In the Gospel text from Luke 17:5-10, the disciples are likened in the parable to “worthless slaves”. Yet, this is a misleading translation, since a servant who will work all day ploughing or tending sheep in the field, and then make supper, don an apron and serve the meal – is hardly worthless! Better those translations that render the word to mean “unprofitable”.
Because in our relationship with God, we can toil and do good works – for God and for the church. We may expect reward or at least recognition for our good works. Yet, Jesus reminds the disciples this kind of approach is like a servant doing what is expected of a servant – and then the servant feeling they deserve a profit, an extra bonus.
“Teach us simply to do what we ought, Lord” – a relevant prayer today. When facing a crisis or stress, either personal or institutional, our impulse may be to do something – anything! Last week someone at the Christian Meditation seminar in Arnprior told me that their father taught him as a young person: “When you don’t know what to do, do something, anything!” This impulse to action is so inbred in our cultural and economic psyche. NOT to do anything is foreign territory. NOT to buy something new. NOT to jump into the newest, latest fad. To refrain from activity is at very least, counter-intuitive.
Admittedly, it would take some self-discipline to hold back. And be silent. Be still. And wait upon God.
Paul’s words to young, active Timothy in our second reading today (2 Timothy 1:1-14) may help us in understanding this complex Gospel text: “For God …[gave] us a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline… [so] join with me … relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.”
We so easily get wrapped up in what we need to do in our lives of faith – to make it better, to save ourselves, to save the church, to save the world, to save our friends and family. I suspect that is what has been so challenging – for me, anyway – in inviting someone to church. Because we so naturally think that if they do come, it’s our success. Conversely, if they don’t come, we have failed.
But haven’t we crossed the line there – falsely taking on more than is our calling? Our job is simply to issue the invitation – and not just for “Back to Church Sunday” – but for every successive Sunday after that. Those first-timers who came last week – how many of them were invited to come back again? We certainly do have a job to do; are we focusing on the right thing?
The response of those whom we invite, however, is God’s job – not according to our works but according to God’s own purpose and grace.
“Teach us, Lord, what we ought to do.” It’s not a question of not ever doing anything. It’s not about staying stuck in a rut. Being still, waiting on God, is not passive complacency. Rather, it’s about growing a discernment about when to act, and when not to. When to wait, and when to move.
I suspect God is ready to show us something beautiful and what we need, should we simply get out of the way for a moment, stop, and be still – just for a moment.
“Teach us, Lord, what we ought to do.” Amen.