When Jesus Has a Bad Day
Today’s gospel is always a nice little putting on of the brakes for my ego. Whenever I start to get too proud of myself for my work and my efforts and my ministry, I can remember what Jesus says here, which is basically, well, that’s just your job. And I don’t mean the job for which I get a paycheck. That’s our job as Christians.
To be faithful servants.
Jesus says in our gospel today that we are not to expect any thanks for that good and faithful service, but I wonder about that when I take a look at the very next part of Luke, the part we will in fact read next week. Let’s put both of them side by side and see what we can discern about where Jesus is in this moment.
First we read: “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”
The very next verses in the text that we will read next week, say this: “On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.””
Now think about that for a moment. First, Jesus says, rather vehemently I may add, don’t expect any thanks for what you do in ministry. Then, not five minutes later, he complains, rightly of course, about not getting thanked for his ministry.
Do you know what I think is happening here?
I think Jesus is having a really bad day.
I think he is feeling profoundly unappreciated.
We all have moments like that in ministry. We do some service for the church and there is often this complicated swirl of feelings around it that is a sense of obligation and foot-dragging mixed with true joy and contentment in serving.
But sometimes, we just wish someone would notice how many hours we took to wash and iron the tablecloths for the coffee hour reception, now nice it is that the sink in the sacristy no longer leaks because we spent all day Saturday fixing it, how week after week after week the bulletin has no typos because we proofread it so painstakingly.
It’s a very human thing to do, to feel a little bit cranky and let down that we are not appreciated for work that we truly do offer freely. I think the human side of Jesus is in exactly that place in this gospel.
Jesus works so hard every single day, trying to break through to his dense disciples about who he is and what he is offering to the world. He pours himself out without counting the cost, healing those in need and pain and poverty, opening the door to let the light of God’s love burst forth onto hurting people.
Is it too much to ask for someone to say thank you once in awhile?
I think when Jesus says that a good and faithful servant should not expect any thanks, he’s preaching to himself a little bit. I think he’s feeling hurt and lonely and unappreciated, and he’s reminding himself, you signed up for this, you have a job to do and no one’s going to thank you for it, so just get on with it.
But it’s just a bad day for Jesus. His human side is really hurting today, and the very next healing he does, he can’t hold his emotions inside anymore and he bursts out with this bitter observation that only one of the ten he healed came back to thank him.
Think about the moments when you have been feeling unappreciated and have been internally moaning and moping around about it. I know I do that. When people don’t notice how hard you try and how hard you work, it hurts.
But then think of the moments when someone does notice and say thank you. It feels so good! When a friend comes up to you and says, hey, thank you so much for cleaning out the fridge in the church kitchen, I know that was a big job; hey, thank you for mowing the church grounds, I know it was really hot outside yesterday; hey, thank you for serving on that committee or teaching Sunday school—all of a sudden it all seems worth it.
We’re instantly reminded of why we did all that work. We didn’t do it for the thank you, we did it because we felt like it was both our duty and our joy to serve in God’s church, but somehow the thank you brings us back to that good and healthy place of freely offered service where we began that we somehow lost track of in our own need to be appreciated and noticed.
The friend who says thank you to us has such immense power to uplift and strengthen and renew us in ministry, to remind us of why we really do find serving God and the church rewarding. That’s what friends do. They notice what we offer and they thank us for it. And we do the same for them. That’s what community is all about.
Who does that for Jesus?
Who noticed when Jesus was having a bad day and felt like no one appreciated or understood what he was trying to do?
No one, when he was on Earth. The disciples, bless their hearts, were completely clueless as per usual. They were asking for Jesus to increase their faith, which for them was a big step forward over asking Jesus to send down fire on naysayers or let them sit at his right hand in the kingdom of heaven.
But they never noticed that their friend was hurting and needed some love.
But we can notice. The old hymn says, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and that’s true. He is always there for us. But there is no hymn that says, “What a Friend We Are to Jesus.” How often do we ask ourselves in this relationship we each have with Jesus, are we being a good friend to him? Relationships are a two way street.
Jesus, of course, doesn’t need our gratitude. He is full of everlasting glory and is the King of Heaven, he doesn’t need to be cheered up by us frail humans. But it’s like when a spouse gives flowers to his or her partner. Did your husband or wife or partner really need flowers? No, but it is so worth it to have made the gift, and it improves and strengthens the relationship.
So it is when we think about what it means to be a good friend to Jesus, to really stop and thank him for what he does for us, not in a rote, repetitive, absent-minded way, but with attention and focus and sincerity.
The Jesus who now reigns in heaven doesn’t need a friend who notices he’s in pain and thanks him for his love, but the Jesus who was still on Earth and still in his humanity did need that for that brief hurting moment, and we love and are in relationship with Jesus in all his manifestations. And so we thank him, and we strive to be a good and faithful friend to him as he has always, always been to us.
That friendship with Jesus that is the centerpiece of our daily Christian walk is the wellspring that will animate and call forth this newly forming friendship of two parishes and a priest. We are called to be a fellowship of friends, a group of servants who love each other and love Jesus and welcome others in to join the circle.
So let us go forth together always asking the question, how can I be a friend to Jesus today? Because the answer to that will always be: by being a friend to the person right here in front of me.