A modern apocryphal story pictures a man bemoaning the results of his visit to a photography studio. "These pictures don't do me justice," he laments. The photographer replies, "You don't want justice. What you're asking for is mercy!
Luke records two sayings of Jesus that in their contrast highlight the difference between what we deserve and the grace with which God actually treats us. In Luke 17:7-9, Jesus notes that someone who has merely done his duty cannot expect to be treated as a hero. Jesus makes His point by saying that no master is likely to do his servant's evening duties just because the servant has done his job during the day. Rather, the master is likely to expect the servant to continue to work until his duties are completed, to prepare and serve the master's evening meal before satisfying himself. Then, speaking to His disciples, Jesus says, " 'so you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty"'" (verse 10, R.S.V.).
This saying comes in a context of materials dealing with faith. At least in part, Jesus is reminding us that even faith is merely a portion of our "duty." It does not merit a reward.
But Jesus also tells of a master who, upon returning from a marriage feast and finding his servants awake and ready to answer his knock, girds himself, has them sit at the table, and himself serves them (chap. 12:35-37). How unlikely that people would act this way!
By this story Jesus encourages His disciples always to be prepared for His return. But in these two stories we also see a sharp contrast between justice and grace. The first story depicts justice—what a servant may expect in return for his work. The second highlights God's grace. Jesus set the tone for it a few verses earlier: " 'Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom' " (verse 32, R.S.V.). God's grace goes beyond what justice offers.
We may be called to differing forms of ministry. Nevertheless, ministering for Christ is every Christian's duty. We cannot maintain a saving relationship with Him and neglect the duties He sets before us. But our service in no way entitles us to the eternal reward. Having carried out our duties to the full, we are still "unworthy servants." The place in His kingdom that He has promised us comes only because of His great grace.
As ministers, let us remember His grace toward us. And let us uphold our gracious Lord before our congregations.—D.C.J.