Parenting is the ultimate and varied balancing act. Balancing love and control. Balancing grace and truth. Balancing positive self-esteem and humility. Balancing giving an allowance and children earning their money. The list can be as general or specific as we choose. Today, we are balancing generosity with duty.
“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves, we have only done our duty’ ” (Lk 17:7-10).
In this short story, the landowner probably had only one slave who worked in the field and in the house. When the slave was finished in the field, he was expected to prepare and serve dinner to the landowner before having time to himself. There is no evidence that the landowner is harsh or callous, it is just the work that is expected of a slave in this culture. In doing what was required, the slave did not do anything outstanding.
This parable portrays God as the master and we as the servant. Following the servant’s example, when we have done our duty – “all the things which are commanded us” – we have merely done what is required; nothing more, nothing less.
Duty is obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or a function that arises from one’s position. Our position is both slave and son of Christ. We have a spiritual duty in both cases to do all that which is commanded.
Adults and kids alike do not generally like the word “duty”. We want to be free to work or serve as we like. We don’t like routine or obligatory jobs. We don’t like things expected of us. We want to treat each day as an open book. But each day has responsibilities, chores, and expectations. And this parable is a good foundation for teaching our children the value and importance of duty. Learning to work, carrying out their duty, is a quality that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
Now let’s be careful not to oversell the application of any one parable. Our interpretation must fit the whole of Scripture. A dad must not interpret this story as “I never need to thank or reward my child for doing their duty.” That would exasperate our kids; something we are commanded not to do. We need to balance the duty expectation with the practice of generosity; the way that Christ treats us. Our attitude is not to always be looking for the reward, but it is great to give the reward for a job well done.