Just do it! – Tuesday, 32nd week in ordinary time – Luke 17:7-10
Throughout the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has repeatedly been critical of the witness and teachings of the Pharisees. There was a duplicity in the way they lived and he often condemned them as false spiritual shepherds leading people astray while abusing their power. Jesus now turns to his disciples as he does to all of us today. He speaks to what a true servant of God must understand.
The pericope of today must be read in its entirety starting from verse one. The reality as Jesus lays out for us is that we are all tempted as leaders and prone to stumbling (skandalon =scandal in Greek) but woe to the leader who does stumble and causes others to do the same. Jesus calls the Christian disciple to pay attention to oneself. But then there is also a shared responsibility for one another; hence the call to pay attention to the moral life of all the members of the community while constantly finding it in one’s heart to forgive seven times a day. It is no wonder that such a tall order made the disciple feel overwhelmed asking the Lord to increase their faith.
They ask for more faith, just as we do. Yet, Jesus does not offer help, at least not the kind the apostles seek. The Greek syntax of 17:6 implies a criticism of the apostles. Jesus scolds them for lacking faith even the size of a mustard seed. Jesus tells them that they didn’t need “more” faith. They simply had to be able to tap into the faith that they already had, they simply needed to put it to work.
To this, Jesus attaches a parable which is the pericope of today’s Gospel passage. The parable is about a master and his slave. It becomes evident that while the master had a slave this was still a small household for the slave doubles up as a farm helper as well as one who took care of the house hold.
Slavery was an accepted part of most ancient cultures and Jesus’ listeners would easily understand the point he is making here. In the modern world we have rejected slavery and see it as unjust. So, to apply this model, as Jesus does, to the relationship between God and ourselves is likely to make us uneasy.
Remember that Luke loves to contrast people and incidents. At the background he has the behaviour of the Pharisees while in the foreground there is a lesson for the Christian leader who perhaps was now expecting a reward for his service. Perhaps Luke’s community had run into some leaders who looked at their service as something that should be rewarded.
The Pharisees had come to believe that they were entitled. The parable highlights the reality that we are all servants and as servants the master owes us nothing. God in the same way owes us nothing. Perhaps the Pharisees and now the Christian leader sought for his service a reward of power and position. Power and position are seen as a privilege. Jesus didn’t simply redistribute power, he redefined it. Those who lead are those who serve
The essence of the parable is found in verse nine and ten. The slave who only carries out his master’s orders has not earned any right to his thanks. Hence the parable was meant to be a huge dose of realism that saves us from conceit, even of the spiritual type.
There is a difference between serving God and being a servant of God. The way of Jesus suggests that serving others is a privilege in itself and no reward is necessary. That is why the parable uses the word slave. The reader may ask, why did Jesus not speak against slavery by using a different term? That would have diluted the message of the parable.
But some may ask, what about my rights? If we are working for God then what’s so wrong to expect some special rights. This was certainly what the religious leaders had assumed.
Whatever we do for Christ is no more than what is our duty to do. We are duty-bound to serve Him by that first and great commandment of loving God with all our heart and soul. Our works are not grounds for any reward in this life. In this life, we receive grace and goodness from God, not rewards.
What do we learn?
Some of us need to face the fact that we are more like “volunteers” for God and that he may even be lucky to have us. The word “servant or slave” in found in one form or another over 1,000 times in the Bible. That means it’s a very big deal to God and should be to us as well lest we forget our role in the Church. When St Paul wrote the Epistles, he was clear of his fundamental identity as we see in Romans 1:1: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus…” He tells us who he is (his name) and then what he is (a servant).
Yet at the Last Supper, our God did what no reasonable master would do: he put on his apron and washed the feet of his disciples. He then told them that he did this so that they could do likewise to one another.