An Unprofitable Servant

Some will know, from reading my books, freely available from this website, of my journey in becoming a community activist. I often reflect the Almighty must have a sense of humour, given someone who was at one time as fundamentalist as you can get regarding Christianity should take such a keen interest in social justice matters, while still being “conservative” theologically speaking.

In these past few weeks, I have been avidly following the events in Gaza (where yet another truce has just been agreed and find as I write has yet again been broken). I have some sympathy with those who side with Israel regarding what is happening as I was once one such. Since then, I have come to see, what many of those holding Fundamentalist / Zionist views fail to see, that there are also massive unresolved social justice issues, which until these do get resolved we won’t see peace. Even then, it won’t be the end of the matter given the underlying, often overlooked and misunderstood, Islamic fundamentalism of some of the interested parties.

As I reflect on some of the other hot spots of the region, in particular what is happening in Iraq and Syria and the rise in power of ISIS, I see many other social justice issues, unraveling before our eyes if only we look in the right direction, and wonder why good people who have been recently spurred into reaction on the Gaza matter haven’t done so on this one also. Christians being persecuted and often martyred in many Islamic dominated (North Korea being the main exception) countries in the world is one such thing that is happening right now, as well as issues closer to home, with few voices being raised in protest regarding such matters.

I have a Jewish (orthodox leaning) friend who retired to Haifa a while back, who knows first hand some of what is going on. From time to time, she thoughtfully sends me emails pointing out some or other social justice issue, mostly to do with Christian persecution, and often it is the first news I will have received on such matters. I have other Jewish friends, here in Southend (Jewish culturally but not always in terms of religious belief), who have been particularly supportive when it comes to my work among the homeless and asylum seekers. It is all about perspective and sometimes the most unlikely people are those most sensitive to such matters. What I am increasingly finding is: “things are not always what they seem”.

This leads me on to two conversations in the past week. Both were with Christians who have felt unappreciated despite their valiant efforts serving others. In responding, I recalled a study I did some years back (available on this website) comparing two giants in terms of their place in church history and ongoing influence, yet at opposite ends of the ecclesiological spectrum: J.N.Darby and E.B.Pusey (both 1800-1882). They had surprisingly much in common. They held a high, albeit different, view of the church; were vehemently opposed to the forces of rationalism; had a practical empathy towards the poor. And pertinent to this discussion, both in their preaching often returned to the theme of the “Unprofitable Servant”, based on the parable Jesus told (Luke 17:7-10).

In essence, the story was about a servant who had been working hard all day in the fields, on behalf of his master, and at the end of the day rather than being thanked and told to take rest was ordered to prepare the master’s supper. The moral of the story is “when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do”. One of my bosses in olden days shared with me his thoughts regarding a particularly challenging IT project. He expressed a view that we were all like donkeys or camels, each carrying a load for our master, while on a long journey, but struggling as we did so, yet we were needed and it was only at the end the master could turn round and shoot us. It seems to me though that with our heavenly master there will be one day the recognition “well done good and faithful servant” Matthew 25: 21,23 and the joy of being able to continue to serve the one who is Lord of all in His heaven, who to serve is one of life’s greatest privileges, as well as the mystery that He entrusts us to carry out his purposes, despite being “Unprofitable Servants”. The Salvation Army’s General Booth knew: “we are saved to serve”.

I realize, I end on a “religious” note when some of my readers are not religious and there are many who do good in the community where unconditional service is not their driving force. Yet more than ever, we need those with a serving heart, and mercifully there are many who have this. One of the two great commands is: “love your neighbour” and, according to the parable of “The Good Samaritan”, that can be anyone. I want to encourage people to do so, along with a reminder to be humble, for at best we are “Unprofitable Servants”.

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