Summary: ..."Will any one of you who has a servant ploughing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and recline at table'? Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat an
I have not always been an Anglican! In my late teens - in the days following my rather dramatic conversion experience - I found myself gravitating naturally towards the more charismatic end of the church. Maybe it was because it was more youthful and energetic. Maybe it was because I felt at home with so many people who were struggling with drug and alcohol issues. Or maybe it was because I enjoyed the dramatic testimonies.
"Tell us about your life before you met Jesus, Bob
Well pastor, before I met Jesus I was living in a caravan. I was bankrupt, my family had fallen apart, and I was drinking myself to sleep each night.
And what about now, Bob?
Well pastor, since I met Jesus I haven't touched a drop of grog, I now run a multi-million dollar cosmetics business and, hey, have you met my new wife? …"
We've all heard stories like that, haven't we - stories of people who have met Jesus and so have gone from strength to strength, people for whom Jesus has been the answer in every area of their lives - spiritual, emotional and financial, people for whom the Christian life seems like nothing but one glorious celebration after another! Well … have we also heard this story?
"Will any one of you who has a servant ploughing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and recline at table'? Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"
You may remember a few weeks back I brought in my copy of "The Positive Bible" - that specially edited version of the New Testament that promises you "all the good stuff and nothing else", and I did so with a view to pointing out that the passage I was speaking on that day did not make it in to "The Positive Bible".
You could be forgiven for assuming that I'm giving a sermon series on passages that didn't make it into "The Positive Bible". I'm actually just working my way through the Gospel of Luke. It was the "Hate your mother and father" passage (in Luke 14) we were looking at last time I produced this. That was followed by the less-than-cheery story of Lazarus and the rich man, and this week we get this slap-in-the-face story that compares the life of discipleship to slavery, concluding with the admonition: "So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"
Once again, it's not very positive, is it, and it hardly makes the Christian life look like an attractive career option!
Frankly, the whole image of the master and slave seems entirely distasteful. We, of course, do not have slaves who plough our fields or tend our livestock, but even if we did I suspect that we would not treat them with the quite the degree of disdain that this master seems to be treating his slaves with.
Is this master really supposed to be a metaphor for God - the God and Father of our Lord Jesus who himself came among us not to be served but to serve? Is this how we envisage God dealing with us when we have done all that is asked of us? What happened to "well done, good and faithful servant?"
And after all, We who have been schooled in the humanistic phenomenology of Carl Rogers know full well that human beings perform best when their self-esteem is at its highest, and so we know that the key to managing staff is to affirm them at every opportunity. We like to be told that we have done a good job - that we are good at what we do. Nobody likes to be told that they are worthless! What sort of way is that to treat your team?
Moreover, the whole master-slave concept is a painful one, as it depicts the Christian life as nothing more than the living out of the 'd' word - ie. duty!
Despite the fact that Robert E. Lee credited 'duty' as being 'the most sublime word in the English language', nobody likes the 'd' word any more. It evokes images of heartless toil and endless routine, and is akin to other 'd' words, such as 'discipline' and 'drudgery'.
Nowadays we don't respect people who act only out of duty. "We would have split up years ago but stay together for the sake of the children!" "I married my pregnant girlfriend because I thought it was the right thing to do!" "Putting mum in the nursing home would have been easier but I thought it was my duty to look after her."