- Gospel (Lk 15:5-10)
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
“Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’ Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'”
À propos of the “unworthy servant” image in this week’s gospel reading, a friend reminded me of the following passage from Meeting Jesus, by Fr. William P. Sampson, S.J.:
Here is an image that Jesus uses on a few occasions. We can follow him as he varies his use of it:
Which of you, with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, would say to him when he returned from the fields, “Come and have your meal at once”? (Luke 17:7 NJB)
Jesus is letting his imagination play over something that never happens. People are never that concerned about their servants. No, it works more like this:
Would he not be more likely to say, “Get my supper ready; fasten your belt and wait on me while I eat and drink. You yourself can eat and drink afterwards”? (Luke 17:8 NJB)
“Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told?” (Luke 17:9 NJB). Of course not. There is no call for gratitude. The servant is not doing his master a favor. It’s his job.
On this occasion Jesus creates these images to make a very particular point: Do not seek God’s gratitude; do not expect it, do not try and do him a favor; do not try to put him in your debt.
So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, We are useless servants: we have done no more than our duty. (Luke 17:10 NJB)
Jesus elaborates this image to help people understand better how to relate to God. God is seeking not servants but children. Even if you do all you should, you will be at best a useless servant.