9. The Father’s Servants

I Note: This is #9 in a series of posts. If you have not read the Foreword to the series, I hope you will do that first: Foreward

Luke 15:17 “…my father’s hired servants have food to spare,..”

This is the next to the last sermon we will have on this parable. I want to end this series next Wednesday on the last Wednesday before Thanksgiving and then we will be into Advent with a whole new theme and outlook. I would like to begin this evening by reviewing the names of the parable we have been studying. We started with the Parable of the Great Teacher. Then went on to the parable of the Boy Who Died. Next the parable of All we have is yours and then the Tale of Two Cities. We looked at the parable of the Man Who Ran and then the parable of the Two Boys Who Lived Loosely. We went next to the parable of the Boy Who Coveted Pig’s Food and last week we came to the point of the Parable of Your and My Name! Now tonight we look at the “Parable of the Servants.”

Servants are mentioned here in passing by the boy. “My father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare.” But they are mentioned predominately by Jesus on two occasions! First right after the father saw his son at a distance and ran, immediately Jesus says, “The Father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe and put it on him…” And then later, in the midst of the festivities, one of the servants is not inside enjoying the festival, but rather, outside, still at work, and the elder son says, “What is the meaning of all this music and dancing?” The ready and correct answer, “Your brother has come home and your father has killed the fatted calf because he received him safe and sound.”

When we started this series we said we wanted to look at what Jesus said but we also wanted to look at what He didn’t say, but rather what He implied. We also made mention of the fact that Jesus spoke to Near Eastern people 2000 years ago and the message has been put into the western language of Greek and carried to the West and translated into German and French and English and commentators of those languages have been working on this in western thought for the last 2000 years. However, there were those who heard it in the language of Jesus and more or less kept it in that same language and continued in it, in this Near Eastern thought process and have had their own scholars and commentators over these last 2000 years. And although their ideas of what happened 2000 years ago do not directly contradict ours, in many cases they go deeper than ours do, and are closer to the truth than we are.

The first thing we need to understand is that the term, “Hired servant” is completely different than servants. “Misthioi” is the first and “doulos” is the second. Misthioi came into the Greek language as a reward but then it became the wage which a person earned. The way it is generally used in the New Testament is not always favorable. It is what prompted Judas to betray Christ. It is the love of money which is the root of all evil. Doulos on the other hand is simply put a “slave”, someone who belongs to another. In the Roman world some people were actually glad to be a slave, that is of good men. It meant security for them, a place where they belonged and the protection which it afforded. We notice that every one of the apostles began their epistles by signing their manuscripts with the words, “I, Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ, Or I James, a slave of Jesus Christ and of God, or I, Peter, or I, Jude, a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. This comes from St. Paul who tells us, “You are not your own, you have been bought with a price.” Or from Jesus who says, “You cannot serve two masters, for you will come to love the one and hate the other.” Either you are a slave to God or to Satan.

So getting back to the parable, the servants were there, right at hand, ready and willing to serve, because they recognized their role in life. They were not free men. They were not in a position to live their own lives nor to set their own agenda. They recognized that in their master, they lived and breathed and had their being. Perhaps they knew of a time when they wandered the streets and went hungry. Maybe they were at times hired hands who worked when there was work to be done, like at harvesting. At other times they stood around idle in the market place when there was nothing to do and would go home (if indeed they had a home) with nothing in their pockets. Perhaps even they had taken matters into their own hands and had stolen. Maybe they even were like the thieves in the parable of the good Samaritan who would wait for some hapless traveler and beat him and leave him to die.
But now the time had come when through whatever means the master used, (maybe by buying them out of debtor’s prison, maybe simply by seeing them standing idle in the market place and taking pity on them) they were offered not just a job for the day but rather a home, a family, security and all that goes with it. And so now in gratitude they realize who they are and what their purpose in life is and that is to thank the master and to show their gratitude by serving him. They recognize that it is their duty to thank and praise him to serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

The servants of the father are there at his side. And when the father sees the son at a distance, they run alongside of him. And they had done their duty of killing the fatted calf and roasting it, setting the table and pouring the wine and placing out the bread and the figs and the dates and everything else which went into a party back in those days. Then they are still right at his side, at their posts doing their duty. Some may play the musical instruments of that day. Some may dance to provide entertainment; some continue to bake more bread and to take away the scraps from the table and constantly keep it clean. Some stand at the door and assist the newly arriving guests, washing their feet and giving them a festive garment or whatever else they do.

Jesus didn’t say these were loyal and trusted servants who ran with the father. Nor did He say it was a good servant who stayed at the door and waited for the later guests. But He implied it! And 2000 years ago, those who had gathered to hear His parables, understood both what He said and what He implied.

And so tonight, 2000 years later, and 2000 years of western culture we find ourselves in a world which abhors slavery and, in a world, which wants people to stand 4 square on their own two feet and demand their rights; in a world which wants pro-choice because we are free and independent. Our country has become like the sons of Abraham with whom Jesus argued because they said, “We are sons of Abraham and are slaves to no one!” We are like them, who lied even to themselves for they were under Roman bondage and had long before lost their country and their freedom, like them we stand and say the same things.

But to us, St. Paul speaks as he says, “You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price.” To us St. Paul says, “Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God and in due time He will exalt you!” To us Jesus says, “Come follow me”! And we along with Martin Luther, all the apostles and evangelists say, “I am your own and I want to live under You in Your kingdom and serve You in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness. This is most certainly true. Amen.

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