Have you ever had a rude waiter/waitress serve you at a restaurant? I confess I've never actually had one, but I’ve heard horror stories from people who have. Maybe they did everything right on your order, but make it obvious that they don’t want to be there. Perhaps you came at the end of their shift, or you’re bearing the brunt of misdirected anger they hold for the customer who just left. Or anger at their boss who just yelled at them, or anger at someone else who wronged them. No matter what, though, it’s really annoying. Putting a smile on your face and being friendly when you don’t feel like it is part of your job description when you’re in the field of customer service.
I think about a scenario like that when I read today’s passage. I figure some people, if they’re reading these verses for the first time, are scratching their heads. The boss in this parable seems pretty nasty. I mean, you come in from the field after a hard-day’s work, and your employer expects you to fix supper and serve it to him?! What a jerk! And once the meal’s served, God have mercy on the servant who actually expects a little gratitude for all the hard work he’s done!
Once again I bring up that magical word—context—in order to help us understand this. Let me try to clear away any misunderstanding by asking a simple question: “Is the way God's presented in this passage consistent with the rest of Scripture?” Do we commonly see him snubbing his servants and not giving them the appropriate applause when they do hard work for him? Is he the tyrant presented in today’s story? Of course not! He’s always willing to honor his servants when they do a good job for him. Abraham comes immediately to mind. Remember when his and his nephew’s servants were squabbling over land and water? He suggested the two groups part ways, and very magnanimously volunteered to let his nephew pick first which part of the land in which to settle. The Lord immediately blessed and praised him for this and made some more glorious promises about Abraham’s future.
This is a pattern you see over and over in the O.T. When his people are even making baby-steps in faithfulness, he lavishes praise on them and pours out blessings galore. What about the N.T.? Jesus makes promises about our future which make the Old Testament pledges look paltry by comparison, like here. And have you forgotten Mark’s portrait of our Savior as our Servant? He came here to serve us, and of course the greatest display of this was at the Cross.
So what’s the point here? It’s doesn’t seem that difficult to me: This is not how God treats us, but it does accurately represent how we should be thinking about ourselves. I’ve said this before, but I’m going to repeat it because we American Christians have such a hard time getting it into our thick skulls. God does not owe you anything except judgment. You owe him everything, twice over. He created you, so everything is his to begin with. But take that thought to orders of magnitude when you remember that he paid to redeem you with his own blood.
And what the servants are supposed to think about themselves is absolutely true: If we did everything God told us to do, he still would not owe us. Of course we don’t do everything we‘re supposed to do. We’re still frequently disobedient. But even if we were perfectly obedient, God would still not owe us anything. We'd only be doing what we’re supposed to be doing anyway! We'd still be “unworthy servants.”
It’s worth noting once again, however, that this is the polar opposite of how our Father treats us. He's incredibly generous with his servants/children, not giving us what we deserve (judgment) and also giving us what we don’t really deserve at all (praise for doing what we’re supposed to be doing anyway). I’m really glad that this is the type of Father I have. Aren’t you?
Father, I really am an unworthy servant. But you have made me your co-heir, and the blessings are piled on top of other blessings. You are a wonder to me.