“The Freedom of Profitless Servants, Expecting Nothing But God’s Love”
(Lk 17:5-10), Feast of St. Bruno
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
At times, we can all fall into the attitude of thinking, “The world owes me something.” Right? It can happen in small ways. We go out driving and hit traffic and we think we have been wronged, “Why is this happening to me?” As if the roadway should always open up before me. Or maybe in the workplace, I think the promotion, the raise, the honor, should usually go to me. As if I were the only one working hard.
Maybe we really do deserve such things at times, but, if we are honest, I think we have to admit that our expectations of what we should get goes beyond what is truly right and just. It’s the way we are in this fallen world, struggling with our pride and egoism. We tend to think, “The world owes me something.” And this makes life more difficult to live because we so often think we are being wronged, slighted, given a raw deal, and burdened.
The same can be true in the context of our family life. I confess to this one: When I was growing up, I basically thought my mother owed it to me to clean my room! Isn’t that what mothers are for?! And dad owed it to me to pay my bills. We can fall into attitudes like this. We can think things should mostly go my way: doing what I want to do and serving my projects and my aspirations. Our expectations of what is owed to us tend to go beyond what is reasonable.
And the same can be true in our relationship with God. We can wonder, Why hasn’t God done more for me? Why hasn’t he given me graces to make prayer go better? Why didn’t he give me the talent to be another Mozart? Why didn’t he give me more natural ability to break the 4-minute mile? Why can’t I slam dunk a basketball? Why can’t I be more articulate in expressing myself? Why can’t I be the life of the party when I show up? It can be hard to accept our limitations, whatever they may be. And a cry can rise up from our heart, God why did you make me like this? Again, here it’s like we think God owes us something, even something more than he gives others.
Our Gospel today places before us a different attitude. Jesus says, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done only what we were obliged to do.’” It’s an attitude of humility: ‘We are unprofitable, useless servants. We have only done our duty. We don’t deserve special treatment.’ We are happy to be in the presence of the Lord and to serve such a good Master. The servant in the Gospel is to be grateful for what he has. At least he’s employed. And he has a good and upright master that he serves. He should be sure to appreciate the gift that he does have, the gift that has already been given to him.
In our 2nd Reading, St Paul speaks about the gift that has been given to Timothy. He says, “I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have received through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control…Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Timothy is to be a faithful servant of the Lord, using well the gifts that have been given him. It’s not all going to be easy, with a red carpet rolled out before him. He is to “bear his share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”
It is interesting. If we think no hardship should come our way and then hardship does come our way as it often does, we feel wronged. It makes it all the more difficult to bear the hardship because we think we are being wronged and don’t deserve it. Then we bring a resentful, negative attitude to it and things get worse. If we always expect the highway to open up before us, we always get frustrated when we hit the traffic jam. And we make life harder to deal with than it needs to be.
This is why Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” There is freedom here, in accepting the yoke and the burden; and the Lord makes it light. There is a freedom in having the attitude of the humble servant and it helps us deal with life.
“We are unprofitable servants. We have only done our duty.” And we are content in serving such a good Lord as our loving God. We are happy to be in his presence. As the 2nd Eucharistic Prayer says to the Lord, “giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you (to serve you).” This is the attitude of the humble servant, content and happy to be in the Lord’s presence and do his work.
How can we be this humble servant in a joyful way? Well, St Bruno, whose feast is today, can help. He founded the Carthusian monks and lived a very austere and poor life. Did he think the world owed him something? No. He lived in great simplicity, seeking not something from the world, but something more than the world had to offer. His treasure was God. His treasure was not the world. His treasure was not even the reward God might give him. Rather his treasure was God, God himself. He loved God above all things, and so being in the presence of the Lord and serving Him as his lowly servant was his joy.
It’s love of the Lord that makes the difference. St Bruno writes in a letter about what the life of the Carthusians is all about. He says, “They persevere in their holy life, waiting for the return of the Master, ready to open the door for Him as soon as He knocks.” Bruno is alluding to the passage in Luke 12 about waiting for the Master who is coming from the Wedding Feast. In fact, this is the Gospel that the Carthusians use for St Bruno’s feast day because it captures so much about what they’re about: Waiting with love for the spiritual marriage feast with God—“waiting for the return of the master, ready to open the door for him as soon as he knocks.”
So it’s good to be that humble servant, waiting,…in poverty of spirit, expecting nothing but the Love of the Lord. “Here,” as St Bruno continues in his letter, “Here is acquired that [contemplative prayer], by whose serene gaze the Divine Spouse is wounded with love; that [gaze], pure and clean, by which God is seen…I should like for you to love God above all, so that warmed by His embrace you may be aflame with divine love” (137-8).
Brothers and Sisters, in the end, it’s when we have this love for the Lord that we can say with joy, I am a profitless servant and expect nothing more than the Love of the Lord. And it’s then that we can say with the Blessed Virgin Mary, “I am the lowly handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to thy word.”