Tuesday of Week 32 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 17:7-10

Another warning from Luke today (and one which is only found in his Gospel) about complacency. As we read this parable we must be careful – as with many of the others – not to confuse matters by dragging in issues which are anachronistic. Jesus asks:

Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’.

Would we invite him to sit down, have his supper and take a good rest?

Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me; put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’?

Would we even express gratitude to a servant who was only doing what was expected of him?

Here, let us forget current ideas about union rules and democracy and what have you of our modern times! No one in Jesus’ time, either an employer or a slave, would have thought for a moment of questioning what he is saying. At the same time, we might remember Jesus saying that watchful servants will be welcomed by their master who will make them sit down and will wait personally on them (see Luke 12:37), and that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet as an example of service.

What we are dealing with here is our relationship with God. The point Jesus is making is that God need never be grateful to us for anything we do for him. No matter how much we do for him, we can never put him in our debt. Everything we give to God (or to God through others) is simply giving back to him a small portion of what he has already given us. It is well said in Preface IV for Weekday Masses:

You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness, but makes us grow in your grace.

God can never be in our debt. He can never be under any obligation to us. Perhaps that is what some of the Pharisees thought. They felt that, because they kept the Law perfectly, God owed them salvation. We see that in the scene of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the Temple, where the Pharisee’s prayer gives the impression that God should be deeply grateful, among so many negligent people, to have such a good person as him.

We can do the same thing ourselves when, for instance, we think that by saying certain prayers or performing certain acts (like novenas, indulgences and pilgrimages) God should jump to attention and do what we are telling him to do, to give us what we are asking for.

All our living out of the Gospel is not a compliment paid to God. On the contrary, we can never be grateful enough to him for showing us the way to truth, love, freedom and happiness which Jesus taught us, and for giving us the grace to walk in his Way. With God, all our giving is only an imperfect and partial giving back.

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