Context makes a huge difference.
In my post on Monday, I worried about Jesus insinuating that any human being is worthless. This is, of course, the modern conundrum, where finally, after thousands of years of thinking otherwise, the majority of humanity has agreed that we are all equal and that slavery is a terrible, awful, no good, very bad practice. In the days when slavery was accepted, as it was in 1st century Palestine, this two-part hypothetical that Jesus suggests in Luke 17, would have been an image that was readily understood. 2,000 years later, our ears are so attuned to the horror of slavery, that the whole things just feels icky.
As I’ve read and reread the Gospel lesson for Sunday, I’ve tried to move past the ickiness of slavery and understand what Jesus is really saying about discipleship. I’ve realized that context makes a huge difference. In my ickiness, I read the story as if Jesus called the slave “worthless.” If that were the case, the problems I raised on Monday seem to be in play. However, what Jesus actually says is something different. Jesus says that “when you’ve done what your are called to do, don’t pat yourself on the back, but instead say, “I am but dust and to dust shall I shall return.” As ChaplainJesusLady (a great moniker, btw) suggested in her comment on Monday, this counteracts the temptation to always think that “the whole universe was created just for me.”
Apart from God, I can do nothing (Jn 15.5).
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain (Ps 127.1).
You are the Lord, I have no good apart from you (Ps 16.2).
In the end, if we’ve been disciples of Jesus and done the job assigned for us to do (i.e. build the kingdom of God), then we can look back and say, “Thank you Lord for putting me to good use.” It wasn’t of our own volition, but the Lord at work within us. Another week, another chance for God to remind me, “it isn’t all about you, Steve.” I’m grateful for the reminder that though I am worthless, my value in the Lord is inestimable.