(Begin by reading the Gospel. Better yet, ask someone to read it to you. Close your eyes and just let the words fall over you. What do you hear?)
Sometimes, the things that Jesus says just seem wonky. In the Gospel for this Sunday, he speaks about worthless slaves. What?? First, though, the apostles ask for something that only God can give.
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
It sounds as though Jesus does not think the apostles have much faith at all. Mustard seeds in Israel are ridiculously tiny. Maybe Jesus wants the apostles to reflect for a moment. If they believe he can give them faith, they must know who he is. Why, then, is their faith not growing?
Jesus then says,
Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’?
A slave is a person who is owned by someone else. A person with no freedom. A person who has to do as they are told.
But people cannot own other people. It is just wrong, so none of the apostles or Jesus are slave owners. This is another wonky thing for Jesus to say, is it not?
What does Jesus mean?
In Jesus' time, some people become slaves. If people owe more money than they can ever pay back, they can be thrown into prison. As an alternative to prison, though, they can become a slave and work for someone else. Their lives are in the hands of the slave owners who are supposed to treat the slaves fairly and provide for their needs. Slaves are not free, but they are not locked up. Is this right? Is this just? It is not what we do today. But this is the situation that Jesus speaks of.
Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?
Would a slave owner thank a slave for doing what he or she was told to do? The apostles know the answer is obviously no.
So you also, 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!’”
Whoa. First Jesus suggested that they think of themselves as the slave owner, what a slave owner would do. Now he changes things. What is Jesus saying? That the apostles are slaves? That we are slaves?
But are our lives in someone else's hands? Did we do anything to earn our lives?
Of course not. Our lives are a gift we can never pay back. We are simply grateful.
The apostles walk with Jesus and talk with him. He has invited them to help build the Kingdom of God in everything they do. Their faith will grow over time.
Jesus invites us to help build the Kingdom of God in everything we do. In a particular way, we are invited at our Baptism. We are given the strength to do this at Confirmation. We respond by walking with him and talking with him. Our faith grows over time. This is right. This is just.
Should we be thanked for doing what is right and just?
No. That seems to be Jesus' point.
Not for thanks.
When we complete our math homework, does the teacher thank us?
When we finish a test, does the teacher say, "Hey, I am so grateful you answered those questions."
When we arrive at school, does the principal give us a trophy for coming to school today?
That would just be weird. Those are things we are supposed to do. We do not do them to be thanked. We do them to learn and to grow.
So it is as we build the Kingdom of God. We do not look to be thanked by God for learning and growing. We are grateful to God to get to share in this mission. We are grateful to be disciples; we are grateful to be Jesus' friends. Our faith grows.