I can remember when people would ask me if I were babysitting my own children. Hmm. They are my children. Of course I am not babysitting them. I am providing care because that is what a dad does. This should not be considered an above the norm behavior. And within that question there is this almost expectation that dads don’t normally provide care. Sometimes, when my children were all pretty young, I would take the three of them to the mall to find a Christmas present for their mother. More than once someone told me I was brave to wrangle all three children on my own. Hmm. They are my children. Of course I am not brave to take them to the mall. There is nothing within this that is worthy of praise or commendation or anything at all. It is simply what a dad should do.
There is no getting around that Luke 17:7-10 is a difficult passage. Jesus is holding up slavery as an example for our relationship with God. And the example he is giving seems to be way different than the example he uttered in 12:35-38. As a matter of fact, it seems to be the opposite. So, a couple of things here. Using something that is an obvious part of culture as an example is not an endorsement of that something. If I use a story about cutting to illustrate an extreme cry of pain that doesn’t mean I am saying self-harm is an appropriate response. And the parable found in 12:35-38 is illustrating God’s overwhelming love and compassion for his servants. Our current parable is illustrating the duty of service to God. Different points are being made and therefore there is no contradiction.
Jesus begins by asking his audience to imagine a person with a single-slave household; a slave who works in the field plowing or shepherding. The point is most likely that this is the slave’s every day task. It is what is expected of him. And when he comes in from the field does his duty end there? Does the master ask him to have a seat and feed himself? The anticipated answer is “No”. That is not how slavery works. When he comes in from the field the slave is commanded to prepare the master’s food, gird himself, and serve the master. After that is done, then the slave can take care of his own needs. Before we jump all over this, let me ask you a question: When you come in from work, is that the end of your familial duties? I am asking this of both men and women. However you may divide the duties, there is usually more to be done. And when you do those things it is not above and beyond. It is not superhero worthy. It is being a responsible person within a family. This is even true of the children, isn’t it? After school, there is more to be done. There is homework for school; there is cleaning of rooms, mowing of lawns, setting of tables. And this is not superhero work. Nothing above and beyond here. So, there are no thanks coming from the master. When you wash the dishes do you expect to be thanked for it? When you provide care for your children do you expect your spouse to fall all over themselves pouring out gratitude?
So, when you serve God, do you demand that God be grateful for your service? How about if you were able to accomplish everything God commanded. Surely God should utter a “Thank you kind sir for your tenacious obedience.” Jesus is clearly saying that you should serve God without demanding or even expecting God to be grateful. He is not giving us insight into how God will respond. This is about our approach to our master; our God. There is quite a lot of discussion on the meaning of the word translated “unworthy” in the NASB. The main meaning of the word is “unworthy” or “useless,” and it is applied to slaves who do not do their work. Because it is used here of slaves who are obedient, some have suggested that a weaker sense of something like “owed nothing” is meant. Then, the message would be “We are owed nothing slaves.” The evidence for this doesn’t seem strong to me. I didn’t provide care for my children because it was my duty. I loved to spend time with them. The firefighter who resists the term hero knows what I’m talking about. He is doing what he loves to do. Going through the motions as a firefighter would not be good. It is worthless, because there will come a time when more is wanted. Jesus is not looking for followers who cross every T and dot every i. Does that make sense? Jesus is looking for followers who obey trusting in him; putting all of their faith in him; being shaped by him. Merely fulfilling the demands of duty is not praise worthy. It is not even what Jesus desires. You might say that it falls short of being a disciple. Eagerly serving out of love. Well now, that is praise worthy. Serve because you love God. Serve because you trust Jesus. Serve motivated by the Spirit. Serve on