I loved my time at Virginia Theological Seminary. I made life-long friendships. I was formed as a priest. I learned and stretched and grew. I enjoyed the vast majority of my three years in Northern Virginia, but the truth of the matter is that it wasn’t a great time in the academic life of VTS. I took Liturgics from a preeminent Episcopal Church historian. I took Church History from a theologian who ran back to parish ministry about as fast as he could. There was no Pastoral Theologian on the faculty for two of my three years and when they finally hired one, she was a Presbyterian who didn’t much know our Prayer Book. My Systematic Theology courses were taught by a Bishop who liked to tell stories and a guy with a faked Ph.D. The Biblical Studies faculty was probably top-5 in the country, but, well, some things were left lacking in the end. Despite those flaws, I wouldn’t say my time at VTS was worthless. No, it was actually very worthwhile.
It was worthwhile because sometimes you learn amazing things from people working outside of their fields or from Bishops who have wined and dined with religious leaders from Moscow to Rome. Take, for example, Bishop Dyer’s explanation of God’s grace (roughly paraphrased). By the very nature of your creation, God has hired you for a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week, 365 day a year job to build the Kingdom on earth. When, for so little as a second, you fail to do that work, which we all fail to do, there is no possible way to make up that debt as you are already fully committed to the work at hand. Someone needs to help you out by filling in those extra seconds, days, months, and years. This, in Bishop Dyer’s explanation, is what Jesus did on the cross, he worked overtime and brought the Kingdom to earth.
I’m reminded of all of this by the Gospel lesson for Sunday, in which Jesus uses a very difficult word to describe his fellow human beings.
“When you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”
That’s a tough word to swallow. Forget for a moment the implications for the first 250+ years of America’s history and the slave trade, and just think about the deep psychological power of the word “worthless.” I desperately scoured through BibleWorks to find that Greek word meaning something else, but I kept coming back to “useless, worthless, good for nothing, and unprofitable.” From my research elsewhere, I’m pretty well convinced that God does not see us as worthless. I mean, “he so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son.”
So, dear reader, I’d like your help. As Jesus talks to his disciples here in Luke 17, what is the point of this hyperbole?