In the parable of the unworthy servant, Jesus, the Master Teacher, used a lengthy rhetorical question expecting a negative answer. As he typically did, Jesus used a well-known reality of first century life to make a powerful point about what discipleship to Him looks like.
A rhetorical trap
Jesus offered a picture of a small landholder with one servant who performs various duties. He starts the story from the perspective of the master and uses an absurd recommendation to set a kind of rhetorical trap. The simple point of Jesus’ words is that the servant who completes the work expected of him does not in any way put his master in debt to him or under any obligation to him. They get this point from the reality of cultural expectations.
Jesus snaps the trap
Then Jesus snapped the rhetorical trap by shifting to the perspective of the servant and what it means to be His servant. Verse 10 describes the attitude of the true followers of Jesus.
The parable of the unworthy servant
“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will 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).
- “The object of this parable is to show that all the zeal manifested by us in discharging our duty does not put God under any obligation to us by any sort of merit; for, as we are his property, so he on his part can owe us nothing” (John Calvin, Harmony on Matthew, Mark, and Luke 2.194).
- “…the master insists, in thoroughly conventional fashion, on obedient submission—with Jesus insisting in verse 10 that no less obedient submission is due to God. Taken by itself, the first half of the parable denies the follower any role in setting the terms of discipleship. … And the second half denies the possibility that service for God is intrinsically meritorious” (the Challenge of the Parables of Jesus, ed. Richard N. Longenecker, pp. 297-298)
- What kinds of actions, attitudes or dispositions does v. 10 exclude? Or What are the opposite attitudes or dispositions?
Meditate on Jesus words
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (John 12:24-26).
“God, help us all to turn to You with broken and contrite hearts. Enable us to repent even of our repentance when we are subtly proud of ourselves for being repentant. Help us to serve You and one another in humility. Forgive us for the arrogance and selfishness that too often characterize our lives. Help us to be more like Jesus, the One Who loved us and gave Himself for us. Help us to never think that we have or are anything before you apart from our identity in the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior.”
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