The Parable of the Unworthy Servant (Luke 17)


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We need to face how intensely our pride detests the fact that we are designed to be servants who never stop serving. In Luke 17:7-10, Jesus throws out a wonderfully pride bashing picture of what our position is with our three glorious Creators.

“When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’ And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. In the same way, when you obey Me, you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’” (Lk. 17:7-10)

What grounds does a servant have for boasting when he has simply carried out his master’s orders? Do we expect human bosses to heap rewards upon their employees for doing the work that is required of them? No, and yet we expect God to think we’re some kind of awesome the moment we suffer any inconvenience in our service to Him. What is fun about plowing a field all day and taking care of a bunch of sheep? At the end of a hard day’s work, has the servant in Jesus’ parable earned the right to act as his master’s peer by eating at his table and being served by others? Not hardly. And yet when we listen to men like the apostle Paul, that is exactly what we’re taught to look forward to in Heaven. It’s a little service here on earth, and then it’s all about us being glorified and co-ruling, and getting showered with rewards. Yet what is it that we are being rewarded for—serving God? Doing what He told us to do? This is what we were designed to do. It doesn’t matter how hard our service for God is down here—no matter what we do, we will have only done the very least that is required of us.

So what does this mean? Are we to go through life with our heads hanging down and claiming to be wretched worms? No. Just because we are lowly servants, it doesn’t mean we are not loved by our Masters. Just because They demand things of us doesn’t mean They don’t cherish us. The point of this parable is to teach us our proper place. We should never be pining for some promotion that will make us equal to our Creators because this is not going to happen. But this is not to say that there isn’t abundant joy to be found in our relationship with Them, because there is.

Our Gods clearly teach that if we serve Them well on earth, we will be rewarded by Them in Heaven. The exact form these rewards will take is unknown. While They use the examples of material wealth, we know that such things are merely metaphors. Heaven isn’t going to be running on a cash system, and where there is no concept of money, things like gold and jewels lose their appeal. So when you read about fine mansions and sparkling gemstones in Heaven, realize that God is talking to an ancient people and borrowing from their ancient culture’s idea of “the good life” to communicate the principle that Heaven will be a very pleasant place.

So based on this parable, how does Jesus want us to respond to the idea of our Masters rewarding us for serving Them on earth? We ought to be utterly astounded. We ought to find the whole idea of heavenly rewards utterly mystifying since we know that we have done nothing to deserve them. We ought to be blown away by the incredible generosity and goodness of Masters who actually take pleasure in heaping rewards onto the heads of those who have done nothing to deserve them.

Truly we are all unworthy servants—unworthy of all this ego stroking applause that we are taught to look forward to. Who among us can honestly claim to never grumble in our service to God? Isn’t it true that the cheery attitude only comes out when we receive assignments that are pleasing to our egos and a convenient match to our talents? Isn’t it true that we blow off many of God’s commands as invalid when we find them too inconvenient? We’re the kinds of servants who plow only a quarter of the field well and then do a shabby job on the rest because we lost interest. We’re the kind that fall asleep while we’re watching the sheep and don’t notice when some of them wander off. We are all guilty of shirking in our duties and deciding that certain tasks are just beneath us. When we take an honest look at our quality of service and then we remember that we were designed for the purpose of serving our Creators, on what grounds can we boast? How can we possibly march up to God’s throne in Heaven and hold our hands out in greedy expectation?

In His parable, Jesus helps us see how out of control our egos are by reminding us of how sensitive we are to our human subordinates stepping out of line on earth. What military general wouldn’t be ticked by some cadet trying to revise his battle plans? What boss wouldn’t find it obnoxious for his employee to do the opposite of what he was told? Would you find it appropriate for your chauffeur to tell you to take a turn at driving the car? Would you tip a waiter who told you to fetch your own food from the kitchen? We are quick to get angry when subordinates step out of line on earth, yet we expect the Sovereign Kings to shower us with applause for our partial obedience and fickle devotion the moment we get to Heaven.

It is the arrogant “You owe me” attitude that Jesus is cautioning us against in this parable. We are servants. We will only ever be servants. We do not deserve any glory or praise for doing the very least that we were created to do, and that means serving our Kings with total devotion. Yet because our Masters are so incredibly generous, They actually enjoy shocking us with rewards that we do not deserve. This is the astonishing position that we find ourselves in: we deserve nothing, yet we are showered with blessings. We have earned nothing, yet we have been invited into an eternal paradise. The whole idea of receiving rewards in Heaven is so utterly nonsensical that we ought to be driven to our knees in speechless gratitude. There is no place for greedily grabbing at the goodies. There is only room for bowing down and saying, “What have I ever done that is worthy of praise? You are the only glorious Ones; I am nothing by comparison.” It is this kind of humility that pleases our Gods. It isn’t about self-loathing and rejecting Their love for us. It is about properly appreciating that love and remembering our place. We were created to serve. The more we understand this, the more we will understand just how wonderful our Gods are.