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Unit 2: The Savior Among Us (Luke)

Bonus: Thanks Be to God!

Scripture Focus

Luke 17:7-19

Session Theme

Although God doesn’t owe us thanks, we owe Him thanks.

Session Goal

To recognize that thanksgiving without obedience is empty.

Engage the Word

Grace is a funny thing. It is both free and freeing. God gives it long before I ask for it. Without it I am lost, powerless and condemned. Through it, the Lord Jesus calls me His friend. It is, just as we sing, amazing.

Unfortunately, grace has a dark side. The well from which tears of joy flow often goes often dry. I so easily forget the hard-won battles against temptation. I barely remember the guilt I felt before I experienced God’s grace. Sometimes a person may feel it is not a big deal to dabble in sin, as God will forgive. Why is it so easy to take God’s grace for granted?

In today’s session, we listen to Jesus tell a story that makes us very uncomfortable. Then we watch an episode in His ministry that might make us angry. These stories can help us evaluate our responses to God’s grace in our lives.

Luke 17:7-10

Jesus begins with a simple parable that His audience would have understood. He describes not a large estate with household and farming tasks divided among multiple servants, but a small estate with one servant. While we might want Jesus to teach a lesson about how masters ought to treat their servants with justice and compassion, Jesus invites us to stand in the sandals of the master. How would we treat a paid servant? We would expect him to work. To simply do the job we have hired him to do. Masters and servants had very different roles. Jesus’ listeners understood and accepted this reality as a fact of life.

In our contemporary culture the parable of the servant is almost scandalous. A recent hit television show highlighted the life of an aristocratic family living in England in the early 20th century. The producers attempted to accurately depict the contrasting lifestyles of the family members who lived in luxury versus their servants who lived “below the stairs.” The older servants regularly spoke about their decisions to enter a “life of service,” including the sacrifices of family life and child rearing. Undoubtedly, this portrayal of a different kind of life contributed to the mass appeal of the show. We are simply unable (or maybe unwilling?) to imagine being forbidden to make eye contact with someone merely because of the privilege of birth. As we affirm the value of equality, that every human possesses equal worth, a story of a master and servant seems antiquated and insulting.

Then Jesus applies the parable to our relationship with God, and quite literally puts us in our place--the place of the servant. God is master and we are servants. He then tells us how to act; we are to be faithfully obedient in everything God asks us to do. Jesus reminds us that God owes us nothing. He especially owes us no thanks for our obedience. In His grace, God has already given us so much. In return, we give Him our lives, our time, our service and our obedience.

Luke 17:11-19

In the next story we observe an episode in the life of Jesus that sometimes makes us angry. Of 10 men who were healed of a horrific disease, only one returned to say thank you. This is the classic Sunday School text used to teach us to be thankful. When we read it as adults, we quickly but vaguely confess that yes, we do take our blessings for granted. We even make promises to be more thankful for the little things like sunsets and fields of wildflowers.

But this really misses the point of the story. The response of the healed Samaritan is radical! He turns around, and as he runs to Jesus, he is heard “praising God with a loud voice.” Is he really whooping and hollering? Evidently someone was there to witness his excitement. Upon finding Jesus, he throws himself on the ground in front of Jesus and thanks Him for the miracle. Jesus does not commend the man’s “attitude of gratitude.” Rather, He highlights the man’s actions of praise.
In these stories Jesus was confronting the sinister attitude of spiritual entitlement that He saw especially in the religious leaders. But He also asks us to look in the mirror. Do we really see a servant? Forget the mirror. Do my calendar, my bank account and my priorities show that I am a servant who lives in constant gratitude, or has spiritual entitlement turned me into a false master?

It is so easy to recognize an attitude of entitlement--in other people: trust-fund babies, millennials, professional athletes, etc. But in me? No way. I work hard and I don’t expect anyone to give me anything. Or do I? Jesus reminds us that since God’s grace is a gift far greater than anything we deserve, we are indebted to serve Him with overflowing gratitude.

Discussion Guide

Connect to My Experience

Imagine for a moment that instead of the career that you chose, you chose to be a fulltime servant of another.

How would your life have been different?

What do you imagine would be the best and worst aspects of a life of service?

Transition: While we often talk about living with attitudes of humility and servanthood, we must admit that we struggle to see ourselves as servants living in complete obedience, obligation and gratitude, asking nothing in return.

Connect to the Word

In this session we read two stories: a parable about servanthood and a story of nine ungrateful former lepers. At first the stories seem unrelated, as if they should each receive a separate session. Seen together, though, these two stories illustrate that while thankfulness is important, it must also lead to and inspire obedience.

In verse 10, as Jesus directly applies the parable to life, He instructs us to call ourselves “unworthy servants.” Some translations even go so far as to use the word, “worthless.” This word does not suggest that servants are less valuable than anyone else, nor is it suggesting a diminished sense of self-worth. Rather, Jesus is instructing us to see that our hard work for the gospel, or our dedication to moral living does not earn us gratitude from God. God owes us no thanks! To keep from misinterpreting this word, it is best to focus on the second half of the verse, “we have only done our duty.”

Invite someone to read Luke 17:7-10, then discuss,

Jesus told a parable that highlighted the relationship between and master and his servant. Using this common relationship, His listeners could easily connect with the lesson on obligation and duty.

Why is it difficult for us to receive teaching on themes of obligation and duty?

If Jesus were to tell this story from our cultural perspective, what master-servant relationships could He use to illustrate obligation?

How can we reconcile our view of God as a loving Father with Jesus’ call to dutiful obedience?

Invite someone to read Luke 17:11-19, then discuss,

The story quickly switches here from a parable to a live scene in the ministry of Jesus. Ten men are healed, but only one returns to thank Jesus for His life-changing gift.

[Note: The term for “leprosy” is a general word used to describe a variety of skin diseases. The Old Testament law required that an infected person withdraw from society in case their disease was contagious. The person could return only after showing the priests that the disease was gone.

Following the tradition of distinguishing “clean” (acceptable and good) versus “unclean” (unacceptable and bad), in Luke’s gospel, recipients of Jesus’ miraculous reversal of skin diseases are not typically referred to as being “healed,” but rather as being “cleansed.”]

Examine the story very carefully. At what point in this episode were the men cleansed of their diseases? What does this suggest about their faith, or trust in Jesus’ power?

Why do you think Luke described the man’s response (in verses 15-16) with so much detail?

Why do you think Luke noted that the man was a Samaritan?

Connect to My Life and the World

Jesus told the parable of the master and his servant to confront the religious leaders who often believed that God somehow owed them for their obedience and faithful service.

Imagine listening to a person who claims that God owes them. What might be the basis of their claim?

Where or when are you tempted to think that God owes you something? (Think of situations where you might ask God “Why?” or “How could you?”)

The story of the returning Samaritan teaches us that God wants more than a mere “attitude of gratitude.” He wants to see that attitude in action.

Other than forgiveness for sins and the gift of eternal life, what has God done for you that might push you to throw yourself at His feet to thank Him?

How do you regularly show God through your actions that you are thankful for what He has done in your life?

Of the two themes in this session, which would you say is more difficult for you: to serve God and ask for nothing in return, or to actively thank God for what he has already done for you?

What can you do this week to address this growth area?

Jason Matters is pastor of Ridgefield Church of the Nazarene in Ridgefield, Washington.

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