Gospel of Luke 17: 7-10 (NIV)
Jesus continued, 7 “Suppose one of you had a servant ploughing 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’? 8 Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 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.’”
“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.”
To whom was Jesus speaking when he said this? He had been addressing his disciples and then “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” (verse 5). The verses leading this reflection, verses 7 to 10, are a continuation of Jesus’ reply to the apostles.
I hold the apostles (with the obvious exception of Judas) in very high esteem. Their deeds are of epic proportion. Many traditions regard them to be saints. Peter was commanded to lead the Church after Jesus ascended to be with the Father. This was a huge responsibility for one man; leadership could have attracted significant kudos – but to lead the Church was Peter’s duty. John wrote a marvellous Gospel and late in life he recorded his extraordinary visions which have encouraged believers for two millennia – but to write those books was John’s duty. Even Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, who carried the Gospel message through what is now Turkey and into Greece, saw this mission as his duty: “Yet when I preach the Gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
Jesus knows what was in a person; he knows what causes people to strive and he knows what causes people to stumble. He foresaw the kinds of temptations to sin that his apostles would encounter and he set out to prepare them beforehand. Here he was warning them of succumbing to pride.
When they asked him to increase their faith, his response addressed not the quantity of a person’s faith but the quality of that faith. He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you,” (verse 6). He knew that the apostles, empowered by the Holy Spirit, would be fortified in their faith to perform miraculous works in his name. The credit was not to be theirs; the apostles had to understand in advance that the purpose of these mighty acts was to bring glory to God.
The same applies to us today. Each of us has received certain gifts from God. Each has been tasked to use these in accordance with the purposes God has revealed individually to each one of us. For the Christian woman or man, faith enables us to apply these gifts for God’s glory and for the service of his kingdom. To do so is our duty.
“Unworthy servants”? Yes. We are unworthy of the gifts and we are unworthy of the salvation won for us by Jesus on the cross. It is by grace, his grace, that we are God’s children.