What kind of good news is this? Jesus’ parable, especially the questions within it, seems harsh and callous. Where is the nice Jesus who understands us and offers us support and mercy? At first glance, it seems that Jesus is saying, “You have worked hard at your job all day and, when you come home, you need to work more!” And for many of us that is exactly how life often feels. We go to work and toil away doing things for others, often unacknowledged and under appreciated. And when we come home, we have to care for our family, care for our friends, care for our pets, but we just do not seem to find time to care for ourselves. And that touches on Jesus’ second question in this passage.
We want a servant or at least some help sometimes in our lives; we want someone to serve us dinner. Should we be grateful for our spouse’s love and attention? Isn’t that what they are supposed to do for us? Am I supposed to go out of my way to thank my friends for being my friends? Don’t they already know that? What kind of lesson would I be teaching my children if I always thanked them for doing what they are supposed to do? And why does Jesus call us “useless servants” anyway?
What Jesus does in this parable is flip the script on what “useless servant” means by redefining service. He wants us to confront our feelings. Everyone has felt frustrated and tired after work, even when we are working to respond to God’s will. What Jesus is doing through this parable and these questions is challenging our paradigms and perceptions about service. God does NOT relate to us as a master does to a servant. God does NOT demand from us a completed list of chores. God does NOT place hoops in front of us that we need to jump through. At the heart of Luke’s gospel, and at the heart of this parable, is the call to service. Jesus’ response to these jarring questions about the true nature of service is the gift of himself.
—Adam DeLeon, S.J. is a Jesuit scholastic studying theology in preparation for ordination at Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA.