“What do you want? A medal? A prize just for showing up? Do your job!”
Ouch, that’s a little harsh. Use your mind’s ear to hear those words delivered with sarcasm at high volume, by a shrill friend, or an exasperated boss, or a military drill instructor. How does that make you feel?
There’s nothing wrong with hope for a little gratitude for a job well done. So “Do your job!” hurts a little. But when does fair expectation of gratitude turn into toxic entitlement? Where’s the line we shouldn’t cross?
But the Master said, “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it.
“Suppose one of you has a servant who comes in from plowing the field or tending the sheep. Would you take his coat, set the table, and say, ‘Sit down and eat’? Wouldn’t you be more likely to say, ‘Prepare dinner; change your clothes and wait table for me until I’ve finished my coffee; then go to the kitchen and have your supper’? Does the servant get special thanks for doing what’s expected of him? It’s the same with you. When you’ve done everything expected of you, be matter-of-fact and say, ‘The work is done. What we were told to do, we did.’”
–Luke 17 (The Message)
Ouch again! We wait on God? God doesn’t wait on us?
This is one of Jesus’ glossed-over stories. We avoid it, because it’s hard to hear. And because it’s been misinterpreted. Be careful here, for these words have been misused through the centuries. They are not a holy excuse for abusing people, for cheating workers, for exploitation, and certainly not for slavery.
Jesus’ story is not a template for our people relationships, person to person, owner to worker, caste over caste. It’s about all of us in relationship to God.
Previous Way of Mission practices address our attempts to make contracts with God. Not a good idea! This story is another reminder from Jesus, delivered with a little drill-instructor tone, that
• God doesn’t owe us
• God doesn’t make deals with us
• God doesn’t wait on us, and
• God doesn’t snap God’s fingers to cater to our whims
God isn’t our heavenly waiter in our earthly personal restaurants. We wait on God, not the other way around.
So when we take up our crosses and follow Jesus on our missions, we say matter-of-factly to ourselves and to God, “just following orders.” Confidently, with the warm knowledge that God doesn’t abuse our faithfulness.
Notice that the story about the master and servant follows the analogy about tiny seeds of faith uprooting big trees. A little faith goes a long way! Our faith in God allows us confidence that God loves us and wants what’s best for us. In that faithful confidence, we go about our missions, taking risks and making sacrifices. Just following orders.