************ Sermon on Luke 17:7-10 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 16, 2015
"Serving the Master"
The Bible contains more than forty of Jesus' parables. Some are so well known that hospitals and laws are named after them. I think of "Good Shepherd Hospital" and the "Good Samaritan Law." Others, like the parable in front of us this morning, baffle readers today.
The story is simple. Jesus tells us of a master and his single servant. Actually, the word in the Greek indicates the servant is more of a slave. The master sent the servant out to plow the field and feed the cattle. Then when he comes in from the field the master demands that the servant put on an apron and prepare his supper. Jesus tells His disciples that the master does not even thank the servant because the servant is simply doing his job.
I Two Questions
A The parable hangs on two questions. One, would the master invite the slave to sit down and eat? And two, would the master thank the slave for his work? In our day and age and culture, we would say the answer to both questions is "Yes." The slave has worked hard all day and therefore deserves a break. And, etiquette as well as good business practice demands that the master express appreciation for his labors.
But, biblically speaking, the correct answer to both questions is "No." No, the master would not invite the slave to sit down and eat even though he has worked hard all day. No, the master would not thank the slave for his work.
How do you think this kind of work-environment would go over today? Complaints would be brought to the ACLU, the EDD, the National Labor Relations Board, and a union representative. On Saturday bike rides one of the guys I ride with always asks me what I am preaching on the next day. Yesterday, after I told him about this parable he said it doesn't sound politically correct.
B I tell the students in Pastor's Class that Thomas Jefferson cut out of his Bible the passages that he found offensive and disagreeable. I suspect many today wouldn't mind doing the same thing with the parable in front of us this morning. For one thing, passages like Luke 17:7-10 were used by many slave owners, clergy, and governing officials to justify the institution of slavery. And, in light of modern labor laws many read the parable as unfair and mean-spirited.
People today much prefer a similar parable in Luke 12. There the master returns from a wedding banquet and finds his servants awake and waiting for him. The master is so pleased with their diligence and faithful service that he decides to reward them. The master makes them sit around the table and he serves them in the same way they usually serve him.
C We must remember that parables are not to be applied in every detail. By saying this parable, Jesus is not endorsing the institution of slavery nor is He endorsing unfair labor practices. Rather, Jesus is teaching us something about discipleship. The focus of the parable is on how to follow and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
II The First Question
A In our parable the Lord Jesus starts off His teaching with a question:
(Lk 17:7) "Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'?"In the Greek language it is obvious that Jesus expects a negative answer to this question. He expects His listeners to say, "No, I won't invite my servant or slave to eat with me after he has finished a day of work." Instead of inviting the servant to eat with him the master will say,
(Lk 17:8) 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'?
This answer reflects the life and patterns of behavior in the Middle East during Jesus' days on earth. In that time and place the duty of master and servant is clearly spelled out. The master has authority and the servant must accept and be obedient to that authority. The master rules and the servant serves. It is as simple as that.
The servant of our parable had many duties: plow the field, plant the seed, reap the harvest, feed the cattle, clean the house, cook the food, set the table, serve the master his meal. Whatever the master wanted the servant had to obey. He had no choice in the matter.
It isn't just a one-sided relationship, however. In return for his or her obedience the servant is given meaning, worth, and security in life. The master has the duty of providing for his servant's necessities. So in return for loyalty, obedience, and hard work the servant is guaranteed security in life -- security he otherwise would not have.
B Don't forget, Jesus is teaching us something about discipleship. The focus of the parable is on how to follow and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is clear, isn't it, that we are to see Jesus as the Master. And, we are to see ourselves as His servants or slaves. We are to remind ourselves that a disciple of Jesus is a slave of Jesus.
To that end, I would like to make a suggestion to every member of the congregation. Start off everyday by saying the same four words: "I am your slave." "I am your slave." "I am your slave." Remind yourself everyday that He is the Master and you are His slave. The first question and answer of the Catechism expresses the truth of this parable: "I am not my own but belong -- body and soul, in life and in death -- to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ." I am not my own. I belong to Jesus because He has paid for me with His precious blood (cf 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23).
Scripture has so much to say about disciples as slaves. Jesus used it a lot: "Take my yoke upon you" (Mt 11:29); "No servant can serve two masters" (Lk 16:13); and, "no servant is greater than his master" (Jn 13:16). Did you know that almost half of Jesus' parables involves slaves or slave-like characters? Also, did you know that Paul's favorite title for Jesus is Lord -- that is, Master -- and, his favorite title for himself is slave?
Use of the slave imagery extended into the early church. In the second century, Ignatius started several of his letters by saying, "I salute the bishop, the presbytery, and my fellow slaves."
This does not deny what we read elsewhere in Scripture. Jesus eats with His disciples and even with sinners. In Hebrews, Jesus call us brothers (Heb 2:11). In John 15:15 the disciples are called friends, not servants. And, in John 13, Jesus dressed Himself as a slave and washed the feet of His disciples. Jesus declares that He is their Lord and Master and Teacher and yet He washed their feet. The fact is, the Bible uses a multitude of different ways to describe our relationship with Christ. Today, however, we are being told He is the Master and we are His slaves.
III The Second Question
A In verse 9 Jesus asks a second question that expects a negative answer:
(Lk 17:9) Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?A better translation is "reward." "Would he reward the servant because he did what he was told to do?"
After all of the servant's work in the field and house does the master owe him anything? Is there any credit due to the servant? Has he earned any merit? Is the master indebted to the servant because the servant carried out his orders? It is these questions which expect a negative answer.
When a servant in that time and place does what he is commanded to do the master does not owe the servant any special favor or merit. The servant is only doing his duty and cannot expect a reward.
B Here is Jesus' application: "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'" (Lk 17:10). By "unworthy servants" Scripture means servants to whom nothing is owed. Servants who do not expect and cannot expect a thanks. When we do what Jesus tells us to do, when we follow the Master, we cannot expect a reward.
Question and Answer 63 of the Catechism reference Luke 17:10. The question asks, "How can you say that the good we do doesn't earn anything when God promises to reward it in this life and the next?" Here is the answer: "This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace."
We who are slaves earn nothing when we do our duty. We gain nothing when we obey the commands of the Lord Jesus. We do not deserve a reward for following Christ. Especially, of course, we do not earn, merit, or deserve salvation. It is totally a gift of grace. That's what it comes down to.
IV Living as Slaves
A Jesus is the Master. You and I are His slaves. "So what?" you may ask.
We are being told that like the slave of the parable we who are followers of Jesus must give up, surrender, and yield control to the Lord. We are not in charge; the Lord is!
This means submission. This means obedience. This means dependance. Living in a culture filled with rights and entitlements, we too easily can expect God to seek our permission. But God owes us nothing. Instead, we owe Him everything.
Thankfully, our heavenly Master is nothing like the master of the parable. Human masters, being sinful, often are selfish and self-centered. Our divine Master, on the other hand, is "gentle" and "humble in heart." His "yoke is easy" and His "burden is light" (cf Mt 11:29-30).
Furthermore, our heavenly Master is all powerful. So we can rely on His strength. And, He is good and loving. So we can trust Him to care for us in a way no earthly master possibly can.
I think here of Joshua. He could have served the gods of the Amorites or the gods that were served in Egypt. Instead, he said, "But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord" (Josh 24:15). "Serve" -- as servants, as slaves. I think also of Mary. She is told she will be pregnant outside of marriage. She could have rebelled against the talk and shunning that was going to happen. Instead, she said, "I am the Lord's servant" (Lk 1:38). Mary, like Joshua before her, submitted to the demands of the Master.
So, the first thing we must do is acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and Master.
B Second, we must do our duty. Without complaint. Without resentment. Without reservation. Without backtalk.
Christ doesn't ask our opinion about where to serve. He doesn't ask our opinion about the when of our service. He doesn't ask our opinion about what we would like to do. He doesn't ask our opinion about when to move on or how long to stay. He is the Master, we are the slave. He tells us where to go. How long to stay. What to do. When to do it. How to do it.
Disciples who see themselves as slaves do what their Master commands. Ours is not to question the cost, the inconvenience, the risk. Rather, ours is to hear the Master and obey His will.
Like the servant of the parable, the Lord assigns us many duties. One of our duties, as servants of the King, is to do what is good and right and pure and admirable.
During the Nazi occupation of France, the small Huguenot village of La Chambon risked their lives to help five thousand Jewish children escape to Switzerland. When later asked why they had jeopardized so much to save strangers, their response was simple: They could not stand by and watch the innocent die. It was their God-given duty to resist evil and do good.
Another of our duties, as members of the church, is to use our gifts and time and treasures readily and cheerfully for the service and enrichment of the other members (cf Q & A 55 of the Catechism). The church is a body and each part of the body has a function to play for the common good.
C Third, we need to remember we serve only one Master. We don't need to first of all please the people around us; we don't need to satisfy their desires. Our first goal in life is to please the Master -- the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One we ultimately need to answer to. He is the One Who will ask us for an accounting. He is the One Who gives us our marching orders.
"Christianity Today" tells us the story of Ken Elzinga. He joined the faculty of the University of Virginia. A colleague warned him that being open and explicit about his faith would hinder his career. After receiving this warning Elzinga was stunned to see a flier with his face placed on a prominent campus location. A campus ministry had posted it to advertize a talk he had agreed to give.We serve only one Master, congregation. And, it is our calling to please Him.
Being a relatively new believer and a new professor, Elzinga worried what his fellow professors would think of him. Might this harm his career? So during the night he snuck onto campus and secretly took the poster down.
The next morning Elzinga put the poster back up. After hours of soul-searching, he concluded that his life was not about his career but about serving the Lord, and that being private about his faith was not an option.
Did this hurt him? In the four decades since, Elzinga has been named professor of the year multiple times and is still a speaker in high demand.
My brothers and sisters, Jesus is the Master. You and I are His servants, His slaves.
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