I find the last words of today’s gospel to be pretty harsh. Jesus uses the example of a slave coming in from the fields after a long hard day of work. He asks his disciples if any of them would say to this slave ‘rest your weary bones and put your feet up, I your master will fix you your supper’? That’s not the way it works. It’s the slave’s job to prepare his masters supper and then eat his own. He is due nothing for the service he gives his master, it’s his job.
St. Paul tells us that in our relationship with God we have been set free by the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. We are no longer slaves but sons and daughters of God. We are sons and daughters who have been gifted with countless gifts – gifts we did not earn, gifts to which we have no claim. The gift of life, the gift of family, the gifts of health, the gift of sight and hearing, the gift of mobility, the gift of minds to search for truth and beauty, the gift of free will to open our lives to love others and to receive love, the gift of faith, a mustard seed that is meant to grow and bring us to a deeper relationship with God in and through a deeper relationship with Christ. We are a gifted people and as St. Paul reminds us, “what have you that you have not received and if you have received it why do boast as if you have not received it?”
As gifted people we try to live lives of justice doing what we can to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless. As gifted people we try to change social and political systems that favor the rich and do nothing for the working poor. As gifted people we try to keep our lives free of prejudice and bigotry. As gifted people we try to welcome the stranger. As gifted people we try to respect men and women of different faiths and cultures, social standings and life styles. As we were told at our Confirmation, the gifts of God’s Spirit and not for ourselves alone but for the betterment of others so that we, even with all our limitations, can complete Christ’s work on earth.
Jesus is trying to tell his disciples that they were gifted people and in the story of the servant he challenges any entitlement mentality they may be harboring. None of us can say to God, ‘you owe me.’
We can imagine heaven as something like this: we come in from doing a lifetime of field and flock works and we can expect that God is so grateful to us, so impressed with all our hard work, that we are invited, because of our works, to get good seats at the heavenly banquet. But the truth of the matter is that we do not deserve heaven. Jesus took away the necessity of our achieving heaven by our works. The great work of Jesus, who did not consider being equal to God as something to be clung to but emptied himself and took on our humanity even to becoming a slave and servant, a servant obedient even to death on a cross. This great work of Jesus announces more clearly than ever that we too are “unprofitable servants” who are not entitled to anything because of our work. We are not entitled but we are titled, gifted and made worthy to be sons and daughters of a loving God, a gift made possible by the Master’s act of being Servant.
As followers of Christ we are to keep our eyes on him, the servant of all servants and we are to keep our eyes on others whose needs offer us the chance to love as he loved and serve as he served and gave his life as a ransom for many. As we continue this Eucharist we can make our own the prayer of Ignatius of Loyola: Teach us good Lord to serve as you served, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do your will.