During the course of His life, Jesus spoke in many brilliant parables that brought to life deep spiritual truths into digestible bite-sized nuggets. It was later revealed, though, that he also used these to speak in code and purposely hide information. Probably one of the most puzzling and difficult to ingest was that of the unprofitable/unworthy servant (Luke 17:5-10). While at first glance, or in isolation, this may seem as a degradation of brothers in Christ, deeper reflection truly demonstrates this truth that must be understood in the lives of believers if we ever have any hope of truly becoming profitable.
The unprofitable servant story can be understood more as an illustration than an actual parable. In most the parables that Jesus spoke, there were clear references to representation and multiple characters and/or items. This story, however, is pretty straight-forward and the master is clearly shown to be God Himself and we His servant. Frankly put, it merely states that a servant who works in his job would not dare come home and serve himself first. Rather, he would wait on his master first, and only take care of himself after. Yet, even after this, he wouldn't feel as though he actually did anything worth being praised or thanked for, he would only feel that he was actually inadequate to serve in the first place.
Taken by itself, this may seem like a harsh assessment. I clearly remember reading this as a new believer and thinking, “Man, Jesus sure could sure be a jerk sometimes”. Pardon the raw, borderline blasphemous feedback of a 2 weeks believer, but this was my honest to God take. As the years have passed, however, I have seen more and more the relevance and importance of understanding the severity and truthfulness in this too brief story. By even grasping just a mere jist of this example, we see the most beautiful truth of the gospel: the most unjust and illogical act of an offending party paying the bounty on a condemned criminal only to take his place.
Part of what makes God good is that he is just and injustice displeases Him. We can imagine a scenario which would prove to be the epitome of injustice. Imagine cutting off a hand for telling a lie, or killing a person who jay walked. Next, imagine giving a verbal warning for the act of murder, or giving a literal slap on the wrist for a bank robbery. On an extreme mixed spectrum, try to fathom a dice with arbitrary punishments randomly rolled after each offense. The mere thought of these are cringeworthy for anyone who is interested in maintaining order or seeing some kind of balance in the universe. This moral law has been ingrained in us by the creator and it is one of his many gifts he so freely bestowed upon us and it is, in fact, one of the many ways we are created in his image.
Zooming into the story with the lens of common sense, it may seem ridiculous or too severe. Yet, when we examine the whole gospel, we truly see how amazing this grace is that Jesus provided with his very blood. We deserve death. It was us who deserved to be on the cross. It is us who rejected God, and his law, and a fiery punishment separated from God is the right punishment fit for the crime. But the mercy of the cross is an injustice that we claim the benefit of unmerited grace. His pain, his ridicule and torment gave us a new life and pardoned our deserved death sentence.
And here is where the story turns. John 15:15 states, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you”. We are Christ friends. Once worse than servants, we were His enemy. His sacrifice elevated us from scum to royalty. When we truly grasp this, we can be so utterly grateful that we can serve in even the smallest capacity. Judgmentalness that has given Christians and Christianity a foul stench, suddenly makes no sense. Only a desire to see others realize this same grace should be our only strive on this planet.
Being in Christ is the equivalent of having a bigger bowl at a soup kitchen than other people. By no merit of our own are we here and bragging about handouts we are given makes absolutely no sense. The more we grasp this, the more effective we can become. Knowing our place, knowing our past, knowing our roots sets us free to do His good works. And this recognition paves the way for a new kind of religion that embraces the lost with open arms, that gladly reduces ourselves in service, and seeks to be the lowest we can possibly get. This is where healing is and this is where we are most profitable. Praise your precious redeeming name!