(Jesus said) “If one of you had hired help plowing a field or herding sheep, and they came in from the fields, would you say to them, ‘Come and sit at my table?’ Wouldn’t you say instead, ‘Prepare my supper. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You can eat and drink afterward’? would you be grateful to the workers who were just doing their job? It’s the same with you who hear me. When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say, ‘We are simple workers. We have done no more than our duty.’ ”
This is a singular humble slave. I know the translation above blunts the relationship by transforming the slave into a plural of hired hands. Yet the Greek is unequivocal, this story is about a master/slave-owner and his slave/owned. Personally, this is a difficult parable. Unlike the parable where the master exchanged power with the slave (Master/Daddy-Slave/Boy Equality), this parable does not challenge the structures of thought or actions about how we treat others. The narrative is clear: slaves are slaves and masters are masters, end of the story.
Richard Swanson notes that rituals around power structures offend us when they are called “master and slave.” He then points out that we have very little problem with rituals of subservience. “Workers of all sorts, at all levels, learn the rituals of submission. If the boss tells you to clean the compressors, you clean the compressors. If the boss tells you to scrape the waxy build up off the corners of the floor with a paring knife, you get on your hands and knees and do it.” Swanson concludes, “So maybe we understand the rituals at the heart of this scene better than we pretend to understand them” (Provoking the Gospel of Luke).
In the power structure of heteronormativity it is no guess as to who the master is and who the slave is. The tension, struggle, and anger of the early Queer Rights Movement were centered upon destabilizing the given power structure. That early effort represents the core of biblical justice – the undermining of power constructs which oppress, subjugate, and bring about harm to people and creation.
Our parable is now even odder for bolstering the status quo. Unless, that is, we take this parable at a personal level – that of our ego. The natural tendency of our ego is to expand and aggrandize. The parable, in contrast, resists, restricts, and constrains self-aggrandizement. It reminds us that no matter who our master is – for example one’s commitment to the Queer Rights Movement – once we have served our master, all we have done is our job. No room for boasting, no merit for reward.
At the level of the ego there is no differentiation between straight and gay. The ego – no matter its sexual orientation – seeks the same end: to be noticed, to be acknowledged, to be “seen” as the drawing by Rodriquez indicates. Most of the efforts of the ego are harmless and can help us in resisting invisibility (Acting Up). Yet, the ego given complete reign without healthy parameters, leads to aggrandizement. The situation of thinking and believing only what matters to me is what really matters.
Queers are not immune to the folly of self-aggrandizement, and the self-serving narcissism which travels in its wake. If we cannot exaggerate our accomplishments, then we elaborate our “drama.” I know I have fallen into the fraudulent trap of thinking “no one’s been through it like me.” Such sophism and fallacy not only hurt those I relate too, but in the end impoverish my own self identity.
When I allow the parable to speak to the level of my own ego, it reminds me, that while my doing and being is important, it is also just what I am suppose to be about. In a world of seven billion people it certainly is not less than me being me, and it is just as certain not more than me being me: which in the end allows you to be you.