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CONCENTRATE ON GOD’S LOVE AND NOT ON OUR EFFORTS

Father Francis's picture
Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lk. 17:5-10

Life for some does not seem fair. Jesus tells a story in today's Gospel about a slave who worked in the fields all day long. Then at sunset he went to the house, only to be told that he was to prepare and serve his master’s evening meal. Only after that was the slave allowed to eat. Then the kitchen would have to be cleaned and made ready for the next morning. Finally, the man was able to get some much needed and deserved refreshment and rest, probably collapsing on his bed, almost too tired to sleep.

This is one of the strangest stories Jesus ever told. It seems out of character: where is the compassion in it? The master took advantage of his position, demanding to be served rather than serve. Is this not the attitude that Jesus repeatedly condemned? The man worked his slave to the point of exhaustion, without even an expression of gratitude for services rendered. If we say the story is strange, the application is stranger still. Jesus instructed His disciples to say to themselves, “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.” What can all this mean?

The first thing we can say is that this story is true to life. Many of us can relate to that slave’s experience. Some people’s days are long. Their work is hard. They have spent eight hours at their job. When they get home there is more to be done and they often do it with no expression of appreciation from anyone. Think of a mother who is also a teacher, a secretary, an executive, a sales person or a cleaner. All day long she concentrates on her duties. When she gets home, do her children have the tea ready? Do they tell her to sit down and relax while they wait on her? It is much more likely they will say they are starving and when will tea be ready! And what happens after she has fed then? Does she hear anyone say, 'You sit down and rest. I’ll do the washing and tidying up and make you a well-deserved cup of coffee.' Does anyone even think of thanking her for all her hard work? Hopefully yes - but often they do not. Life is like that.

The man who thinks 'I am feeling overworked, underpaid and unappreciated' is not alone. This story of Jesus about the master and his slave may not be typical of Jesus, but it is a slice of reality. And why did He tell it? I think it was precisely because of the Pharisees’ attitude towards religion which they approached from the wrong angle. For them it began with me and not God. The Pharisee thought, 'If I stand before everyone and let them see me saying my prayers and make them think what a good and holy person I am, surely God will be pleased with me. He’s bound to give me Heaven.' He could not be more wrong.

Rather he should have approached religion from the angle of God. He should say, 'Look what God has done for me. He has created me. He has given me a beautiful world in which to live. He provides me with food and clothing. He has placed me in a family in which I have experienced love.' He could go on and on in that vein. And the conclusion he should come to is this … 'However can I thank Him? No matter what I do I can never repay Him'.

Now we can understand Jesus’ story of the master and slave. Who understood this perfectly was Saint Francis of Assisi. He did extraordinary things to thank God for all He had done for him. You could make a case for him overdoing things and being cruel to his body. In fact, as he lay dying he apologised to his body, which he referred to as Brother Ass, for mistreating it. Now note what he said to his brothers as he lay dying, “My brothers, let us begin to serve God for up to now we have done nothing.” How typical that was of St. Francis! Yes, his focus was not on self, but only on God.

Lord Jesus, let us concentrate on what You have done for us out of love, and give us a little of the generous and self-sacrificing spirit of St. Francis and say, “Let us begin to love and serve You for up to now we have done nothing.”

Lord Jesus, let us concentrate on what You have done for us out of love, and give us a little of the generous and self-sacrificing spirit of St. Francis and say, “Let us begin to love and serve You for up to now we have done nothing.”

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