The stories of Jesus revealed his world with great, if painful, clarity. His world is unlike our world. In his world fathers love prodigally, in our world love is more transactional. In his world energy and creativity are directed towards evangelization, in our world financial success is supreme. In His world, the marginalized are rewarded, in ours ignored. To accept his world is not to alter but to overturn our lives. Today’s gospel on first reading may seem to confirm our general worldview and be oddly comforting.” Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink”. Luke is, however, a devious writer and there is a typically disconcerting message in this reading.
The initial confusion is that he has previously said “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them (Lk 12:37) Why the change? Basically, there is a different audience. In the gospels, we must always look not only for what is being said but to whom it is being said. This chapter begins with Jesus addressing his disciples, not the crowd but the people who took him most seriously.
The apostles are like us before all else disciples, followers and like us follow for many reasons, some nobler than others. Jesus is acutely aware of this. After the rich young man has walked away from Jesus because he must give up his wealth and position to follow him Peter asks Jesus, if not wealth and position, what are the disciples going to get from following him? Jesus’ answer is clear if perhaps unwanted; “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive (back) an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come (Lk 18:29b–30). In short, our reward as Christians is the Church, that is each other. Not I imagine an answer we wish to embrace.
Now let us look at the passage. The servant who will be told to prepare and serve his master’s meal has worked a long day. Luke says that he has returned “from plowing or tending sheep in the field” In Luke nothing is accidental. These examples are carefully chosen to emphasize the role and responsibilities of disciples. Luke has previously written: ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62) and in his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles will write: “Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.” (Ac 20:28–29).
He is addressing not only disciples but those who have been living up to their responsibilities. These are truly good shepherds but precisely because of that they will need to be reminded that no matter how effective they are God never needs them, but they always need God. God never needs us, but we always need God.
This is always expressed in worship. We read today “Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.” This reflects the Eucharist but also a development of Christian moral theology. Worship is considered part of the virtue of Justice. It is hoped that we worship God because of love and gratitude but it must be based on justice: we owe God for our creation and recreation.
“When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'” Injustice always warps our lives and if we treat God unjustly, we will treat others unjustly. The unjust behave like the children of the shamelessly loving Father or the rich Man with Lazarus and will treat other people as means to an end. To know our brothers and sisters as who they are we must worship God for who he is.
This is not the way of the world, but it is the way of Jesus: He tells us. “But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest and the leader like one who serves”. (Lk 22:26)) We are all called to serve and how and who we serve will determine the kind of disciple we are. St Paul understood this very well when he spoke of the church as the Body of Christ. This is not an image of the Church but a description of Jesus’ physical and bodily presence in the world. Yet notice that we are organs or limbs: eyes, arms, hands, ears all different, unique but needing the other, not just cells, identical, independent and interchangeable. When we fulfill our call to service by worshiping God and tending to the needs of our neighbor, we discover our deepest desires and most personal talents.
Many in our community have experienced this during Covid and now with the asylum seekers. The parish would not have survived without the talents of our lay members who allowed us to continue fellowship together. We learned that virtual does not mean unreal. We also began our food pantry which has expanded to the needs of asylum seekers. This will be a difficult winter for many people, and I am sure that we will find members of our community expanding themselves spiritually by discovering the ministerial value of their talents. If we first look to the increasing needs of our neighbors and then to the decreasing value of our 401Ks we will experience live and in person, the presence of Jesus.
Divine worship and human justice are two sides of the same coin and cannot be separated without causing damage to both. The Christian story clearly teaches that the deeper we bow down to God the higher we can lift up our neighbor.