Serving God is its own reward

Pentecost 20

Luke 17:5-10

Marian Free

In the name of God in whose service we give our all – expecting no reward, but the privilege of serving our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In March this year a number of people received awards for bravery or courage. Trevor Burns was awarded the Star of Courage for saving a dive operator from a shark attack. Not only did he pull the shark off the woman, but, as other members of the group made their way to the safety of the boat, Trevor stayed in the bloodied water to dive down to the sinking woman and pull her to the surface. Raymond Bruckner and Ernst Gomsi took a canoe into raging flood water to rescue two men who had been thrown out of their aluminum boat by the swift flowing water. In the process Gomsi himself was tossed into the water, but was able to be retrieved. The actions of these two men saved the lives of the others. Brett Morrissey smashed a door and then a window to enter a burning house to rescue a child. When he learned that a woman remained inside, he returned to bring her out as well. All four put their own lives at risk to save the life of a stranger. (For these and other stories go to: http://www.govhouse.qld.gov.au)

If asked, these and the many others who have received such awards would have said that they didn’t think about what they were doing or the danger to themselves, but that they were only doing what anyone else would have done in the same situation. Often such people are genuinely surprised to be receiving any recognition because they are convinced that they have done nothing out of the ordinary! Many, many people do extraordinary things in the course of their work or their everyday lives and think nothing of it. Aid workers and peacekeepers often put their own lives (and certainly their comfort) at risk serving people in refugee camps, war-torn or disaster ravaged countries and paramedics and emergency service workers are confronted with horrifying situations on a regular basis – often putting their own lives at risk for the sake of others.

Other people are heroic in ways that will never be publicly recognised. Think of the hundreds of parents who give all they have to care for a child with a disability, the children who ungrudgingly care for elderly parents, those who uncomplainingly live with a disability and those who cheerfully carry out mundane or dull tasks which are essential for the well-being of the wider community, but which are taken for granted and only noticed by their absence. All of these people would say that they are only doing what anyone else would do in their situation, or that they are only doing what is required of them. None of them would think that they were doing anything out of the ordinary.

Of course, the opposite is true. Some people take foolish risks in the hope that they will stand out from the crowd. There are some that find their responsibilities burdensome and unwelcome and there are many that grumble at the routine of their daily work or the lack of recognition they receive for what they do.

In today’s gospel, Jesus addresses the question of whether, in our faith lives we do things for recognition or whether faith itself is reward enough. In the first century somewhere between thirty to forty percent of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves. Their conditions varied depending on whether or not they were working in the mines or running someone’s estate, or whether their owner was kind or vicious. However, even those in the best positions were never anything more than a slave. It would have been inconceivable for anyone to imagine the scenario Jesus puts before his audience: an owner suggesting a slave sit at the table after a hard day’s work. Such an offer would diminishes the master’s status and respect. It would be a reversal of roles that would  be inconceivable. The expectation of both master and slave would be that the slave would have to complete his or her tasks – including ensuring their owner had eaten – before considering their own needs.

Throughout history people have followed Jesus, not for any external reward or recognition, but simply for the privilege of being counted among the faithful. Saints have not spent lives in prayer and reflection so that they might be singled out from the crowd. They have done so because their lives would have held no meaning if they did not. Martyrs have not gone to their deaths thinking: this will make me more important than other Christians. They have simply have accepted death as one consequence of a life of faith. Missionaries and others have not carried out their work in the belief that one day they will be set apart as those who did more for the Gospel. They have responded to the call of God and shared with others a faith they believe to be life-changing. People like Mother Teresa have not given up lives of comfort to live among the poor because they thought that one day they would be elevated as super Christians. All these people have lived lives of faith for the rewards of knowing and being known by God and by Christ our Saviour.

We too, in good times and in bad, confidently and timidly, with greater or lesser prayerfulness or holiness, commit ourselves to faith in Jesus Christ, not because we expect God to single us out for praise, not because we are competing with each other for God’s attention, not because we want to stand out from the crowd, but because we have heard the call of Christ and have done no less than what we were compelled to do. Life in the service of our Redeemer is a reward in itself.

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