Unprofitable Servants

[Homily.  Assumption Chapel. Nov 8, 2022.]

“When you have done all that you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do’” (Lk. 17:10).

Having done a long day’s work does not entitle the servant to enter the master’s house and eat before his master eats.  The master will be served his meal first, then the servant will eat. 

In St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (Lk 9:51-19:27) is also an opportunity for Jesus to express to believers and opponents through conversations, sermons, and many parables what belongs to the Christian Way – what belongs to living a Christian life.  The Gospel passage today is telling us:  we embrace this Christian way as a matter of Christian course.  In living the Christian way faithfully, we do not entitle ourselves to special privileges in the House of God.  We only do what we ought to.

What belongs to the Christian way?  I mention here only some of the challenges that Jesus mentions on his way to Jerusalem. 

First.  As his disciples, he sends us on mission (cf. Lk 10:1-12).  He sends us out like lambs among sheep.  He sends us to bring households his peace.  To those who welcome them, he sends us to proclaim, “The Kingdom of God is at hand for you’ (Lk:9:9).

Second, we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our being, with all our strength, and with all our mind, and our neighbor as ourselves (cf. Lk 10:22-26).

Third, we are to help our neighbor, as the priest and the Levite failed to.   Like the Samaritan, who was outcasted and despised by the religious leaders, we are to stop and to bend down in order to care for the person who had been beaten, stripped, robbed and left to die.  That person is our neighbor whom we ought to love as ourselves (cf. Lk 10:29-37).

Fourth, we are to pray.  We are to have time to pray, as Jesus had time to pray, even if it meant he prayed all night.  We are to ask Jesus to teach us to pray.  He does.  He teaches us to call upon his Father, acknowledge his holiness, and hope for the realization of his Kingdom  (cf. Lk 11:1-13).

Fifth, “we are to hear the word of God and keep it” (cf. Lk 11:27-28).

Sixth, we are to expect opposition in our lives, as Jesus was opposed.  He was accused of exorcizing demons by calling on Satan.  We are to expect opposition even if in establishing his Kingdom Jesus extirpates demons “by the finger of God.” (Lk 11:14-23).  We are not to be afraid of “those who kill the body but after that can do no more” (cf. Lk 12:2-9),

Seventh, we are to focus on seeking God’s kingdom, rather than on clothing and shelter.  Look at the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.  We are to trust in God’s providence for all that we need.

Eighth, as we are sinners, we are to show mercy to sinners, and appreciate how God leaves the 99 of the flock to find the lost sheep.

Ninth, we are to give alms (Lk 14:41) and share of our bounty with the poor.  From the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we are to realize that such sharing has a bearing on eternal life.   (Lk 10:19-31).

We could go on and on.  How is it with you?  Searching the scriptures, what do you consider part of your Christian way of life?  How is it in your life?  Is the Christian Way central or tangential to your life – something you do only in your pious interludes or only on Sundays or only when beset by crisis?  Do you love your neighbor as yourself all the time? Or just sometimes, when he or she is likable, or he or she is useful to you?  And when you do what you do – share of your bounty with the victims of Typhoon Paeng, share of your knowledge with the student having difficulty, share of your concern and treasure with the colleague in crisis – do you revel in the thought that God owes you one, that somehow his kingdom is better realized because of your virtue?

From the perspective of the entire Gospel, we are created, redeemed, missioned in the Holy Spirit, and called to a life of eternal glory with God in total gratuity.  We did nothing to deserve this.  We did nothing to earn our existence and the fullness of life that Jesus comes to bring.  We do nothing to ever deserve his love.  Living the Christian way – whatever its cost, whether in hardship or martyrdom – is but a response to this undeserved gratuity.  God is not in our debt for the things that we do.  We are in his debt for the love he has shown to us. 

The little we do does not even deserve the generous meal that he prepares for us after we have served him – the “banquet” he prepares “in the sight of my foes” where “my cup overflows.”  Not crumbs that fall from the table.  But “the goodness and love that follow me all the days of my life.” This is manifested ultimately in the heavenly banquet prepared for me in the sight of my foes in the house of the Lord where “I will dwell forever and ever” (Ps 23:5-6).  Not scraps eaten in a lonely servants’ pantry.  But the undeserved Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation savored in the company of the saints forever. 

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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