Litany for the Unworthy Servant

The Lectionary passage from the Gospels for Sunday October 2, 2016 is from Luke 17:5-10. I read it in the TNIV.

This passage feels disconnected to me. The disciples say “Increase our faith!” and Jesus starts talking about walking mulberry trees. Then suddenly he’s talking about an unworthy servant.

I feel bad for the servant in this scenario. He works all day in the field, and then has to come back and prepare a dinner and serve it to his boss before he’s able to rest and eat himself. Despite working all the stinking day long, he’s called unworthy, because he’s “only done his duty.” What, Jesus? What more do you want from a person who has labored all day, only to come home and labor some more at preparing a meal for his lazy boss?

I’m confused by this “unworthy servant” business. Seems to me like if you work all day, then you work all evening, you should get a rest and a thanks. But you only get thanks if you go beyond your duty? UNFAIR! And how this is tied to the disciples original question about faith? This feels like I will never measure up to Kingdom standards, even if I collapse at the end of the day with exhaustion.

 But maybe I’m getting it wrong. Maybe it’s an invitation, and not a noose around my neck. Maybe Jesus is inviting me to think beyond the bounds of my “duty.” Maybe faith is about thinking outside the realm of the probable or expected (moving mulberry trees with a word?). Maybe being a person of faith is less like being an employee, and more like being a freelancer of extravagant kindness?

What if the servant had worked all day, done his duty, fixed supper, served it up; and then also made a decadent dessert? Would he still be unworthy?


God of Extravagant Kindness:
You have gone above and beyond your duty to us.
You have given second, third, fourth, gazillionth chances.
You have given fullness of joy and life everlasting.

When we have given way to violence and chaos,
Still you regard us with love.
When we have made a mess of a culture based on exploitation and heirarchy,
Still you regard us with love.
When we have taken the legacy of Cain (1), and perpetuated it for millenia,
Still you regard us with love.
When we have rejected the Way of Peace that Jesus offers,
Still you regard us with love. *

Help us to see beyond the bounds of our duty:
Our immediate families,
Our work responsibilities,
Our debts and debates;
To the realm of the improbable and unexpected,
To the mountains that need moving within and without,
To problems of injustice that seem impossible to fix,
To the beggar outside our gate.

Help us to release into the world your Extravagant Kindness,
Your moving-mulberry kindness,
Your walk-on-water kindness,
Your decadent dessert kindness.

And may we, by imitating the love and grace of Christ,
Be regarded as worthy servants of God.

(1) Cain, who killed his brother Abel over a land dispute.

* Look, I know this section is heavy. But look what is going on in the world? Look at the violence and racial injustice. Look at what's happening in Charlotte. We have gotten a lot wrong and I believe God has things to say to us about it. We need to listen. We need to counteract the prevailing culture with extravagant love and kindness.