In Luke 17:10, we are told to say to God, after we have “done everything”, that we are “unprofitable servants”.
Yet, as I understand Catholic theology, merit is a large part.
How do we square notions of merit with “only doing one’s duty” and the “unprofitable servant” noted in this verse and in the context of the verse?
Also, how does this relate to receiving meritorious rewards/recognitions on Earth even in human terms? If we are all only doing our when doing good, then of what use is merit/reward, either eternal or temporal?
It does seem that God Himself gives us some form of recognition for our performance on Earth…
Humility and reliance on God’s grace. Remember the pride of the Pharisees and Sadducees? If our actions are worthless; if we are detestable before God, then why on earth do we long to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant”? And why would God say it?
Each and every scriptural reference to our final judgment has to do with our works - what we have done. Not a peep about our faith or belief, even though that is a given. We are expected to act in cooperation with God’s grace, not just sit back and “let God do everything.”
For this reason, James wrote “I will show you my faith by my works” and that is why Martin Luther hated James.
The merit is for us. It’s for our benefit. God doesn’t profit from anything we do. We are unprofitable to God.
Also, the point is made in those verses that we are not the ones who will decide what we merit. God will show us what we merit. And so we are to assume that we deserve no merit for whatever good we’ve done because we are not the judge of merit.
Those verses are in line with what Jesus said about the person who puts themselves first…will be last; and who ever sits at the lowest seat will be moved up to a seat of higher esteem by the host.
Ver. 10. Unprofitable servants. Because our service is of no profit to our Master; and he justly claims it as our bounden duty. But though we are unprofitable to him, our serving him is not unprofitable to us; for he is pleased to give, by his grace, a value to our good works, which, in consequence of his promise, entitles them to an eternal reward. (Challoner) — The word useless, when joined to servant, generally means a servant from whom his master does not derive the service he has a right to expect; as in St. Matthew xxv. 30. Here the word is taken in a less odious sense. It means a servant who does not testify sufficient zeal and ardour in his master’s service, who is not very eager to please him. With regard to God, we are always useless servants, because he wants not our services; and without his assistance, we can neither undertake nor finish any thing to please him. (Calmet)
…I think that there are several levels on this issue…
As Catholics we are not to seek merits from God or from the world for doing, as you’ve pointed out, exactly what God Command us to do…
This of course does not mean that we exist in a vacuum… just look at the world around you… the Catholic Church has done more for humanity than any government or group of governing bodies since her Inception… the Church not only battled heresy but also the human condition… it is through the Church’s efforts that we have the development that we enjoy… check out those nations where Catholicism has been deemed “illegal” or “enemy of the state;” these nations continue to be ravished by violence and oppression far worse than those nations where the Church has been allowed to flourish and become part of the social experience…
However, the Church does go about tooting horns about her “cleverness” or “superior abilities” or “immense contributions.” There are no commercials flooding the media pumping up the Church’s accomplishments…
That said, do you think that we should simply coast through with out acknowledging the contributions of the individuals who have truly served Christ’s Body?
That is a limited understanding of the Word. Check St. Paul’s contrasting views on accreditation:
[FONT=“Garamond”][size=]16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.
(1 Corinthians 9:16-17)
1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! 2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:1-3)
In the first passage, 1 Cor., it seems that St. Paul is fully embracing what you’ve stated… yet, on the second passage, Phil., St. Paul seems to be cashing in on his efforts and commends others to be “partial” to those that have served/helped him…
This is not a double-minded Paul but one that is fully concerned with his obligations to God and the Gospel, and to the Body of Christ; yes, we are to Give God the Glory… but we must also acknowledge the efforts we make and others make in edifying the Body of Christ.
Notice also that what is being done is fortifying the individuals and the Body… nothing boastful about recognition and support.
The confusion lies in what the end goal (purpose) of the Believer is… is our goal to Serve Christ and Build His Body or is our aim to enrich ourselves and indulge (engorge) our ego?