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Good evening Father Angelo,

I would like to understand what Jesus meant by using the words “unprofitable servant”.

Thank you.


Answer from the priest

Dear Alberto,

1. for the benefit of our visitors, I quote our Lord’s statement in its entirety: “So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” (Lk 17:10).

2. Dominican biblical scholar Marco Sales comments: “Jesus himself explains what is the meaning of having to call ourselves unprofitable servants, adding: we have done what we were obliged to do.

The man, who carries out his duty, is actually just doing what he is obliged to do, and he must not believe to be entitled to a special reward.

However, this does not change the fact that God can and does reward abundantly even the smallest actions done in his name.

Here, Jesus teaches us what we should think of ourselves and our works; what the master thinks of us, he taught in the passage where he shows the Lord who says to his servants who are faithfully obeying him: Well done, my good and faithful servant… Come, share your master’s joy (Mt 25:21-23).

It is also useful to remember that all the good works we do are a gift from God, who by his grace pushes us to do them and helps and assists us.”

3. St. Thomas quotes St. Bede’s comment: “Undoubtedly servants, for we have been purchased at a high price; unprofitable, because the Lord has no need for our goods (Sal 15:2)”.

As if to say: we belong to him, we do not belong to ourselves, he redeemed us at a high price and gives us the chance of earning eternal life. It is all a gift from him. We have nothing to boast about. We just have to say thank you.

4. St. Thomas also quotes St. Bede’s next comment: “Or ‘I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us’” (Rom 8:18).

As if to say: the reward we are given is immensely superior to what we may have deserved.

5. Thus, St. Bede concludes: “Therefore, this is the perfection of faith in men: if, having fulfilled all the things that were commanded to us, we still acknowledge that we are imperfect” (St. Thomas, Catena aurea, Lk 17:10).

6. Finally: the Italian translation from the Italian Episcopal Conference translates the expression as useless servants. But the Jerusalem Bible says that “it should be more correctly translated as: simple servants.

The adjective (akreioi in Greek) qualifies the status, that is, the condition of the servants and not their moral dispositions”.

In the previous translation, it was added that “useless servants” is the literal and traditional translation of the Greek expression.

With my best wishes for all that is good and for a peaceful and Holy Christmas, I bless you and remember you in prayer.

Father Angelo