Unprofitable Servants

When you have done everything that was commanded you, say, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.”

–Luke 17:10–

            I have long been struck by the apparent harshness of Jesus labeling us “unprofitable servants.”  It sounds as if Our Lord considers us liabilities rather than assets.  Upon further consideration, however, there may be an invitation hidden behind this label.

In William J. Bennett’s book, The Moral Compass, there is a wonderful story entitled “What Bradley Owed.”  At breakfast, eight-year-old Bradley gives his mother a bill for various chores.

Mother owes Bradley:

            For running errands                                        3 dollars

            For taking out the trash                                  2 dollars

            For sweeping the floor                                    2 dollars

            Extras                                                                 1 dollar

                        Total that Mother owes Bradley        8 dollars

When it is time for lunch, Bradley’s mother returns the bill along with the payment, but she gently reminds her son of all she has done for him—feeding him, clothing him, giving him toys and a beautiful room, taking care of him when he was sick.  Bradley comes to his senses and realizes, to put it bluntly, that he has been an unprofitable servant.  In other words, Bradley’s mother has done more for him than he could ever do for her in return.

            Jesus calls us unprofitable servants.  Our Lord has done more for us than we could ever do for Him.  If we insist on being God’s servants who work for pay, we must realize that we too, like Bradley, are unprofitable.

The question is this:  Does Jesus really want salaried servants?  Bradley’s mother did not want a servant.  She wanted a son.  Jesus does not want servants either.  He wants brothers and sisters.  He wants lovers.