“When you have done all you have been commanded, say ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do'” (Luke 17:10).
The Lectionary again delivers some irony this November 11 Veteran’s Day by honoring St. Martin of Tours, patron saint of pacifists. Martin (316-397) was a Roman solider when he converted to Christianity. The story survives that he once cut his cloak in half to share it with a beggar, only to realize later that the poor man was Christ. Martin left the military and later became a bishop in Gaul (France). Radical pacifism characterized the church until after Constantine made Christianity the official state religion and the “just war” theory gradually influenced church teaching.
Military service mirrors Christianity’s total devotion by asking its soldiers to give their lives to the national cause, whatever its merits, and it also models a hierarchy of command for bishops, who rule the church with absolute authority. Military protocols also reinforce symbols and structures in much the same way that the liturgy reflects church rank and ceremony.
Today’s Gospel has Jesus telling his Apostles that they are to do their duty without expecting any praise from their Master, since they are only servants (and unprofitable ones at that). This passage sounds a lot like Jesus is affirming the chain of command in the church, until we remember that Jesus actually turned everything upside down. The first will be last, the last first; leaders must be servants, as he himself was a servant, waiting on his Apostles at the Last Supper, even washing their feet.
We honor today all those who serve, whether their country or their religion, while at the same time praying for an end to all violence and war.