Living Lessons 11

Parable of the Master and the Servant

Luke 17:7-10

A few years after we were married, Dena and I discovered that one of our favorite pizza places held a regular trivia night. We had only one kiddo at the time and family babysitters close at hand, so we decided to make trivia night a standing date — just the two of us, a pizza, and a growing group of friends and strangers. The rules were simple: Every team had a clever name. No one was allowed to look up answers on their phones. And at the end of the night, the team with the highest score would receive a gift card for a free pizza.
After several weeks we started to recognize other teams, either by their faces or by their familiar team names. There was usually a pretty good mix of people in the room. Some were there just for the pizza. Others were there for good food and a laugh about all the things we were just sure we knew, but in fact we did not.  There were however two or three teams, usually in matching uniforms, who were there to prove their everlasting dominance in the stone oven pizzeria trivia universe. They were not there for food. They came for a fight, and they came to win. Their scores were usually much, much higher than ours.
So, it came as a total shock when at the end of one night, our table was announced as the winning team (I am still convinced that our victory was the result of a clerical error more than our extensive knowledge of world history). We moved trepidatiously to the podium (along with one of the other usual winning teams) to inform the M.C. that there must have been a mistake in the scorekeeping. He gave me a look that said “Fly, you fools!” and handed us our gift card as he doubled down on our win, confidently announcing us again over the house speakers as the champions for the evening as we scurried to pay our bill and make our way home.
I remember enjoying our free pizza quite a bit. After all, it came with a pretty good story. But I also must admit that it has always come with the suspicion that we weren’t worthy of our trophy.

My life as an unworthy champion came to mind as I read Jesus’ story (recorded by Luke) about the unworthy servant. This story has never been troublesome for me. I must have skimmed it numerous times without giving it a second thought (even most of my trusted commentaries seem to skip past this story for reasons unknown). But whatever the reason, Jesus’ words had never bothered me until this reading in particular. It seemed to me as though he was saying Christians should just put our heads down and do our work. What had me feeling unsettled was not the notion of being a good servant, but the fact that this story seemed to stand in conflict with so many of the other words I have heard attributed to Jesus:
I no longer call you servants, but friends…
Well done, good and faithful servant…
I go to prepare a place for you…
In this story Jesus seemed to warn his followers not to expect a reward — not even so much as a 'thank you' for their lives of faithful service. A loving Jesus, whom we have come to know for his grace and compassion, seemed to say rather pointedly, 'Know your place.'
At first, I thought maybe this was maybe just practical instruction for the disciples. Having served on countless teams where we were reminded 'we are here to serve, not to be served,' this certainly seemed like a possibility. But why include it in the larger arc of the story?
Then I thought about the word unworthy. Not worthless. Not without value. But unworthy. As in undeserving.
Here in the U.S., we are quickly nearing the holiday of Thanksgiving, a season when we are supposed to reflect on all the things for which we are grateful. In theory, this seems like an excellent idea. In reality, I wonder sometimes if we aren’t actually conditioning ourselves to be thankful mostly for the excess that we post about on social media for thirty days, while the gap between “#normal” and “#blessed” silently grows unnoticed.
For Christians in particular, I wonder if we don’t too often or too easily equate the goodness of God with the things that simply make us comfortable. I can only speak for myself but must confess that I gravitate toward the notion that the life I enjoy is primarily the result of my own effort. If I work harder, I enjoy greater rewards. If I enjoy more blessings, then surely God must be happy with my service and love me more. But too often I forget that even in the so-called ordinary areas of my life, I have been given beyond measure far more than I deserve. Confronted with this, I must admit that in many areas of life, I am unworthy at best.
All of this makes me think that maybe Jesus’ story is not just another trope about “servant leadership,” but rather a reminder for his followers about the importance of humility. We are not worthless (Jesus’ own sacrifice should remind us otherwise), but neither does our role as servants of God mean we are entitled to all the finest things this world has to offer. Especially given the context in which Luke chooses to include this story—following the story of faith like a mustard seed and the healing of ten lepers, only one of whom chooses to return and thank Jesus for the gift of his healing—I have to wonder if Jesus wasn’t reminding his followers of the significance of simple things. Could this be a lesson for those of us who regularly practice Sabbath — not to fit more things into a single good day, but to recognize more of the good in all the days of our life? Is it possible that a posture of humility could lead us to a deeper appreciation for the glimpses of God that we have learned to see as commonplace?
I was processing this all out loud with Dena recently and she put it better than I ever could: “When we accept that we are undeserving of all we have been given, it leads us to a gratitude that is fuller and deeper.”
As we move into a season when it feels appropriate to reflect on gratitude, may we recognize that we are indeed both unworthy and blessed. May we realize that in the ordinary facets of life, the goodness of God has been poured out on us beyond measure. And in the spirit of authentic humility, may we become truly and deeply thankful.

By Elia King

MARGINS PODCAST - New Episodes Each Wednesday at 8am PST

Saltworks Live with Alex Bryan

Saturdays at 10am PST

Alex Bryan is hosting Saltworks Live each week from Walla Walla, Washington, USA.  Be sure to join us each Saturday for a lively discussion as we enter into the book of Acts.  You will be able to join Saltworks Live on the One project website, app, Facebook and YouTube.

Get The App

Stay connected and get the latest content.

Download The App


A podcast highlighting LIVE TALKS from our One project gatherings over the last decade.  Each Friday evening, we release a new featured talk.  Enjoy these insightful and powerful words from some of the best speakers from across the world.  New episodes will air every week at 5pm PST.  Listen live, or throughout your week!

Support the Work of the One project

Posted in
Posted in , ,

No Comments