The Exhortation to the Apostles - James Tissot

The Parable of the Unworthy Servant

The more we learn about Jesus the more we realize how unworthy we really are. We hear about how "faith" saved and healed the people who flocked to Jesus. Our response can be like that of the disciples, "Why don't I have that level of faith." In the Parable of the Unworthy Servant, Jesus explains to his disciples exactly how to increase their faith.

First, let's first put on our sinner's ears and our repentant heart, so our heart will be properly aligned to understand this parable. Then we should notice that this parable is directed toward his true disciples and especially to those who desire to have more faith, and once again, Jesus answers a question through a parable. He uses parables because truth is living like a story. Answers to questions are rarely straight-forward. Truth is alive. I've included in this parable the account of the ten lepers that immediately follows the parable because I feel that Luke is further explaining the parable through the reality of that miracle.

Paul exhorts us to live by faith is not to live by sight. Jesus is saying the same thing in this parable. But don't think that faith is passive. We, like the disciples, sometimes twiddle our thumbs and wonder how can we be more faithful. Faith is an action. It is a response. Let's see how Jesus teaches us to respond in order to become more faithful.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 17:5-17

What's particularly interesting about this parable is the role reversal that's going on. In the parable, the unworthy servant is on one hand Jesus himself. He is the servant who comes in the field and his father asks him to "Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after you may eat and drink." This is the story of Jesus' life on earth.

Unworthy has also been translated "unprofitable." The work that Jesus does for his father on earth is in unprofitable. God does not need humanity, but he choose to have us in his family because he loves us. On the other hand, it is profitable to Jesus. He is the one who is glorified on the cross through the work he does for humanity. Likewise, our service to our Lord is unprofitable to God, but it is certainly profitable to us and for our salvation, but certainly not to God the creator of the heavens and the earth.

But what does this have to do with increasing our faith as disciples of Jesus. He gives the answer in two places. First, he says that we should say to God, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty." Once again, we can only understand this through our sinner's ears and repentant heart. It's the same as saying, "I am a sinner, have mercy on me." We are to be humbly obedient to God.

Secondly, Luke explains how to increase our faith through the account of the ten men who had leprosy in the light of the Parableof the Unworthy Servant. Notice that Jesus is the servant who heals the lepers. Jesus was our servant here on this earth, which is what he showed us when he washed his disciples feet at the last supper. First, notice in the parable that the master thanked the servant, "Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?" And importantly, the one Samaritan leper returned to Jesus praising God in a loud voice thanking him. Jesus said to him, "Your faith has made you well." So, this is also our answer to the question of how to increase our faith. We must obey and thank our Lord with praise.

We increase our faith by praying from the heart, "Thank you Jesus. I am a repentant and unprofitable servant. I praise you."

Tags: parables, commentary