August 6, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus’ parables: We are God’s servants

John F. Fink(Tenth in a series of columns)

Do you consider yourself God’s servant? If we pay attention to Jesus’ parables, we should.

Jesus often used the role of servant-to-master in his parables. Check out, for example, Mt 24:45-51, Mk 13:33-37, Lk 12:35-46 and Lk 17:7-10.

That last reading, found only in Luke’s Gospel, shows us how we should consider our relationship with God.

In this parable, Jesus asked if his listeners would say to a servant who had just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here immediately and take your place at table” (Lk 17:7).

No, he said. First, he would tell the servant to prepare something for the master to eat and serve it to him. Then he could eat and drink. (Apparently, the master had only one servant.)

Well, we might think, that master wasn’t very thoughtful of his servant. If he had been working in the fields, he was probably hungrier and thirstier than the master.

Maybe that’s the attitude of today’s middle-class families who aren’t accustomed to having servants. But Jesus said that the master had no reason to be grateful to the servant because he was only doing his job.

Do we sometimes have the attitude that somehow God owes us for following the commands of his Church? Do we think that we should get something for being good? No. God is never indebted to us. Like the servant in the parable, we have only done what God expects us to do. We have only done our duty.

The other Gospel readings referenced above are three variations of the same parable, which Jesus told when he was warning that the end of the world would come when least expected. Jesus called for vigilance on the part of his followers, just as the servants that the master puts in charge of his household must do their duties faithfully because they don’t know when the master will return.

In Luke’s telling of the parable, the master went to a wedding and his servants awaited his return. When he was delayed, one servant started beating those under him, and took advantage of the master’s absence to eat and drink and get drunk. That servant will be punished severely, Jesus said.

Jesus finished that parable with this: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Lk 12:48). That’s a message well worth meditating about.

Think of all the things that God has given to us, and realize that he will require more of the person to whom he has given more. If we have had greater opportunities than others, God will expect us to use those opportunities more than he will expect those others to do so. If we are fortunate enough to know more about our religion than others, God will expect us to do something about it.

And after we have done so, we shouldn’t expect to be rewarded because we will only have been doing our duty. †

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