Jesus said to the Apostles: "Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here immediately and take your place at table'? Would he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished'? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? 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.'"
In modern times we have maybe grown a little bit sensitive to the concept of hierarchy. However, even within a mentality based strongly on the equality of all citizens, we still experience the basic need for authority and, hence, for a hierarchical structure. In earlier ages, this need was still far greater and this is why the mentality which fueled the pre-democratic societies did not merely consist of oppression and injustice - after all, no community could have stood on such friable foundations for so long.
In order to understand today’s Gospel, we have to leave aside for a moment our own mentality. For Jesus refers to a social hierarchy which to our days must appear oppressive or, at the very least, insensitive. But what Jesus clearly seems to focus on is the sober realization of one’s own status. We have no difficulties to understand ourselves as servants before the Almighty. But what we could miss out on, due to our modern mentality, is the goodness of that “inferiority.”
For it is one thing to accept a lower rank; but another thing entirely to consider it noble to remain in it for long. A healthy ambition should make us at least try to be promoted. The mentality of antiquity, with which our Gospel was written, was different. Raising in social ranks was not common, and aspiring it could have been a sign that a person was lacking identity. Goodness meant, for the most part, to be good at what your place was. The Believe in the nobility of each status would start to become more and more difficult in an increasingly urbanised world. Today, the total crisis of differentiation makes that believe nearly impossible. But it has survived here and there in the pride of craftsmanship, in family traditions, or in the wonders of a humble soul. From their rare angle, we can read Christ’s words differently and probably embrace the “lowness” of our own human status with a slightly different attitude.
“I am an unprofitable servant, Lord.” This prayer could mean to cease seeking nobility by trying to exceed your own humanity, or by following the Devil’s advice to seek to “become like gods.” Embrace the noble wonders of your “humble status” as a human person. Weak, but called to be strong in Him. Small, but called to contemplate His greatness. Insignificant, but sent to proclaim to the world the one thing which truly matters: We are children of the Eternal, Loving God. As such, our “low status” is what makes us great.