Not long ago, Americans
discovered “mentors.” In general, a “mentor” helps
a novice to enter or progress along a certain path toward
a specific goal. In the academic world, a “mentor” guides
a doctoral student through the requirements of earning a
degree. In the business world, a “mentor” helps
a promising person to achieve excellence, success, and often
a high administrative position in a corporation.
In the Mediterranean world Jesus is not a “mentor” but rather a “faction
founder” who builds his “faction” around himself by gathering “followers” or “disciples.” Here
is what Jesus the faction founder expects of members of his faction, often called
The word usually translated “faith” in the New Testament is better
translated as “loyalty” or “reliability.” Jesus, the founder
of a faction devoted to the renewal of Israel, demanded loyalty to himself and
his project. Recall Jesus’ expectation that, faced with a choice, a disciple
should prefer him to one’s family of origin (Lk
The words “sin” and “forgive” in Luke 17:3-4 remind Luke’s
readers of Jesus’ parable of the lost sons, which, having been read or heard
just two chapters earlier in this Gospel, is still echoing in their minds and
hearts. Disciples must be compassionate as the Father is compassionate (Lk
6:36). They must forgive as often as a sinner repents.
In the ancient Middle-Eastern world every family, even relatively poor ones,
had at least one servant. The very poorest families gave some of their children
to other families as servants to ensure that they would be fed.
The master in
this parable apparently has only one servant who both tends the fields and does
the cooking. The thrust of the story is clear and straightforward. Good servants
do what they are told. A master never has to thank a servant for doing what was
Most translations cause confusion with their rendition of Jesus’ final advice
to disciples: “When you have carried out all your orders, learn to say:
we are worthless servants; we have only done our duty” (v. 10). “Worthless”?
Literally, the Greek adjective means “without need.” The New English
Bible captures this sense in its rendition: “We are servants and deserve
The neologism that I propose (“due-nothing” servant) reflects the pun-oriented
sense of humor that Jesus exhibited (in Aramaic) on many occasions. While this
servant clearly is not a “do-nothing” person, it is also clear that
a servant is “due nothing” for services rendered.
Jesus’ demands of
forgiveness, loyalty, and the surrendering of an entitlement mentality still
challenge his American disciples.
J. Pilch is a biblical scholar and
facilitator of parish renewals.
Liturgical Press has published
fourteen books by Pilch exploring the
“cultural world” of the Bible.
Go to http://www.litpress.org/ to
find out more.
Copyright © 1997 by The Order of St.
Benedict, Inc., Collegeville, MN.
All rights reserved.
Used by permission from The
Liturgical Press, Collegeville,
The complete text of the
above article can be found in:
The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle C
John J. Pilch. The Liturgical Press. 1997. pp. 142-144.
Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.
from Religious Clip Art for the
(A, B, and C).
Used by permission of Liturgy Training
Publications. This art may be reproduced
only by parishes who purchase the
collection in book or CD-ROM form. For
more information go to: http://www.ltp.org/