Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (NIV)
So this is interesting to me… as a cook, I know how long it takes to cook dinner. If I am a field hand, and I have to stop my work in time to get cleaned up and make dinner FOR THE WHOLE HOUSEHOLD, IN A TIMELY FASHION, I’m going to be aggravated. Also, as a dedicated food lover, I’m not sure I want my dinner made by someone who has been taking care of the sheep all day anyway. But let’s assume all that is inconsequential to the ‘you’ this story is being told to. Jesus is talking to his disciples. As I understand it, none of the disciples came from circumstances that would have included having servants. They would have more likely been treated as servants rather than having servants themselves. My guess is fishermen were not treated with deference in the first century.
So what is Jesus doing in this parable?
Jesus says, “Suppose one of you has a servant…” In my experience, those who have been bossed around all their lives dream of turning the tables and being served for once. When Jesus describes the servant coming in from the field and has the master saying to the servant, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? I imagine the disciples might be thinking, “Ha! No way! I wouldn’t be serving them!” And as Jesus continues, and has the master saying ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’ I imagine the disciples inner voice saying, “Ah, that’s more like it!” Will the master thank the servant? Maybe, but not likely. If the servant is lucky and has a good master, the master might say, “Well done.” or “See you tomorrow.” or something like that, but not “Thank you.”
It is interesting that in the first sentence of this ‘servant and master story” Jesus says ‘you’ bringing the disciples into the story, but even he cannot maintain that charade. The rest of the time Jesus refers to the master as ‘he’ instead of ‘you.’ He knows the disciples will never be in the ‘master’ position in life. Or has Jesus done this on purpose, reeling them in by saying ‘you’ and getting their imaginations going and then using the more general ‘he’ to get them to step back and look at the whole picture? I do not know. Jesus is wily though, and always seems to be intentional in how he chooses his characters and their actions and word, so I can hardly imagine this isn’t intentional too.
He has just finished telling the disciples they have plenty of faith. The quantity of faith is not an issue. If you live by the faith you have, you will be able to live in community, love the sinner, exercise mercy, be a blessing. It will seem impossible, but it is not. Then he puts forth this ludicrous scenario of the hypothetical servants of the blue collar disciples. That servant is working morning noon and night taking care of the master’s farm and then coming in and taking care of the master’s household. The servant will be able to eat and be sustained eventually, but the work comes first. Is he telling them they have plenty of energy to do all the work that The Master is telling them to do?
That’s what I get out of it anyway. I get tired. Being a worker in God’s field and tending God’s flock is hard work sometimes and then to come in and prepare and serve the meal in the evening (equating that to preparing and ‘serving’ the Sunday worship ‘meal’)* is a lot, but it is what I am called to do. I want to serve The Master. I don’t think this is too much to do. I see it as a privilege. I am thankful I get the opportunity to serve. I can easily get a sense of resentment in my relationships if I have a sense I am being taken for granted, but I have been spared that in my church work. I love my work and find joy in it.
But have I done everything my Master has instructed me to do? No. Sadly, I have not. I can always see more things that ought to be done. I have a sense of many ways the world could be a better place, but I am an unworthy servant. I haven’t done and cannot do everything that MIGHT be done or even OUGHT to be done. Could I do more if I trusted God to sustain me? Probably. But I am not sure that is what Jesus is asking here.
I will do my best, and I will do what I can do, each an every day. I might not be able to do it all, but I will do something. I am an unworthy servant, but I am a beloved child of God who is serving, tending the sheep and the field. And besides, that’s where you come in. So are you. None of us can do it all. Together we can do much more than we could do alone. But even then, the work of God’s field and flock will never be done; not as long as there are people on the earth. But you are a beloved servant. So rest easy, my friends. “Keep up the good work” and “See you tomorrow.”
Blessings to you,
Do you get burned out trying to be a good servant? How do you restore your soul when that happens? Remember that no matter what, you are a beloved child of God.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
*Equating the Sunday service to the evening meal fixed by the servants after a full day’s work doesn’t really work today because Sunday, being the first day of the week, would be more like fixing breakfast. But when Jesus was teaching, they weren’t having services on Sunday morning yet. It would have been the gathering on the Sabbath which would be like the evening meal. Some might think they are too tired to gather in community to worship. Some might think they would like to rest some other way. But truly, worship in community restores a person at the end of a long ‘day/week’ doing God’s work. It will revive you like good food revives you when you are too tired and too hungry to be at your best. Seeing Sunday worship, the community gathering to hear God’s word is like breakfast too, the most important meal of the day. It will rev you up. It will keep you going. Don’t skip breakfast for optimal health and don’t skip gathering in community to worship God either. And don’t think for a minute you aren’t the one fixing and serving the meal. You might not be planning worship, but if you aren’t there, the worship suffers. Worship is the work of the people. It is the spirit flowing among the gathered saints that makes a difference. Singing, praying and hearing the Word together is a powerful force. Don’t starve yourself of that force if you want to be at your best.