“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”
As Christians, God has commanded us to do many things. A short list might include, but wouldn’t be limited to things like partake in the Great Commission, serve the poor, read the word, pray, and fulfill the Great Commandment. Doing all these things might even tempt us Christians to feel pretty good about ourselves. However, if we read Luke 17:10 we receive insight into how our reaction should be upon doing the things we are called to do, “when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves…’”
Now, as I have already shared with you, I’m no theologian; just a man reading the word under submission to its power to convict and transform. And God being the great, Holy God that He is, allows us to bring our questions to Him as we come humbly before His word. This is what I did. Luke 17:10 provoked me to go before his throne confidently and ask, “Really, am I an ‘Unworthy Slave?’”
I realize that we need to know and understand our weakness, depravity, and brokenness. But, we also must know that that is who we were before Christ Jesus entered our lives. So, as I questioned God about His word, wondering, “God who do you say that we are?” this is what He opened up to me through His gift of being in that kind of intimacy with Him.
Now stick with me through this. Do you think it is possible that Jesus, the one who knows the thoughts, hearts, and motives; everything in man, is not asking His disciples or us to just call ourselves unworthy slaves. I don’t. After all, Jesus’ teaching style is much deeper than that. His parables challenge people not just to hear the words but to listen and change. I think here He is challenging His disciples to not accept their normal patterns of thought.
It seems that Jesus is telling a very typical story of what happens at the end of a workday. A slave comes in from the field, he is dirty and smells horrible. Most likely the slave is extremely hungry and thirsty from his long day in the hot sun. Here is the stereotypical circumstance as it plays out; the one Jesus describes. The Slave master, who hasn’t been working as hard, doesn’t say to his slave, “Join me for dinner, my wife has made a great meal and I would love if you partook.” Instead he says in a harsh tone, “Slave! Clean yourself off before you enter my house or you will get everything dirty! Then make me dinner because I am hungry!”
Now, if I am not mistaken, aren’t these the types of relationships that Jesus came to abolish? Isn’t Jesus the one who said, “No longer do I call you slaves…” (See John 15:15) Didn’t Jesus come to transform our relationship with God from master and slave to teacher and student? And doesn’t Jesus’s ministry extend even further than this? Didn’t He tell His disciples in John 12:16 after He had washed their feet, “Truly, Truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master…”
And of course, much more intimate than the relationship between slave and master or teacher and student is the relationship between a father and a son. It is this relationship, the only perfect one we have recorded for us, which Christ came to restore. He came to become our brother and friend, reconciling us as sons back to our perfect father in heaven.
So maybe this picture, this parable, Jesus is giving us is not a story we read and then blindly assert as true as we read plainly. But maybe Jesus is calling us to listen to His word and let it divide “our soul and spirit.” That is what His two-edged sword does. Maybe He is challenging us to think differently. “Don’t fall into the stereotype, “ Jesus screams at us, “slaves think of themselves as unworthy because there lives are based on doing, but not your lives! Your lives are not based on what you do. Your lives are based on what I did! So call yourselves worthy Sons!”
And so, the story continues. We, the slaves walk in from our long day in the field and Jesus looks at us and says, “Come, sit and eat.” But, “No, No,” we respond, “we are unworthy slaves! What more can we do for you master?”
Personally, I think Luke 17:10 is insight into how Jesus knows that we are going to react until we get it through our thick heads that he doesn’t mind sharing his table with dirty, tired, sinners. I can imagine Jesus’ face as we tell Him we are unworthy. He is not shocked. He just stares back into our eyes with an irresistible smile full of love and grace and repeats himself, more politely than before. “No, please, sit and eat. It would be my pleasure.” And we couldn’t help it. When we truly know who is looking into our face and his belief in us as worthy, we all want to share the table with the almighty, loving, and personal Son of God. We would even eat His bread and drink His cup if He asked, not because we feel commanded to, rather, by His love we feel compelled to.
And once we share His table with Him, He, “gives us all the right to become sons of God,” (See John 1:12) to do what He does on this earth, His way. He calls us to offer the table to others. To no longer look down on so-called “slaves” and expect to be served, but to humble ourselves as He did and offer the table to once unworthy, dirty, thirsty, sinners, such as ourselves.
If we take a closer look at the book of Luke, we can be assured that Jesus does not want us spending the rest of our lives trapped in the same thought pattern of “I am an unworthy slave!” His message is to transform that relationship. Slave into Son.
Luke 17:10 is actually the end of one small glimpse into the life of Jesus. Notice that 17:11 begins, “While he was on the way to Jerusalem…” Luke 17:10 are Jesus’ final words that close a scene that begins in 15:1, and look how chapter 15 opens! “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”
From 15:1-17:10 is all one continuous conversation between Jesus, His audience of sinners, the Pharisees, and His Disciples. And what a way to start it off! By sharing His table with the sinners and tax collectors, declaring them a worthy audience, calling them a people worthy to share His bread and cup.
And it only gets better. During this little episode is when Jesus shares one of the most popular parables in the Bible; the parable of the Prodigal Son. You probably know it so I won’t go into exhaustive detail, but I want to take a look at one part.
In chapter 15:18-19, after the son has come to his senses and realizes how broken he is, he comes up with what he thinks will be the perfect thing to say to have his father take him back. “I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘father I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men’”
Isn’t that just like Jesus instructs us to do? Doesn’t the cry “I am unworthy! somehow deem us acceptable? After we have followed all the right steps to repentance, humbled ourselves, bent our knees in prayer, closed our eyes, said out loud the right words, and done everything that He commanded us, are we not supposed to say, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son?”
No. I don’t think so. Look what the father does. He just ignores his son’s words and goes straight in for the hug and kiss. He could care less. He is too overwhelmed with Joy to even think such a thing about His beloved child.
I believe this is truly how God sees us. He wants to welcome us into His loving embrace, but he is waiting for us to take up the challenge of His word, to allow it to transform us. We are His beloved sons with whom He is well pleased, always worthy in Fathers eyes.