27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 17: 5-10)
MASTER AND SERVANT: A Reversal of Roles
by Fr. Gil A. Alinsangan, SSP
The movie Anak which stars Vilma Santos gives us a picture of the conditions under which many Filipino domestic workers labor in foreign shores. Some employers treat Filipino workers as servants, even making them work as if they were some kind of slaves. The dire economic situation at home pushes Filipinos to work abroad, many in menial jobs, which in turn rubs on our pride. In this context, today’s gospel parable (Luke 17: 5-10) touches raw nerves. That people are treated as slaves is bad enough. Does God too deal with us as his slaves?
To begin, Jesus speaks-quite naturally-within the framework of the situation of his time regarding slavery. Slavery was a shocking and essential element in all the societies of the ancient world. Rome, the heart of the Roman empire, had more slaves than free men and women. Israel too knew slavery-there were Hebrew and pagan slaves. Servile conditions, though, were comparatively mild in Israel.
The slave is a property of a master and has no personal rights. Some even would classify slaves as res, to the class of things or property. Jesus merely states the condition of a slave in his time when he says that a slave does not eat immediately when he returns from hard work. He still has to prepare the table for his master and to wait on him while he eats.
What does Jesus drive at when he states the shocking and inhuman condition of a servant/slave by way of parable? It is this: we have nothing to boast of before God. If we can delight in and be proud of something in us, it is primarily because of God. Everything is grace. Thus we have no right to claim a wage: “We have done what we were obliged to do” through the grace of God.
Does God then delight in humiliating us? Not at all. In fact, he loves us so much that he sends us his Son so that he may rescue us from our condition of slavery and raise us to the status of beloved children, free and heirs of eternal life with Christ.
But first we must see where we stand before God. That we are creatures, we are dependent on God for ever ything. Ancient peoples who did not have the Revelation thought that men and women were created to labor as slaves while the gods enjoy rest and leisure. Israel, instead, believed that man and woman are created in God’s likeness.
Moreover, Scriptures teach that we have strayed away from God. When God sends his Son to us, it is not through any merit on our part, but is wholly his graciousness. “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
Once we have acknowledged that we are unprofitable servants, then we see that God really has high regard for our lowliness and lifts us up. Jesus, our Teacher and Lord, does not behave like a master in the parable, although he has every right to do so. In fact, he reverses the roles. Jesus tells a parable about servants who await their master’s return and draws this lesson: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them” (Lk 12:37). This parable becomes reality in Jesus in the Gospel of John. At the last supper, Jesus girds himself with towel and begins to wash the feet of the disciples (Jn 13:4-5). This he does that they may be made clean. This powerful gesture is the symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, where he who is Lord, dies the death of a slave, so that he may release us from the slavery of Sin and Death, and make us free people who will sit with him at the banquet in his Father’s kingdom.