“When you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless servants. We have done only what we ought to have done.’” – Luke 17:10 (ISV)
Most families in his remote mountain parish were mired in generational poverty. The church did what it could to help, sideways, never directly. You didn’t expose people’s need.
For thirty-two years, faithful as sunrise, he’d baptized them, married them, visited them when they let him in, which was seldom, buried them when they died too young, which was often.
He’d preached one message, that they were loved and should love one another. He doubted it got through. Not because they were bad or obtuse, but because daily life had their attention, too. It taught them something different.
When he retired, there was punch, a handshake with the deacon. No one said thank you or we’ll miss you.
When he told his story to some seminarians a year later, they were aghast: They didn’t thank you? After all those years? After all you did?
He expected that reaction. He’d complained in his own heart, too. He didn’t think it wrong to expect thanks, a token of recognition. But in his serene moments, he realized he was content.
It’s OK, he told them. I just did what I was called to do.
And if that seems bleak or harsh or masochistic, maybe it is. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s a kind of generosity.
Jesus was honest with us when he called us. He said that to be a disciple is to descend with him to the lowest places, empty of outcomes and gain, and to be there with him would be a grace enough.
Jesus, discipleship’s rewards are sometimes many. Sometimes few. May I follow you with or without them.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.