Tucked away in Luke’s Gospel is the Parable of the Unworthy Slave. It is one of the most enigmatic in all the Gospels.

In the Middle East in the first century, the traditional roles of masters and slaves were well-defined. Dependency and inequality were assumed. For a master to serve his own servants was unheard of! In our age of a 40 hour work week, labor unions, paid time off, and time and a half for overtime, this parable seems distant and unfair. On the surface, it wears a harsh frown and seems heartless. The master appears to be a slave-driver, ungracious and unmerciful.

What are we to make of this parable? What does it mean? Our first reaction is to polish off its sharp edges so we can ease the pressure on our conscience.


1. Where in Gospels? Only in Luke. Godet said Luke found it among his literary materials “at the bottom of his portfolio.”

2. Where in Luke? In the Travel Narrative (9:51-19:57). Significant part of the Travel Narrative is Jesus’ teaching on discipleship.


1. Immediate context: In collection of sayings to the disciples.

  • Don’t cause little ones to stumble  (17:1-2)
  • Forgive to an unlimited extent (17:3-4)
  • Little faith can perform mighty works (17:5-6)

2. Relationship to context:

  • First two deal with what disciples are to do.
  • Third deals with how they are to do it: faith.
  • Parable explains why they are to do it based on who they are – Servants.
  • Only way of obtaining increased faith is to obey with humility.


1. Parable – Master’s Expectations (17:7-9)  3 rhetorical questions – first expects negative answer, second positive, third negative.

2. Application of Parable – Servant’s Motivation (17:10)


Conditions of true discipleship – 3- Fold Essence of Servanthood:

  • 1) Proper Attitude toward self                – “say. . . we are unworthy slaves”
  • 2) Proper Attitude toward service         – “we have done only our duty”
  • 3) Proper Attitude toward Savior          – expect nothing in return for service.

Servant cannot set the terms of discipleship.

Service for God is not meritorious.