“Would any of you say to your servant, who had just come in from the field after plowing or tending sheep, ‘Come! Sit down for dinner’? Wouldn’t you say instead, ‘Fix my dinner. Put on the clothes of a table servant and wait on me while I eat and drink. After that, you can eat and drink’? You won’t thank the servant because the servant did what you asked, will you? In the same way, when you have done everything required of you, you should say, ‘We servants deserve no special praise. We have only done our duty.’” – Luke 17:7-10 (CEB)
This week, I am teaching on four hard sayings of Jesus in Luke 17:1-10. Although I think they are all difficult, I believe the final teaching is the most troublesome. I don’t really want my relationship with God to be that of master to slave. Everywhere else in the Luke’s Gospel, it seems that Jesus is offering us a place at the table. In Matthew, Jesus invites us to lay down our heavy burdens so we can rest – and also says “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But now we’re worthless?
The truth is, that as disciples we are also the servants – the ones who follow, obey, and imitate our lord.
We are not equal with God, even though we are called children of God, beloved, and co-heirs with Christ. Jesus does say that he goes to prepare a place for us, but that is not in this life.
In this life, we serve as Jesus served.
In this life, we are called to service and sacrificial love – this is the call and responsibility of discipleship. The Greek word for that type of love is αγαπη. It is selfless love, which is why it doesn’t seek it’s own advantage. It’s why Jesus told us that we aren’t to let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. Jesus is reminding the disciples – and us – that there are no special privileges in this life for being a disciple. We don’t receive any merit or favor for our good works. Servant is our identity when we take on the mantle of Christ.
At some point in our lives, we have probably been told we were worthless: not picked for the team, rejected by someone we love, fired at work, or simply the cruel self talk in our heads.
This is a hard teaching.
Along with “turn the other cheek,” we can view it as a command to submit ourselves to any type of abuse or ill-treatment from others. It seems that we are just supposed to forgo self-care in a form of extreme humility that leads to degradation of our soul.
But Jesus is not saying that God considers us worthless. Scripture is clear that God values and loves us. Jesus’ name means “God saves,” and Immanuel means “God with us.” If God thought we were worthless, there would be no Jesus. Rather, Jesus is teaching us that when we have a healthy understanding of who God is and who we are, we realize that in comparison, we are the worthless servant.
At some point, every analogy breaks down. And parables can only be taken so far. Jesus’ point in this teaching is not the degradation of our souls but a reminder of the responsibilities of discipleship. We are never done discipling others, holding one another accountable in truth and love, or forgiving generously.
In a way, this should be Good News. We always have a purpose. There never comes a time in our life when we are no longer needed as Christ’s witness in the world. There never comes a time in our life when our relationship with our Lord and Master ends.
Or in the words of 1 Corinthians 13: Love never ends.
This list of hard teachings in Luke 17 is a list of what faithfulness and discipleship look like: acts of selfless love towards God and others. One reason these teachings are hard is because they are terse with very little pastoral guidance to help us with their difficulty. But this teaching on what faithfulness looks like was demonstrated in Jesus’ life over and over again.
As we read the Gospels, we see how Jesus spoke the truth in love, held people accountable for the choices, forgave without end, and continued in obedient and faithful service even when it literally killed him. We close with this reminder from the letter to the Hebrews:
Also, let’s hold on to the confession [of hope] since we have a great high priest who passed through the heavens, who is Jesus, God’s Son; because we don’t have a high priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses but instead one who was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin. Finally, let’s draw near to the throne of [grace] with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help.
We have gathered around the table this morning with confidence that we receive mercy and find grace when we need help. As we come nearer to the cross with Jesus, we once again turn to the words in the letter to the Hebrews:
Therefore, let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water. Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable. Let’s also think about how to motivate each other to show love and to do good works. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.
When Jesus met with the disciples on the night before he died, they also gathered around a table wearing the burden of discipleship. Just as Jesus shared our humanity with us, he also shared the burden of discipleship. On that night, he did invite the disciples to “Come and sit down for dinner.”
It was here that Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. And it was here that Jesus took the bread and gave thanks to God who provides. He broke it as a symbol of how his body would be broken. Likewise he took the cup and gave thanks once again – even though it represented how his own blood would be shed.
As the disciples shared the bread and the cup, Jesus reminded them to do this in remembrance of him. As we continue to do so today, we ask the ever-present Holy Spirit to bring us into communion with our Lord who came to serve and not be served and with the disciples of every age who took up the mantle of Christ to do the same.
 Hebrews 4:14-16 (CEB)
 Hebrews 10:22-25 (CEB)
If you are looking for more liturgical resources, please consider checking out my books:
Prayers for the People: Scripturally Based Prayers for Worship Prayers for the People is a collection of prayers for worship. These prayers offer the worshipping community fresh perspectives for praying the words of Scripture, using current language and references. Cross-referenced to the Revised Common Lectionary, pastors seeking to lead their people in prayer have found a relevant and beautiful source for worship planning.
Come to the Table: Communion Liturgies of Invitation to Celebrate and Experience the Love of God is a collection of communion liturgies inviting worshippers to experience and respond to the Gospel. These meaningful liturgies enhance and reinforce the biblical message of the day. Worshippers are welcomed to the Table to experience the Word in preparation to go out into the world and live it. Come to the Table includes liturgies for the entire liturgical year providing pastors with a valuable resource in worship planning.