We Have Done Only Our Duty
So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, you say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have done only that which we ought to have done.' (Luke 17:10)
"Duty" - what we ought to do - is not a very attractive word. There is always the feeling that duty is not a pleasure.
The people concerned here are the farmer and his slave. The slave comes in after a hard day's work in the fields. We might think that the least he deserves is a meal. But the farmer expects him not only to work outside all day for him, but at the end of the day to cook the meal and wait at the table before he gets anything to eat himself. There is no sign of gratitude. The poor man has done only what was expected of him.
The relationship between the farmer and the slave is not how we normally think of our relationship with God. We are, after all, children of God, and the picture of God as a taskmaster is not at all attractive. We prefer to think of God as the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke's Gospel, or in the master we read of in Luke 12:35-17, where the master himself makes his servants sit down to a meal and waits on them at table. We prefer to think of God as caring, compassionate.
We should, however, be careful. Throughout the Bible, and no less in the sayings we have of Jesus, it is clear that God is very demanding indeed. He has given us life and its many blessings. He guides and supports us. We therefore have to recogise that we are completely dependent on him. Because this is the case, we can never really say, "I have done enough".
Paul, who wore himself out in preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, says, "For if I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion." This compulsion, of course, is the compulsion of love.
It is good for us to remember, when we feel that we are working so hard for our employers to support our families, when we spend time in the work of the Church, that it is no more than our duty. It sounds hard, but, in the words of one Christian writer, "If we take these apparently harsh words to heart, and live by them, we find that by the strange alchemy of God's providence his service turns out to be our perfect freedom." What parent, working for their children's welfare and education, nursing them when they are sick, caring for them when they are confused, feels anything but the freedom of love? It can be no different for our religion and our relationship with God.
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The Hard Sayings of Jesus copyright © 2004-2005 Fr. Francis Jamieson.