Saturday 05 September 2015

Bible Book:

Luke 17:5-10 Saturday 5 September 2015

Psalm: Psalm 84


So, how do you feel about referring to yourself asa "worthless slave"? Let's try to put that phrase into some kind ofcontext.

Jesus is using a picture that many of his hearerswould recognise. He is thinking about an average farmer or smalllandholder who can only afford to own one slave. A larger householdwould have some slaves in the field and others doing the householdchores. But here one slave has to do it all.

We are often shocked when biblical writers appearto think that slavery is a good thing and use it to illustratesomething about our relationship with God. What we do not alwaysrealise is how dependent upon slaves ancient life really was.Slavery was widespread and we often estimate that something betweena quarter and a third of the population of the Roman Empire wereslaves. It is not that the early Christians approved of slavery,but rather that they simply could not imagine what life would belike without it.

So those hearing Jesus would have far less problemthan we do with using the image of slaves and they would alsounderstand the idea of a 'worthless' slave differently. The wordwhich is translated 'worthless' actually comes from the idea ofbeing obliged. In the system of patronage, which ruled much of theancient world, it mattered to keep track of favours that were paidand obligations that were created. Obviously, Jesus is saying,having a slave do their work does not create any obligation on themaster. The master does not thank them by inviting them to eat withhim. When slaves describe themselves as 'worthless' what they areactually saying is something like 'we are slaves to whom noobligation is owed'.

This is a message about discipleship, Jesus isopposing any suggestion that living as God asks us to live could bea way of gaining a reward, or put God under any kind of obligationto us. Our relationship with God is not one in which we somehowearn God's favour.

To Ponder

  • How do you respond to using slavery as an image for theChristian life?
  • Although we know that slavery is evil, most people in theancient world simply could not imagine life without it. Are thereequivalent institutions or ways of doing things in our world, wherewe just lack the imagination to challenge and change?
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