Saturday, October 2, 2010

Are We Useless Slaves?

The apostles said to (B)the Lord, "Increase our faith!"

6And (C)the Lord said, "If you had faith like (D)a mustard seed, you would say to this (E)mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you.

7"Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come immediately and sit down to eat'?

8"But will he not say to him, '(F)Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink'?

9"He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?

10"So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'"

The word “slave” occurs 30 times in Luke, 35 times in Matthew, 5 times in Mark, 12 times in John.

But the term “useless slave”—or here translated “unworthy slave” and “worthless slave” is only used twice:

In Matthew the term is used in the parable of the talents. There’s a slave who gets one talent, according to his ability, from his lord and master. The slave protects that talent—he was given the talent to watch while his master was gone.

This is important—Jesus does not have the master give any instruction other than that he “gives over to them his possessions. . . to each according to his own ability.” The slave who got one talent—one talent, by the way, is a lot of money. 14,400 Drachmae—the unit of a laborer’s or soldier’s day’s pay. Somewhere on the order, in purchasing power, of a million dollars.

So the slave got a million dollars to protect while his master was away. Now, I don’t know about you, but protecting a million dollars sounds like a pretty difficult job.

The slave does it. When the master comes back, the slave gives him his talent.

But the master’s not happy. He takes the talent from the useless slave and has him “cast out into outer darkness where there shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth.”

So it’s of particular importance to us, when Jesus is talking to his disciples and says:

“When you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.”

That’s right. Jesus tells his disciples—and by extension us—that when we do “only that which we ought to have done” we are useless slaves. And as he tells us in Matthew, the fate of a useless slave is to be cast into the darkness.

So where does this leave us?

Perhaps I can take a bit of a diversion here.

Yesterday a friend of mine from high school and college, someone I lived and worked with at a church while in college, posted on his Facebook page a link to a preacher who spoke from the pulpit on tolerance.

Specifically, she was preaching tolerance of Islam.

Problematically, she said that Jesus also preached tolerance.

This is a problem because it’s simply incorrect. When I pointed this out to my friend, I was told (by his mother, as these things happen on Facebook) that the parable of the Good Samaritan was about tolerance.

I realized then, that there was a disconnect between my friend and I regarding the definition of tolerance.

As far as I can tell, there are two possible interpretations of tolerance here: either to respect the beliefs of others or to permit them to continue existing in their beliefs.

As Jesus came to change us, I don’t see tolerance fitting into either of those definitions.

Moreover, this elevation of “tolerance” to something holy misses out—dare I say purposefully ignores?—the purpose of Jesus’ message.

Let’s look at the parable of the Good Samaritan to find out what that purpose is.

We all know the story, I know I’ve spoken of it before—the injured Hebrew—the hated enemy of the Samaritans—is picked up and taken care of by just the filthy, unclean Samaritan that’s supposed to help him.

The point of the story is the answer to the question “who is my neighbor?”

The question itself is an attempt to squirrel out of the greatest commandment:


Now does Jesus say “you shall tolerate your neighbor as yourself?”

No—not only would that be nonsensical, it wouldn’t be anything radical or changing.

The Romans were champions of tolerance. All you had to do was tolerate their rule and they would tolerate your traditions. Easy, really. And tolerance is certainly an effective way to rule on earth.

But Jesus wasn’t interested in the tolerance of the Romans. Jesus wasn’t interested in rule on earth—but rule within ourselves that leads us to the Kingdom of Heaven. Towards this, the latter half of the great commandment is to LOVE your neighbor as yourself.

Tolerance isn’t love. Tolerance is the position a ruler takes. Jesus commands us to love, not tolerate. To serve, not to rule. To debase His message from a position of love and service into indifference and rule is inexcusable.

Unfortunately, all of the posters on my friend’s Facebook page sided with his mom. Sided, in effect with that preacher—that the key to salvation is tolerance, not love.

I wondered then, as I do now, how many Christians have been lead astray by this false doctrine—I’m not speaking Islam but of the enshrinement of tolerance.

This is not to say I’m perfect—I freely admit I’m a sinner—but I pray for and try to have my eyes as open and as plank-free as possible.

But when I see those who profess to be Christian, who obviously want to obey the will of God, acting and speaking so out-of-accord with the instructions and example of Jesus, well, I remember the useless slave.

That useless slave—the one who merely took care of the talent—was cast into the darkness.

Jesus tells us both through a parable and directly that if we merely do what we are expected to do, we are useless slaves.

What of those who aren’t even doing what they’re expected to do? Those who are teaching false doctrine? Those who are perverting a command to serve and love into a command to indifference and rule?

We are told it would be better if a millstone were to be thrown around the necks of those who snare little ones and they were cast into the sea. We are told it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for cities that reject Gods message. What of people who pervert God’s message?

And where does this leave us? Can I even say us?

Are we faithfully following the commands of Jesus? Are we tolerating or are we loving? If we are doing our best, if we are following Christ’s command to love—we are still useless slaves because we are only doing what is expected of us.

Of course our situation is not hopeless because we have Christ. We will not be thrown into the outer darkness. But what can we do in our lives that is more than is expected of us? How can we turn five talents into ten? What can we do beyond love?

We must act through our love, through the love we have because of our faith in Christ. We know, especially in the Church of the Brethren that faith without works is dead. So love without action is dead. We must love our brothers and sisters enough to, as is said by Jesus just before today’s passage:

If your brother should be sinning, rebuke him, and if he should ever indeed repent, forgive him.
And if he should ever be sinning against you seven times a day, and if he should ever be turning about seven times a day to you, saying 'I repent,' you shall forgive him.

We must be unafraid to engage our brothers and sisters who have strayed from the path. We must engage them faithfully and prayerfully and with love. We must also be accepting of criticism of our own flaws, faults, and blind spots—we must be able to recognize loving rebuke as well as give it.

Going off in a huff is not love.

Tolerating another’s opinions is not love.

Frank, open, and honest discussion is love.

Jesus did not turn away from the Pharisees—he engaged them directly.

Our commandment is to love one another.

We cannot merely love one another. We are clearly called to do more.

We cannot hold our love inside—we cannot hide it under a bushel.

We must act in love.

We must be bold and open in our actions.

And we must be humble and open in our receiving these actions.

Please, brothers and sisters, if I say anything or have said anything that you think is extra-biblical or non-biblical—I implore you to act in love, to rebuke me, to forgive me, and to accept my repentance.

And I implore you to take the same from me.

If we commit to this—If we can do this as a body, we will double what we have an more.

If we cannot

Or do not, we are just useless slaves.

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