Luke 17 – Slavery Worms in the Duty Can

Luke 17 Bible with Green and Blacks Organic Milk Chocolate with Almonds

Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Milk Chocolate with Almonds

Today’s PassageLuke 17

We’re switching tracks again in this space between segments of the Triad study. Last week we returned to our God’s Little Deconstruction Book series, but this week we’re going back to where we left off in Luke. In the previous chapter, Jesus taught a pair of parables about wealth, mercy, and life after death. In this chapter, he teaches on forgiveness, faith, and duty, heals ten lepers, and tells his disciples about “the days of the Son of Man.”

So, we have a buffet of passages within this chapter to examine, and many of them are cans teeming with worms eager to be released. We could talk about miracles, the implications of Jesus’ statement that mustard-seed-sized faith is sufficient to make trees uproot themselves, and the historicity of Jesus’ own miraculous healings. We could talk about how after nearly two millennia, Jesus has not returned. We could talk about how Jesus’ parable in verses 7-10 apparently suggests that our posture toward God should be that of slaves. If we opened up any one of these cans, could we get all the worms back in the can by the end of the post? This is the risk you run when you open cans.

But I will open a can for you, and by the end of the post, you can determine whether I have retrieved all the worms and re-closed the can. Here Jesus directs his listeners’ attention to their slaves. At the end of the day, as Jesus explains, the typical first-century people-owner doesn’t let his people eat dinner until they’ve finished tending the animals or crops and served their owner his meal as well. He doesn’t give them a pat on the back or a blue ribbon after they’re finished, either.

And Jesus doesn’t go on to say that masters should treat their slaves kindly, thank them, and give them a seat at the table. No, his point in this discourse is that his listeners should view God as their master, and when they obey him, they should say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done” (10). Now, we’ve talked about slavery in the Bible plenty of times already, and we’ve reached some conclusions; I’m not going to rehash them. But when Jesus teaches in this passage that our relationship to God should be that of slaves to their master, doesn’t that contradict Paul’s teaching that “you [a Christian] are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:7)? Has God’s grace in Christ freed us from slavery, or hasn’t it? Who are we to believe: Jesus or Paul?

Well, we are to believe both. See, I have presented you with a false dichotomy, that I may cleverly resolve it and thereby impress you. Paul’s teaching is not simply that God moves us from slavery to adoption into God’s family. Elsewhere he writes, “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:1), and “Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18), describing us as “having been freed from sin and enslaved to God” (Romans 6:22). God is still our Lord, and we still after a sense have obligations. In a sense, we are no longer slaves, but in another sense we are.

I could go on, but I won’t. I’m deliberately omitting a point that the pastor at my church made in his sermon this past Sunday about the book of Philemon, because I don’t want to have to devote another four paragraphs to explaining first-century slavery in its historical context. In my estimation, the worms are back in the can here. Some people believe that the worms belong out of the can 24/7; they want to devote their lives to opening and re-opening cans, releasing worms everywhere. I’m not one of those people. I’ve been there, and that level of worm saturation just isn’t sustainable.

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