Midweek Faith Lift
The Parable of the Unprofitable Servants
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
November 23, 2022
November 14, 2022
Dusty Baker, the manager of the Houston Astros, won his first World Series last week, which is noteworthy because it showed what perseverance and character can do. The 73-year-old champion is only the third Black manager to win the Series, and Dusty is much beloved. Fans from around the country were pulling for him. “I’m so happy that it took this long because it allowed me to influence more people.”
“Jack pines won't win many beauty contests. But this valiant old tree is as beautiful as a living thing can be. In the calligraphy of its shape against the sky is written strength of character and perseverance. In its silence it speaks of wholeness and integrity that comes from being what you are.” – Douglas Wood, author, musician, naturalist
Affirmative prayer: Today, Infinite Presence, I am true to who I am. I give thanks for my inclusion in this grand life, for my connection to others and to Divine Beingness. I am appointed, every day, to live in wholeness and integrity, and I pray that my living example inspires others. Thank you, God, forever. Amen.
What a great story! I watched that last game of the 2022 World Series and saw the absolute joy of Dusty Baker and his team as they whooped and hollered! It was a golden moment of pure bliss and celebration for sure with so much love you could feel it through the TV screen. It was clearly a long journey of faith for Dusty Baker to finally arrive at this joyful moment. So what does this have to do with our parable today and for the energy of Thanksgiving which we celebrate this coming Thursday? Well, let’s see what faith has to do with it!
We are again exploring a parable that is unfamiliar to most of us, and Dr. Michael calls it The Law of Service. It is the Parable of the Unprofitable Servants and it is found in Luke 17:5-10 and it reads like this:
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me; put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ” (NRSV-UE)
Wow! Here we are again with a really cryptic and somewhat confusing message from Jesus. What Dr. Michael addresses first in the parable is the use of power. This parable is traditionally known as the Parable of the Profitable Servants because it illustrates initially the power of faith as a mustard seed and then the power of the master to command his slaves to provide for his good. This sets up a dynamic contrast between the use of temporal power and the ultimate energy of faith as a spiritual power. Power from a human perspective is a seductive energy because we can use it for self-serving reasons, just like the master commanding his servants. But there is another dimension to the energy of power that is at play in this story.
What is the master teacher trying to teach us in this story? It begins with a request from the disciples who challenge Jesus to increase their faith. He responds with a description of what and how what a very tiny amount of faith can do…it can do the unthinkable, the impossible: it can uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea! It can do things that people wouldn’t necessarily want to do, so be aware of the incredible power of faith in how you engage it. It can open a path to more than you can imagine, so pay mindful attention to how you engage faith and direct the power that faith truly has to change things, to produce large effects.
It is helpful to also understand that the word “faith” translates from the Greek as pistis which implies “conviction” and “assurance” and conveys a mindset that is “free from doubt.” In its most potent expression that is free from doubt, faith moves mountains, moves trees to the sea and brings about unbelievable changes. As Dr. Michael notes on p. 231 of The Hidden Parables of Jesus:
In its purest and rarest form, faith is a state of mind from which all contamination by doubt, misgiving, uncertainty, equivocation, and lack of conviction has been refined away, leaving only pure and absolute confidence. This purified conviction….is capable of inducing remarkable changes in physical reality itself.
That kind of single-minded faith is possible, but not our usual experience of the power of faith as we engage it. My experience is more frequently colored by the nagging thoughts that sound like, “Well, maybe, if everything falls into place…” or “Well, I’m still waiting, God, and I don’t see any results yet!” Or “Haven’t I prayed long enough for this to manifest?” And yet….there are those moments when my “Conviction of things hoped for but not yet seen” is clear as a bell and the doubts just fall away! Those are golden moments, much like the celebration of Dusty Baker finally winning a World Series as a Manager at 73 years of age!
What happens to us when we have that single-minded faith that does not give up? What does that look like? Well, we have some kind of answer in the rest of the story that Jesus tells us in this parable. He describes a scenario where the servants, after working in the fields, are then commanded to provide for the comfort of the master. Only after that are they allowed to eat and drink and take care of their own needs. The final line is the punch line to this story, for Jesus says if you do only what is required of you and no more, then you must say about yourselves, “we are worthless slaves!” That is quite a punch line, isn’t it?
You may have temporal power over others and the ability to command them to do your bidding. But, and this is a big but, if you do ONLY what is asked of you, then you cannot expect any greater outcome than the energy you have expended, which can indeed be worthless! The very powerful message here, that we have been hearing all along from Jesus, is that we each have to do our own work, and go beyond our perceived limitations for the possibility of the power of faith to truly be at work and fully mobilized. It is very much in keeping with our 5th Unity Principle, which says we have to put feet to our prayers! We have to take action, not just speak positive affirmations about the outcome we desire.
Faith is an active process, not a passive mind state! That is the message of this lesson from Jesus. Faith is incredibly powerful and it requires a lot from us, it requires true service. This service is an investment of our energy and attention when we are not completely sure of how the outcome will manifest. We continue to hold our conviction that good is unfolding, even when we are not sure of the timetable because everything is in God’s time, not ours! One of my favorite prayers from when I worked at Silent Unity as a student was to close the prayer time by saying, “When there seems to be no way, God always opens a way. Now we choose to trust, letting go and letting God, knowing that the way will be revealed and opened as we need it.” To pray is to serve and we show up willing to serve, to do what is ours to do with zeal and faith and then we manifest our highest and best good beyond our wildest dreams.
One of the lessons we take from this parable is that service to Spirit, service to the higher good for all, to a greater consciousness is not a 9-to-5 affair. It is a constant state of mindfulness that asks us to walk with conviction no matter how bad things look. I don’t know about you, but these past several years of pandemic, rampant racism, white supremacy and sexual harassment being revealed, gun violence in our schools and communities and the political mess we have witnessed have truly tested my faith. At times it has felt as small as a mustard seed in the face of all the hate, violence and damage that we have witnessed. It has been wearing and exhausting and I will confess to great relief and gratitude that our election cycle was so peaceful and affirming of true democracy. I, we, can finally breathe, at least for now.
It reminds me that there is incredible power and empowerment in holding the space for something better to unfold, even when I am not sure how that will look. Dusty Baker is a 73-year-old black man who had never won a World Series as manager of a major league team. He is only the third black manager to do this in the long, long history of baseball. I cannot begin to imagine the mountain moving faith that has sustained Dusty Baker for 73 years! If you watched the movie 42 about Jackie Robinson’s journey as a player onto the all white Big League stage, then you have some idea of what Dusty Baker must have also encountered stepping into management. And then, with all humility, Dusty Baker said he was glad that it took so long because it allowed him to influence more people! That is mountain moving service and the faith that changes things with incredible power and capacity for joy!
On this Sunday before Thanksgiving, we are so grateful for the power and joy of mountain moving faith!
Blessings on the Path,