The Bible Passage I’ve Never Read Before

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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“In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’”

Luke 17:10

Have you ever been reading through the Bible, even books you’ve studied in the past, and come across a passage that feels brand new, as if you’ve never even seen it before? That was my experience when I read Luke 17:7-10 a few minutes ago. Honestly, I have no memory of this passage. In fact, I know I’ve read it before, several times. But, for some reason, I never remembered what it said.

I don’t think this is just a “senior moment,” you know, one of those times when people over 50 forget things we should know. My failure to remember Luke 17:7-10 has more to do with its content, though I’m embarrassed to admit it. You see, I don’t especially like this passage. It would be convenient for me to forget it.

Jesus’ original meaning is even more troubling than what we read in English. Most modern translations, including the New Living, which I use for these reflections, make Jesus’ words less offensive than the original. In our version, we hear about a “servant” who comes in from plowing (17:7). In the last line, Jesus says that those who obey him should say, “We are simply unworthy servants who have simply done our duty” (17:10). But in the original Greek of this passage, we do not find the word that means “servant.” Rather, Jesus uses the word doulos, which should be translated as “slave.” A more accurate translation of verse 10 would be: “In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are useless slaves who have done that which we ought to do'.” Ouch! No wonder I conveniently forgot this passage. I’m not too excited about this “useless slave” idea.

Unfortunately, we don’t have access to most of what was going on among the disciples of Jesus when he told this short parable. It seems likely, however, that the followers of Jesus were thinking too highly of themselves. Perhaps they were anticipating their divine rewards for participating in Jesus’ kingdom work. Perhaps they were wanting more recognition, more benefits, more discipleship perks. Clearly, Luke 17:7-10 was meant to put the disciples of Jesus in their place as his slaves.

In tomorrow’s reflection, I’m going to consider further what this passage says to me, and perhaps to you as well. Today, however, I’m going to leave you with the discomfort of the text as it stands. It just may be that God has something to say to you before I chime in with my thoughts.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: So, do you remember reading this passage before? (There is not a parallel passage in the other Gospels, by the way.) How do you respond to this text? Does Jesus seem fair? Does he seem too bossy? Why do you think he told this parable? Does God want to say anything to you through this passage?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, just when I think I have a pretty good handle on your Word, I come across a passage like this one. It puts me in my place, in more ways than one.

First, it reminds me that my knowledge of Scripture is not what I proudly think it to be. There is so much that I don’t understand, so much that I don’t even remember. Forgive me, Lord, for my tendency to think I am the master of your Word. Indeed, you are my Master, and you speak as my Master through Scripture. It’s right for me to desire to know your Word, but I will never be its master.

Second, this passage reminds me that I’m your servant, indeed, your slave. You have bought my life with your own. I belong to you. My life’s purpose is to serve you. I know this, but sometimes forget it. Today, I confess once again that my whole life is for you. Everything.

All praise be to you, my Master and my God. Amen.