Doing Our Duty
              by Lois Tverberg

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty." Luke 17:10

Jesus told an odd parable in Luke 17 that is a head-scratcher for many readers, and isn't often used in sermons because it seems somewhat negative. He said,

Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' Luke 17:7-10

What was the point of his message?  He speaks as if we shouldn't approach God as our loving Father, but as the master of us as his slaves. Why?

It is likely that this parable was offered as a contrast to Jesus' many statements about a future reward that God has for those who have been obedient to him. While of course it is faith in Christ that atones for our sins and allows us to enter heaven, Christians rarely note how many times Jesus talks about a "reward" which does seem to depend on how a person has lived:

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. Mt 16:27

And, Jesus even says that his followers will be rewarded even in this life as well.

"I tell you the truth," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life." Luke 18:29-30

When a person hears this, the typical human response is "Wow - what will be my reward?" and our focus shifts to that. Indeed, some prosperity preachers spend a lot of time on all the ways God wants to bless us and make us rich, or crown us with glory when we get to heaven. But Jesus parable at the beginning of this article is about how our focus shouldn't be on the reward at all. Other rabbis of Jesus' time also said similar things:

Do not be like slaves that serve their master to receive a reward; rather, be like slaves who do not serve their master to receive their reward.1

If you have performed many mitzvot (good deeds) [literally, If you have done much Torah], do not think that you have any merit [i.e., that you are entitled to a reward]. This is the purpose for which you have been created! 2

And Paul also points out that this is our purpose:

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Eph. 2:10

It is wonderful that we have a loving Father that enjoys blessing us, and is planning for a future together in eternity that we can hardly imagine. But instead of being self-centered and only looking at the pleasures we will gain, we should respond out of love to the One who wants to give them to us.

1 Mishnah, Pirke Avot 1:3. (As quoted in "The Rich Man Who Rejected the Kingdom" in New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, by David Bivin, (En-Gedi, 2005) pp. 81-87.

2 Avot de-Rabbi Natan, Version B, Ch. 31 (ed. Schechter, p. 66). Quotation also from New Light, pp. 81-87.

6 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., All rights
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