly turn a profit on us? I don’t think so. I don’t care how good a slave you are, you are never going to give the Lord a profitable return on the price He paid for you. As such, buying you with the blood of Jesus was a pretty bad business decision on God’s part, wasn’t it? Just as He was a bad salesman, He was a bad businessman!
But it was not a business decision, it was a love decision. God knew He would never turn a profit on you, or me, or us. We would never be profitable because we can never ever repay God for what He has done for us. We cannot repay Calvary. This love decision is the reason we can call ourselves slaves of God without feeling unworthy. Embrace the fact that we are slaves of God because He bought us because He loved us. He loved us so much; He gave the blood of His only Son for us. God says that the blood of Christ is no cost compared to redeeming His children and redeeming them from being slaves of sin and unrighteousness.
God is showing us the way to life. The way to service in the Kingdom of God is the way to life. We need to get off our mind of how much faith we would need to get what we want. He takes us away from this realm and gives us this parable to show us that being slaves is not about what things we can get, but understanding that we belong to the Lord. Slaves seek first His kingdom and when we do, all the other things are added unto us.
This is the reason we serve Him with gladness, as it says in Psalm 100: Because He first loved us. We actually serve Him for two very good reasons: one, because He is our Lord, and He owns us, and thus, we obey Him. The Bible talks about God being Lord over 8000 times. But far, far, more than that is the love that God has for us, and further, the love that He pours into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 9: 10 says, “The plowman ought to share in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops.” Jesus mentioned that we plow in the Father’s field, so we share the crops. What fruit do we harvest from God’s field? The fruit of the Spirit. In other words, love. In love we serve the Lord; in love we seek the least, the lost, and the lonely in the Master’s field. Our motivation, our only motivation, is love. It begins there. If we truly love the Lord, serving Him is no trouble. It gives us no inferiority complex to be called God’s slaves.
Jesus opens our eyes to show that there is never a time that we are not a servant of God. Wherever we are, we are always God’s servants. We are always slaves of the loving Master.